INDEPENDENCE, Ky. — Kids in Northern Kentucky are sharpening their reading skills at a farm this summer by reading to therapy horses. These horses are also helping children with disabilities gain strength and confidence through riding.
The parents of one 12-year-old girl say the experience has been life-changing for their daughter.
Whether she’s riding on the back of one, or reading one a story, don’t tell Gabi Gavarret to hold her horses when she’s at Milestones, Inc. in Independence. Her excitement can’t be contained.
“She counts the days until the next session,” said Gabi’s mom, Marina Gavarret.
Gabi has had to overcome more challenges in 12 years than most people will in their entire lives. But her parents say when she’s around her favorite animal, all of those challenges seem to fade into the background.
“We are so glad, and so happy to be back,” Marina said.
“She’s learning the horses’ names, and she already knows which ones she likes the most,” said Gabi’s dad, Yuri Gavarret. “She learns to develop a bond with the animal.”
Gabi has CHARGE syndrome, which can include a broad spectrum of conditions. For her, it’s problems with balance, holes in her vision, being close to fully deaf and being mostly non-verbal.
At two years old, Gabi couldn’t walk, but she could ride a horse.
“It helps to strengthen her core, and also, for her to be able to multitask,” Marina said. “When she was about three years old, she started walking by herself. It was a miracle.”
The Gavarrets said their daughter’s affinity for horses has only grown since they moved from Brazil to Florence, Kentucky in 2016. Brazil is Marina’s home country, while Yuri is originally from Uruguay.
As they learned, not every farm or stable could accommodate children with special needs. To their excitement, they found Milestones in 2019 and started bringing Gabi. Milestones is a therapeutic horseback riding center which specializes in just what they were looking for.
The center serves people ages three to 49 with any kind of diagnosis, helping over 2,000 people each year.
“When they’re on the horse, they’re one body, and they get an opportunity to have movements that they don’t always get to have,” said Milestones Program Director Rachel Breeden. “The feeling of accomplishment you get, and the confidence you build while you’re working with such large animals, is a pretty great feeling.”
The center is partnering with the Kenton County Public Library this summer to help kids improve their literacy through a free program called “Horse Tales.” Now in its fourth summer, Horse Tales gives children in grades one through eight an opportunity to read to therapy horses.
“Horse Tales helps build confident readers, many of whom have showed improved confidence and skill level after participating,” according to a news release.
Breeden said being read to is soothing for the horses. As to what they’re actually thinking, Liam Hilliard, a nine-year-old taking part in the program, gave his take.
“I like this. I hope some more people come and read to us,” he said.
Liam and his brother, six-year-old Graham Hilliard, said, if that is what the horses are thinking, they agree that more people should come to read to them.
“Yeah, we like doing it,” Liam said. “It’s a very great place to like, read to horses. I think you should give it a shot.”
After a long riding lesson, Gabi could take part in a reading session as well, with the help of her mom.
“She likes to read for the horses. She started making connections. And she started reading a few words, so for her, it’s like the highlight of the summer,” Marina said.
The ability to improve both physically and mentally, while also having fun, isn’t always easy to find for children who face the challenges Gabi faces. Her mom was ecstatic their family could find both in one place.
“It makes all the difference,” Marina said.
To learn more about Horse Tails or register a child to read, find more information on their website.