MOLINE -- The "mane" idea of the Horse Tales Literacy Project is to get kids interested in reading.
And if it takes some "real horsing-around," even better, project leaders say.
First- and second-graders from Washington Elementary School enrolled in a summer reading program held at a Spring Brook Courts community center will be introduced to the project, with the help of a miniature horse named Gizmo.
Gizmo will visit the kids at 1 p.m. Thursday. Each child also will get a copy of a book "Little Black: A Pony," written by Walter Farley, who also wrote the better known "Black Stallion" books, according to Larry Volbruck, of Orion, Quad City All Breed Horse Association president.
The association and The Literacy Connection based at Faith Lutheran Church, Moline, will co-sponsor the program.
Gizmo belongs to fellow horse association members Dolores and Jerry Skeel, of Orion. Mr. Volbruck will bring Gizmo to Spring Brook Courts in a truck and trailer and will set up a roped-off area in a parking lot to safeguard Gizmo and the students.
The horse stands only about 3-feet tall, which makes him far less imposing to little kids meeting a horse for the first time, Mr. Volbruck said. "He's a nice, quiet horse who's good with children."
Gizmo will portray the main "Little Black" pony character, Mr. Volbruck said.
The summer reading program will end Thursday, Aug. 8, with students visiting Mr. Volbruck's "CDL Farm," he said.
Six different stations will be set up there to teach students more about horses and farming, Literacy Connection director Amy Hubbell said. Each student also will get a second book written by Mr. Farley titled "Little Black Goes to the Circus," Mr. Volbruck said.
"The books are for children to keep," he said. "I hope it helps them make the correlation from what they read to a real life experience, and that it will continue to build their curiosity and interest."
Students will be challenged to read 20 books this summer, Ms. Hubbell said. Kids also will be taught about what horses eat and how they are cared for and exercised. Children also will get the chance to try their luck at playing horseshoes. A cowboy also plans to make a Tuesday, July 9, visit to the class, Ms. Hubbell said.
The Horse Tales project, formerly known asThe Black Stallion Literacy Foundation, was founded in 1999 by Mr. Farley's son, Tim Farley, and Mark Miller, owner of Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction, in Kissimmee, Fla., according to its website, horsetalesliteracy.org.
The project has operated mostly in Florida and Arkansas.
"But we've been asked to serve as a test pilot for it here," Ms. Hubbell said. "It's nice to be asked to be the first one in the area."
It's also an excellent extension of what the local horse association has done in the past, Mr. Volbruck said.
"We've shared our horses with Gilda's Club, and with military veterans and their families and others. Now we're adding an education aspect to it," he said.
Fellow member Nancy DeVelder directs this horse literacy project, Mr. Volbruck said.
The association has been around for 30 years and has about 140 members on both sides of the river, Mr. Volbruck said.
For information, visit qcabha.net or its Facebook page.
Participating in the summer reading program also gives Mr. Volbruck and the association a chance to share some positive stories about horses, after so many negative stories have been in the news lately, he said, citing reports from Dixon, Ill., and other accounts of horse abuse and neglect.
"Horses deserve our respect," he said. "After all, it was a horse that has carried man through the centuries to where he is today."