by Katherine Noll, photos by Patricia Canavan
May 15, 2013
It all started with the popular children's book If You Take a Mouse to School. The children in the preschool class at Reibman Hall Children's Center loved having the adventures of the famous mouse during his first day of school read to them.
Their reaction gave Shannon Swingle, an early childhood education major and an intern at the children's center, an idea. An avid horse rider since the age of 13, the book inspired her to incorporate horses into the curriculum.
"As a class, we started working on our own book: If You Take a Horse to School," Swingle said. "The kids helped with the words. They had a lot of ideas what could happen if a horse came to their classroom. They pictured a horse jumping on the sofa and sliding down the playground slide."
Local artist Bill Christine, who frequently works with the children as artist-in-residence helped the children illustrate the book.
The project sparked a horse frenzy. Every day, children would draw pictures of horses for Swingle. She brought in the tools used to groom a horse and even came in one day dressed in her show clothes. All the while Swingle was making arrangements to have Rada, the horse she rides, pay a visit to the children's center.
"Before the visit, I would randomly ask the kids, 'Do you think you could really bring a horse to school?'", Swingle said. "And they would say, 'No! He couldn't fit in the classroom.'"
Swingle and preschool teacher Audrey DeCheser kept the visit by Rada a secret.
"We wanted it to be a great big surprise at the end of the semester," Swingle explained.
And a surprise it was! When Rada arrived on May 9, the children began screaming with excitement when they saw her from the classroom window. The children were right. Rada didn't fit in the classroom, but they were able to go outside and meet her.
"I did everything you could think of besides bringing in the horse. And then I brought in the horse!" Swindle said. "It was such a big hit with both the kids and the parents. It was special for me to share something so close to my heart with something else that is so close to my heart."
The horse is owned by Allison Fiorot, who accompanied Rada along with Tori Pascoe. Both Pascoe and Swingle ride together at Twin Willows Stable in Bangor.