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‘They know what you’re saying’: Horses help Knox County kids find their voice, purpose

After being paused during the pandemic, PELIA is back up and running.

DANVILLE, Ohio — It's the time of year we pause to think about what we are thankful for. For many of us -- that's likely returning to some sense of normalcy.

Like many programs, there is one in Danville that connects at-risk youth with horses that paused during the pandemic. It’s now back up and running and helping children more than ever before.

Located just steps away from the local school, this program gives hands on experience to many kids at no cost.

“When I'm just around horses, I can say what I want and feel the way I'm allowed to be,” said Serenity Kuhl, a 5th grade student. “And I'm able to connect better with horses than humans.”

To share how you're feeling, it helps to have a good listener.

“Whenever you talk to them, they know what you're saying,” said Jaice Stachler, a 5th grade student. “And like if you're scared, they're scared. They know your emotions.”

And when there's someone to listen, it's easier to find your voice.

“Whenever I'm mad, sad, happy they just calm you down,” Jaice said.

It sounds like a simple need. But for these kids, finding their voice and their purpose means so much more.

For nearly 10 years, Positive Equine Learning in Action (PELIA) has been helping at-risk youth in Danville. Each child is matched with a horse that they have to learn to care for by brushing and feeding.

“For a lot of our kids, the horses are their lifeline,” said Barb Banbury, president of PELIA. “They're the most important thing in their life.”

Banbury sees a lot of these kids outside the program every day because she’s also a school bus driver.

“We're in a fairly low-income area. We have a lot of students that you know both parents are working. So a lot of kids actually get themselves on the bus in the morning,” she said. “It's pretty common for these kids to be home alone or to not get a hot meal.”

The horses in the program didn't have it easy before. Proof that a little love and attention can go a long way.

“We got a horse for $20 at an auction and that's because nobody wanted him,” said Emily Dunn, a program instructor. “He was too skinny for even the meat buyers to want.”

Since joining PELIA the horse they named Ajax got his strength back.

“He now has such a personality,” she explained. “You come to the field and he calls out to you and comes running to the gate.”

And the kids come running here, too.

“[They] have the ability to get here in a time of need rather than run away from something they run to something and connect with it,” said Banbury. “It really seems to have helped a lot of our kids.”

Another benefit of this program is that many go on to graduate and then come back as teachers.

Donations are welcome at PELIA to support the program. They are also in need of hay for the horses and hats and gloves for the kids.

Donations can be mailed to:

PELIA Equine

P.O. Box 91

Danville, OH 43014

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