When Ellie Trueman first learned about The Black Stallion Reading Project—which motivates children to read through a curriculum surrounding “The Black Stallion” book—she was surprised that the program didn’t include a hands-on equine component for students.
Though the initiative had been successful in boosting reading levels, she imagined it could go further and create a pipeline for students to be introduced to the equine industry. As president of the Ocala Horse Alliance, Trueman aimed to replicate the national project in 34 Marion County elementary schools, with two goals: promoting a love for reading and introducing the horse industry.
“The program is done to the standards of the Florida Department of Education,” said Trueman, Ocala, Florida. “They were wildly supportive and helped it to become an in-classroom curriculum required by the district in fourth grade classrooms for three and a half weeks. The centerpiece is the book, but surrounding that we’re able to really promote horse involvement and careers within the industry.”
During this period, students read “The Black Stallion” while simultaneously learning about the industry from local professionals who visit the schools to share their experiences.
“We introduce them to vets, farriers, jockeys and entrepreneurs, and we also cover being a product representative or a trainer, a groom, a manager and more,” said Trueman. “We want them to think about options and know that some of them don’t require a college education, because that route isn’t for everyone. We want them to think about what they might want to do, set some goals, and then work towards achieving them.”
At some schools, the program culminates in getting to meet, pet and groom a real horse.
“We did a kick-off at one of the local charter schools, and Sara Kozumplik, who events at the five-star level, talked to the kids about being a rider and what that entails,” said Trueman. “The kids were attentive while she was talking, but they came alive when one of her [student’s] horses came off the trailer in the parking lot. They had so many thoughtful questions and wanted to pet him and feed him.”
Trueman noted that even though Ocala bills itself as the “Horse Capital of the World,” a majority of the students have never had the opportunity to interact with a horse before.
“We go to the schools and ask the students if they’ve been involved with horses before, and it’s usually less than half of them, which is really surprising,” she said. “It’s a good reminder that even though we think the industry is so big, there’s a large population that isn’t aware of it or just doesn’t have access to it.
“We get notes from students saying that this program has made them love reading, or that it’s the first book that they’ve actually enjoyed reading,” she added. “Having the horses visit works as such a great motivator. It really helps us to instill a love of reading early on, and that is something those students will benefit from for the rest of their lives.”
To learn more about the Black Stallion Reading Project, go to ocalahorsealliance.com.
This article appeared in the May 22-June 5, 2023, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.