BY MICHAEL REISIG –
Reading opens up worlds for children and adults, but as many of us know; the art and the joy of reading is not high on the list of priorities for many young people today. Teaching children the skill of reading early in life is critical for success in today’s world. One of the people in Mena who understands this and has gone out of her way to promote reading with youngsters is Judy Forbis, former owner of the Ansata Arabian Horse Farm. Using one the American book classics, “The Black Stallion” she has assisted in a unique program to bring both the love of horses and especially the love of books, to children around the country through The Black Stallion Literacy Project.
In 1999, Tim Farley, son of the late Walter Farley, author “The Black Stallion” book series, and Mark Miller, owner of the Arabian Nights Dinner Theater, conceived The Black Stallion Literacy Project, now called The ‘Horse Tales’ Literacy Project, and in the last decade or so this has had a profound effect on young people everywhere.
Once again this year Forbis has teamed up with fundraisers and schools to bring this project to Polk County.
“Children today have to learn to read, but the incentive just isn’t there in many respects,” Forbis explained. “This program works because most kids rarely get a chance to pet a live horse, and this program gives them that opportunity – it’s a carrot at the end of the stick. They learn about horses through this program and at the end they get to actually meet and be around horses and experience the first-hand magic of this – a real creature, not a technological game.
“People are automatically attracted to horses,” Forbis continued. “There is a bond there with mankind that extends back thousands of years. I think it’s important for Polk County to get behind this program, especially the business community. Without this precious skill of reading, young people have little hope of good jobs – communication, in all fashions, is critical.”
Forbis added that great books live forever and The Black Stallion (series) is one of those books. That it has taught people to appreciate horses and animals in general.
“It touches people’s hearts and now it’s serving a new purpose,” she added. It holds children’s interest and that’s why it’s so successful. But for this process to work, we must have the support of the community.”
Forbis explained that staff and volunteers show up at first grade schools with a real horse in tow and children are taken outside to actually meet the animal. They are allowed to touch the horse and they are given a copy of “Little Black, A Pony,” and encouraged to learn to read the book with their teacher and volunteers. Approximately 60 days later these same students are taken on a field trip to a real farm where they meet and pet the main characters from the book, have lunch, and actually read from their book to a real horse. At the end of the day they receive their own copy of “Little Black Goes To The Circus.”
The fourth grade program promotes the joy of reading and improving comprehension. The curriculum, aligned with national and state teaching standards incorporates the novel, “The Black Stallion”and an opportunity to watch the motion picture as well.
Forbis encourages businesses and individuals in the community to be generous when volunteers come to them regarding this wonderful program.