Youth program teaches horse care skills
CROWNPOINT — The expression on Chantel West’s face was one of concentration as she measured the appropriate dosage for a deworming medicine that to give to a 4-year-old mare.
After figuring the amount, West handed the medication to Veterinary Assistant Royce Craig, who put the paste into the horse’s mouth.
West, 16, was among a handful of children and teens from across the Navajo Nation who participated in the Diné Youth Horse School last week at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.
The program focused on teaching Navajo youth about equine preventative medicine, first aid, nutrition and horsemanship through classroom instruction and active participation.
Learning those skills was among the reasons West, of Ganado, Ariz., registered for the program.
In addition, she wanted to improve her riding skills because she would like to compete in breakaway roping.
The rodeo event requires the rider to be 100-percent confident in handling a horse, she said on June 28.
“The more they trust you, they tend to listen. You can get interconnected with them. It’s amazing how well they’ll understand you after you find that connection,” West said.
Craig Gorman, 12, carefully used a hoof pick to clear dirt and pebbles from underneath one of the hind hoofs on a brown and white horse.
Gorman, of Chinle, Ariz., said his desire to learn more about the animal was a reason to attend. He said he had learned a number of lessons, including the importance of building trust between horse and handler.
"It’s the key for them, to be patient and helpful," he said.
That hands-on approach played an important role in the students learning, said Zoey Benally, an associate veterinarian and a veterinary technology instructor at the animal hospital.
"I can see the kids learn. It's fun to see them have the 'aha' moment," Benally said.
The program also provides an opportunity for the youth to learn about veterinary medicine and science.
With only five full-time veterinarians on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, it is important for horse owners to know basic first aid in case a veterinary clinic is not nearby, Benally said.
In addition, parents and guardians were required to accompany their children and attend classes, she said.
The horse school is part of a series of community programs the NTU clinic offers throughout the year. They also host conferences that focus on livestock and collaborate with the New Mexico State University extension program for workshops.
Thirteen students participated in this year's class and they were divided into groups based on age. The younger group, comprised of 8 to 10 year olds, started each day learning techniques such as grooming, saddling and handling horses from certified trainers at the fairgrounds.
They spent the afternoons in the classroom as well as attending arts and crafts sessions.
The arts and crafts lesson on June 28 for the four younger students focused on customizing beverage coasters with leather stamping.
Marjorie Lantana watched her 8-year-old granddaughter, Kynlie Platero, use a small mallet to stamp a design into a piece of leather.
This is the second year the pair attended the program. Lantana said her granddaughter counted down the days until classes began because she looked forward to adding to her knowledge about horses.
"She was getting ready, she was getting her horse gear together," the grandmother said.
The 12 to 17-year-old students attended class in the morning, then visited the fairgrounds in the afternoon.
During the June 28 morning session, they watched Craig, the veterinary assistant, inject a vaccine into a horse's neck.
After some instruction by Craig, student Melyse Harlan stepped up to give the horse a second shot.
“I’m scared of shots, so I was nervous,” Harlan, 13, said afterward.
The Crownpoint resident attended the camp because she wanted to step out of her comfort zone and learn about basic equine care, which she plans to put to use on her grandfather's horses.
Ron Gene owns the horse — a Tennessee Walker named Hannah — the veterinary staff used that day. Gene transported his horse from Houck, Ariz. for the regular check-up.
"I'm glad I brought her in today," he said adding it was interesting to watch the class.
"I think it's good. It's excellent that they're having this program for the youth because a lot of kids don't get that experience," Gene said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.