Horse-Powered Reading
Horse and Rider|Spring 2021
At Rise Canyon Ranch, horses are helping children learn to love reading.
LAUREN FELDMAN

Reading is an almost magical process in which deciphering lines and squiggles reveals a rich world of narrative and meaning. For children who have difficulty with reading, however, the doors to that world are largely closed. Addressing struggles with literacy typically conjures images of tutors and flashcards, but at Rise Canyon Ranch—an equine-assisted therapy facility in Southern California—it looks a little different.

Here, in the middle of an arena dappled dusty gold by the California sun, a child quietly ponders a book. A horse wanders over and inquisitively noses the pages. The girl reads to her captive audience. Even when she stumbles over a difficult word, the horse listens without judgement. There’s no pressure, just the horse’s soft gaze and steady presence. The girl reads on.

Though the transformation that happens in this arena—where children blossom into more confident readers— certainly appears to be a type of magic, Theresa DuBois, a psychotherapist and founder of Rise Canyon Ranch, is a little reluctant to use the word.

“It’s such an unscientific word,” she jokingly laments, “but there’s so much that happens between the children and horses that I just can’t explain.”

A Need to Read

DuBois saw the need for a reading skills program while working with groups of at-risk youth at the ranch. She says, “We were seeing children who had behavioral issues at school, and through some of the activities we were doing, we realized they actually couldn’t read or write simple phrases and didn’t have the literacy skills appropriate for their age level.”

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