By Susan Kayne
For Capital Region Independent Media
Nestled within the walls of a repurposed barn — once a home to harness show horses and now a sanctuary for rescued equines — Unbridled offers a transformative experience that is profoundly intimate and educational.
This sacred space has evolved into more than a refuge; it is a vibrant classroom where the connection between humans and horses deepens into a wellspring of compassion, learning and mutual respect.
LITERACY HAVEN IN A STABLE
At the heart of Unbridled’s Stable Classroom is its groundbreaking flagship program, “Read to the Rescues.” Created by Michelene Wilson, the Director of Education at Unbridled, and run by community volunteer teachers, this free literacy initiative has come a long way since its beta test at Unbridled’s former Coxsackie location.
Now a proud partner of the New York State Libraries’ Summer Reading Program, “Read to the Rescues” has served several hundred students since its inception in 2020.
Imagine a child, engrossed in a story, sharing a sacred reading corner inside the stable with an attentive rescue horse. The flick of an ear, the soft nudge of a velvety nose — these gentle gestures invite the shyest reader to transform into an animated storyteller. The subtle blend of turning pages with the reassuring rustle of hay, nickers and hoofbeats has proven to be a magical mix. In the most vulnerable moments of reading, horses are friends who are accepting, genuine and empathetic.
After reading, children learn the unique rescue stories of the horses they chose to read to and are given a chance to groom them. This enriches their understanding of responsible equine care, fostering compassion and awareness.
COMMUNITY EMBRACE, STATE RECOGITION
Unbridled’s “Read to the Rescues” initiative has grown so much in popularity and impact that it has garnered an official Summer Reading partnership with New York State Libraries, special recognition by state Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., and a feature story on Spectrum News.
At the end of each reading session, children reflect on their reading experience and receive a laminated certificate and a bookmark featuring the horse they read to, amplifying the lasting impact of the program.
Parents and teachers alike have reported significant improvements in children’s reading comprehension, confidence, and even their conversational skills. The real-life rescue stories also inspire students to think critically and compassionately, instigating a lifetime commitment to the care and protection of horses.
A COMPASSIONATE COMMUNITY
The tangible result is a diverse, growing community united under the stable’s wooden beams — children, parents, grandparents and educators — each person transformed by the simple yet profound act of reading to a horse. What often starts as a parental nudge evolves into week after week of enthusiastic returns, as families embrace the program’s manifold benefits.
Unbridled’s “Read to the Rescues” emerges as more than a literacy program. It is the epicenter of a compassionate community experience that nurtures the heart and engages the mind, redefining the classroom’s four walls in the most beautiful way.
PARTNERSHIP WITH WESTERLO LIBRARY
As Unbridled continues to make strides in its groundbreaking literacy initiative, “Read to the Rescues,” a new chapter unfolds — this time in collaboration with Westerlo Public Library. Unveiling an extension of the program aptly named the “Horse of the Month,” this partnership aims to reach a broader community with the mission of enlightening and enriching lives through equine-inspired reading.
This unique extension shines a spotlight on a different horse each month, beginning with Time For Angie, a permanent sanctuary resident at Unbridled. Born on Valentine’s Day in 2011 in California, Angie’s tale is one of resilience and triumph.
As the winningest racehorse at Unbridled with a staggering 12 wins and earnings exceeding $344,000, her journey from an abandoned, starving mare in a frozen pasture to a cherished resident at Unbridled is a heartwarming testament to the transformative power of love and care.
Each month, the featured horse will “recommend” a selection of books that echo their unique experiences. For Angie, her curated list includes “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, “Out of the Wild” by Mark Rashid, and “The Horse Dancer” by Jojo Moyes — stories that, much like her own, explore the multi-faceted lives of horses and the deep connections they forge with humans.
The collaborative partnership with Westerlo Public Library not only expands the geographical reach of Unbridled’s literacy program but also deepens its impact by drawing upon the rich tapestry of individual horse stories. From young readers to lifelong learners, this novel extension offers a unique blend of literacy and compassion, designed to cultivate a society more attuned to the ethical treatment of horses.
At Unbridled, every horse has a story, and every story can change a life. This partnership is an invitation to the community to join in, read, reflect and experience the myriad benefits of an enriched reading environment — one where horses are not just companions, but also teachers, friends, and inspirations.
The Stable Classroom, in partnership with Westerlo Public Library, beckons all to explore the transcendent power of reading, the comfort of an equine friend, and the ethical lens through which to view these incredible beings. With each turn of the page and each horse of the month, we are creating a world that cherishes the shared sentience and irreplaceable value of horses.
Susan Kayne operates the horse rescue organization Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, on the border of Albany County and Greenville.