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Therapy horses being used to bring smiles to children through reading

Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 23:06:33-04

PHOENIX — Two miniature horses were all smiles Thursday, ready to do what they do best, inside bookstores and libraries across the Valley.

“(Deep inhale in excitement) That’s probably the best way to describe it,” said Terry Holmes-Stecyk when describing how they act after setting sight on her horses.

It’s a reaction we saw for ourselves many times when Buddy and Maserati walked through the doors to Bookmans in Phoenix.

“We want to instill that love of reading at that early, early, age so that they do that throughout their life,” said Holmes- Stecyk.

She and Cindy Gibson founded the nonprofit Tender Little Hearts several years ago. The group utilizes miniature therapy horses to enrich the lives of Arizonans in nursing homes, hospitals, and now in a very unique way with children.

“In Arizona, sadly we are at the lower end of reading competency, throughout the United States,” said Holmes-Stecyk.

One way they hope to change that is through their giddy-up and read campaign. It brings the minis into reading centers, libraries, and bookstores so kids can practice their reading in a very memorable way.

“I love when the kids turn the book around and show the horse and go look, look at the rabbit,” said Holmes-Stecyk. “When we bring these miniature horses next to them, they’re looking at them eye level, so the child really connects, and they see that the horse is listening to them. Of course, when they maybe say a word wrong, the horse just smiles and keeps listening and they can practice again and again.”

Over the years, hundreds of children have gotten the chance to sit and read to the gentle animals. This Saturday, they’ll have that chance at Bookmans near I-17 and Northern beginning at 1 p.m.

“It gives the kids someone who’s nonjudgmental, who just wants to sit and relax and hear the story and of course, it’s very exciting for the kids, they love to meet the mini horses and engage with them,” said Bookmans Marketing Coordinator Allison Walker.

She says they’ve hosted the event a few different times and it’s always quite the hit.

“The kids usually go, and they pick a book that they enjoy because they want the minis to hear the book that they love,” said Walker.

It’s an experience that spurs confidence, lighting up a child’s heart and mind one page at a time. Families interested in attending the event should RSVP prior to Saturday.

If you go:

Bookmans: 8034 N 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85021

Health & safety: Mask required

Phone: (602) 433-0255