Rescued horses and refugee kids learn together


Millie had a rough introduction to life. The chestnut filly was discovered at 15 months of age with the rest of her herd, living wild in Eastern Kentucky. She was starving. She could barely walk. But she was lucky, because she found a safe refuge at the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC).

Millie, believed to be a Tennessee Walking Horse cross, is now helping kids who have been through difficult situations of their own. Through a program called Take the Reins, a group of 20 students from the Lansdowne Elementary summer camp, several of them refugees, have fostered Millie this summer. Through the program, kids are learning about the animals that are an icon in their new Kentucky home and seeing how kindness and care help these once neglected horses thrive.

“Any time you put horses and kids together, it’s usually going to be a success, if it’s planned right,” said KyEHC Executive Director Karen Gustin in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader. “The primary purpose behind [Take the Reins] is to help kids understand that horses have challenges and can come from difficult situations and still, with the right help, become good companions to people.

“All of us have challenges in our life, and there are people here to help,” Gustin adds. “Hopefully they can draw the parallel between what horses go through and what we all have to go through at times in our lives.”

Kentucky Equine Humane Center

Some of the students who participate in the program are developing their mastery of the English language, and Take the Reins helps with that while also giving participants some of the specialized vocabulary that comes with working with horses.

All of the students, regardless of their background, have the unique opportunity to learn about horses and the work and care it takes to keep them healthy and happy.

The program continues through the school year thanks to partnerships with local elementary schools and a sponsorship from Alltech. Students will take field trips and learn from horse industry professionals, and the program is designed to integrate with academic subjects including math, science, language arts, and local history.

Read more about this summer’s Take the Reins program in the Lexington Herald-Leader, and find out more at

Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, Ky.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.


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