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Anni Hisey | Joyful Scholars students volunteer

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Provided photo/Anni Hisey Joyful Scholars Montessori Elementary students Vivian, Sadie and Seleah spend time with Brulee the Mare at Trusting Horse Spirit Rescue.

Have you ever wondered what empathy, compassion and horse manure have in common? Last month the students of Joyful Scholars Montessori Elementary had a wonderful opportunity to find out.

Recently, teacher Cara Hackenmiller learned about Trusting Spirit Horse Rescue (TSHR), a nonprofit organization in Orondo that rescues abused and neglected horses. She asked if they could use some extra help — it made perfect sense for the Montessori students to spend some time volunteering there. Joyful Scholars emphasizes care for the earth and collaboratively pursuing justice for humans and animals alike.

The students were thrilled to learn they would be helping some mistreated horses — their enthusiasm for animals made this a highlight. On the morning of the big adventure, anyone listening might have thought the children were headed to Disneyland. They chatted boisterously about who would be able to muck what, and who would get the dirtiest before returning home.

Upon arrival, the staff of TSHR greeted the students warmly, and treated them to a brief lesson on the history of horses and why they are so suited to their environment. Every student had the opportunity to brush Brandy, a bay mare, and learn about proper grooming. Then it was work time, and the children couldn’t believe they were allowed to perform such exhilarating tasks as cleaning stalls and scrubbing water troughs. Even 6-year-old Baker got in on the action, despite having one arm in a cast from a wrestling mishap.

Since there weren’t enough tools to go around, the students had to take turns, but everyone pitched in and got the job done!

In no time, the crew had completed their chores and received a tour of the grounds. Not only does TSHR care for horses, but they also house goats, llamas, and a couple of friendly (and rather drooly) dogs they have acquired from the Humane Society. The students watched Charlize Clementson, one of the organization’s young volunteers, give a lunging demonstration on Dreamer, a 20-year old bay dun who is also the resident training horse.

While the horses of TSHR come from terribly sad backgrounds, the staff made a point to focus on the positive aspects of their lives now that they have been rescued — and that is a very good thing, since many of the Montessori students are intensely soft-hearted and were eager to avoid hearing the heartbreaking details. It was enough for them to know that Satchmo, a shy chestnut gelding, was able to overcome his fear of new people and basked in their attention (and occasional handful of grass offered).

Eight-year-old Seleah wants to go back soon. Why? “I’m a volunteer there! If I’m a volunteer, why wouldn’t I go?”

Anni Hisey operates Academic Asociates Learning Center and Joyful Scholars Montessori Elementary. She can be reached at