THREE OAKS — Jay’ha Wilson could be seen confidently brushing her horse this past weekend at Spring Creek Equestrian Center in Three Oaks.
No one could have guessed that just two weeks earlier, the 10-year-old from Benton Harbor was scared of horses.
“The first day, she was so terrified to get on a horse,” said Sylvia Wilson, Jay’ha’s godmother.
By the end of the day, she said her goddaughter was comfortable around the horses and eager to return the next week.
On Saturday, Jay’ha was one of eight girls – ages 9 to 13 – from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor learning about horse behavior and how to ride a horse through the Spring Creek Horse Help Foundation, a nonprofit that meets at the equestrian center.
They were in the third week of a four-week program that introduces horses to children, who otherwise might not have had a chance to be around horses.
Attendees were also taught how to care for horses.
“They all start cleaning the stalls (while) holding their noses,” said Sally Bogert, cofounder of the nonprofit.
However, Bogert said the girls quickly adjusted to cleaning the stalls like professionals.
“The goal is to introduce low-income adults and children to the world of horses,” she said.
Bogert said people who take part in the free program learn about responsibility, teamwork and how to have compassion for animals.
Alison Grosse, owner and trainer at the equestrian center, spoke with the girls Saturday about how to tell what a horse’s mood is by looking at their ears.
Grosse told the girls they might think it’s silly if a horse is scared by a plastic bag, but they need to look at things through the horse’s perspective.
“To you, it’s a plastic bag, but to him, it’s a monster,” she said.
Bogert said the nonprofit was formed in 2019 and had its first class of four students in 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which shut everything down.
She said all four of the first students continue to come to the equestrian center to volunteer their time and to learn how to ride.
They nonprofit plans to have two more sessions with members of the Benton Harbor club, with the next class expected to be mostly boys.
Sherri Ulleg, marketing and communications manager with the Boys & Girls Club, said this was the first time most of the girls had ever been up close with a horse.
“I heard one girl say she loved horses and this was her favorite thing,” she said. “She never would have known this was her favorite thing if it wasn’t for this program.”
Ulleg said they plan to give the girls an opportunity to return and volunteer around the horses next summer.
“They are so into it, which is exciting to see,” she said. “Not one kid is on their phone.”