On September 15th, a group of children from the Washington, DC inner city experienced a day of country farm life, complete with fresh air, green grass and Thoroughbreds, thanks to the joint efforts of The Thoroughbred Network, the Bungalow Foundation, the Virginia Tech MARE Center and a group of caring horsemen.

The Thoroughbred Network and the Bungalow Foundation created a “Name the Foal Contest,” seeking donations for the opportunity to name a Thoroughbred racehorse. The proceeds of the contest are dedicated to financing projects to help inner city children broaden their horizons, including introducing them to country and farm life and to the world of horses.

The first project was a bus trip to visit the Thoroughbred farm of Keith and Cheryl Early and the MARE Center. On the appointed day, at 10:00 a.m., a bus consisting of eighteen very excited children and their chaperones left Laurel, Maryland and arrived about an hour later at their first stop, the Early farm. Their very first experience of farm life was to be a demonstration of blacksmithing by farrier Wayne Van Sant, who had generously donated his time and expertise for the project.

The children’s excitement and interest in the horses was evident from the beginning. In fact, their first sight of a horse required some quick thinking and action on Van Sant’s part: When the children saw the horse on which he was to demonstrate shoeing standing in the distance, they left the bus like a cavalry charge, running straight for the unsuspecting beast. Van Sant and his assistant (both of whom had considerably more experience with the equine mind and temperament than a bus full of enthusiastic city children!) quickly led the horse back into a enclosure, until the first rush of excitement had passed and it could be explained to the children the proper way to approach a large animal.

After Van Sant’s demonstration of the blacksmith’s art, the children witnessed a horseback riding demonstration by Audra Bielke of the Thoroughbred Network, followed by a question and answer session. Bielke later commented, “I was amazed at how serious the children were and how well-thought-out their questions were. For children who had never been around horses before, they had an unbelievable sense of what I was doing.” After the riding demonstration, the children had photos taken with the young Thoroughbred who is the subject of the “Name the Foal” contest. The youngster, who is gifted with a superb temperament, was also the horse used in Van Sant’s earlier blacksmith demonstration.

Each child was given a copy of the photo as a memento of the trip, along with a coloring book of the story of the youngster and his dam, Lamina Blue. After the photo shoot, a fantastic lunch was enjoyed at the main farmhouse, and three of the youngest children asked owner Keith Early if they could move in! “I told them if they worked hard and kept their dreams alive, they could have a farm themselves one day,” Early recounted. “The main reason that my family and I opened up our farm for this project is that we want to help expand these kids minds, show them that there is another world outside of the city – I think that happened.” — Mark Deane and Heather Stanley

After lunch, the group headed off to the Virginia Tech MARE Center in Middleburg, where Superintendant Kathleen Crandell and her staff were gracious hosts, ensuring the children had a learning experience that was also full of fun. Crandell and her staff had various equipment set up that the children could actually touch and use. Crandell then showed the children different types of horse feeds, explaining how and what horses need to eat to thrive, and then allowed the children to actually feed the mares and foals from their hands.

It was wonderful to watch the children, many of whom were quite scared of the large animals initially, quickly overcome their fears with such positive encouragement and happily interact with the horses. The children were also introduced to the mare Lamina Blue, dam of the “Name the Foal” youngster which they had met at the Early’s farm – meeting the young gelding’s mother was especially fascinating to the children, who nicknamed the mare, “Mama Blue.” The MARE Center visit finished up with several more horse demonstrations and then a hay ride throughout the large farm.

The wonderful experience had by all – the children, their chaperones, and the various groups involved with the project – was probably best expressed at the very end of the day by one little boy who, sitting on a bale of hay, said, “Please don’t tell me it’s time to go!” — Mark Deane and Heather Stanley