Can horses help deaf children learn to read English?

It’s an approach one teacher is attempting to harness with the help of a nonprofit equine group in Los Cerrillos, according to a story published earlier this month in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Teacher Kim Burkholder recently took eight students from the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe on a field trip to My Little Horse Listener in Los Cerrillos to try it out.

“I just really want all of them to have positive experiences with reading,” Burkholder said of her students, ranging in age from 6 to 8. “For the kids who are completely deaf, reading in English is their second language, and it’s a struggle for many of them. And so the more positive experiences they can have with reading, the better.”

Some students are also late language learners, meaning they didn’t learn sign language until later in their lives, she told the New Mexican.

Liz Delfs is founder and executive director of My Little Horse Listener, which uses horses and other hoofed mammals to connect people through activities that strengthen relationship-building skills. She said more than 500 kids, many of them with hearing disabilities, have taken part in the various programs the organization has to offer. She observed that horses and deaf people have something very much in common.

“Horses kind of live in a nonverbal world, and they’re really dependent on hand signals and so forth. It’s kind of fascinating how the horses and the children interact,” Delfs said. “The kids are just so excited when they see the horses, and it really is about the relationship the child forms with the horse. It actually showed us they were capable of doing so much more for people.”

The students met that day with a mule, a miniature donkey and two miniature horses. Delfs showed the students how to pet the equines and how they communicate with them through body language.

“They use their bodies to tell us what they want,” Delfs told the students. “It’s our job to always be looking at their bodies and trying to figure out what they want.”

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