Young voices rang out in glee as 60 first-graders from Region 12 elementary schools gathered at the stables at Trowbridge Ltd. Arabian horse farm in Bridgewater.

"I see a nose!" a boy shouted, peering into the entrance of the stables.

"Where? Is it a horse's nose?" another asked.

The children from Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington were taking part in the Horse Tales Literacy Project, a program promoting literacy through connecting children with a classic book and the magic of horses.

It is is based on the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and funded by several Arabian horse organizations.

The children were given an April 24 tour of the farm, and got to pet a horse, learn about grooming and feeding horses, and watch various gaits of horses demonstrated by farm owner Mary Trowbridge.

Each child was also given a book, "Little Black, A Pony," by Farley to take back to class and home where they were to practice reading it.

They were told on Friday, May 3 they may return to the farm and each read a page from the book to a horse.

"Do we get to keep the book forever?" asked Skyler Fitch of Washington.

"This is great, good fun," said Trowbridge, a nationally known breeder and trainer of Arabian show horses. "Arabians are the most intuitive horse breed. We love to introduce children to them."

Marybeth D'Amico and her daughter, Clara, age 6, of New Milford, demonstrated how to groom horses.

Clara used the curry comb, hand brush, face brush and tail brush on Penny, an Arabian pony -- all after an adult went over Penny with the sharp shedding blade.

Roxbury first-grader Gabbi Quaranta knew immediately which horses would need a larger number of "flakes" of hay. The number of flakes -- bunches of hay -- each horse gets is posted on the door of its stall.

"The mommy is feeding the milk to the baby horse," Gabbi offered. "The mommy horse needs a little more food."

Horse mommies were on the children's minds. They had just seen the mare, Oil Fever, in the paddock with her 5-day-old filly.

Region 12 Superintendent of Schools Pat Cosentino was on hand April 24 as the bus of children arrived at the farm.

She said the children's participation in the literacy program came about as the result of an email she had received.

"The message told me about Mary Trowbridge and how horses could be used as therapy animals," Cosentino said. "The writer thought bringing Newtown children to the Bridgewater farm might help them after the tragedy."

Cosentino contacted Trowbridge about the program and the connection was made. She plans to introduce the program to Newtown schools officials after she receives feedback on her region's participation.

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