TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — A teenage boy excitedly plopped a box of horse-grooming tools in the grass and announced, "Here's the stuff we need to take care of their hooves," before dropping to his knees and holding out a carrot for Kiss-Me Katie, one of three miniature horses donated to the Cherokee Nation.
A woman from Missouri donated three miniature horses for equine therapy for children in the Indian Child Welfare system and teens at the Jack Brown Adolescent Treatment Center in Tahlequah.
After Barbara Watters arrived with the three little horses in the back of a van, Cherokee Nation employees from the executive director of Indian Health Services to child welfare specialists helped unload them, then lead them to rest under a shady tree to get to know everyone better.
Watters made the trek from Missouri to make the donation because she believes the horses are meant to help children with issues in their lives, she said.
"I had tried for many months to try to sell them. Many people called, but I didn't feel comfortable. I had to know they were going to have a secure home," Watters told the Muskogee Phoenix (http://bit.ly/2s6pYY8 ). "I had to know they had the values to value a little horse. And I thought of the Cherokee Nation, and thought surely they have children's programs, and these horses love children very much."
After making calls that led her through the Cherokee Nation's natural resources department, she was connected with Nikki Baker Limore, the Cherokee Nation's executive director of Indian Child Welfare.
"We already use average size horses in our equine therapy program, but this was a perfect fit because Jack Brown Adolescent Treatment Center children are going to have the joy of helping take care of them and equine therapy," Baker Limore said. "And our Indian Nation Child Welfare children will now have miniature horses."
"When it's a smaller animal we just feel like the children won't feel as intimidated, and they can be introduced to the smaller horses and get used to them first. So it's a win-win for both programs," she said.
Darren Dry, director of the Jack Brown Adolescent Treatment Center, said everyone is excited about receiving the miniature horses — Kiss-Me Katie, Iris and Ambrosia.
The center was seeking horses to begin an equine therapy program at the center, which is housed in a former dairy farm and features barns and fields aplenty, he said.
"The boys and girls here can really begin to bond, get life skills, social skills going out every morning to take care of these animals," Dry said. "Building a bond of empathy and sympathy to hopefully produce those attributes we are looking for in their recovery process — so they can get out there and live healthy, productive lives as Native youth and Native participants in society."
It didn't take long after the three horses' hooves hit the ground for a group of adolescents in a therapy session in a building nearby to see the activity out a window and ask to go outside.
The group, boys ages 13-18, approached the little horses quietly, many crouching down and just looking at the horses at first. Connie Davis, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services, held Ambrosia's lead and let the boys pet her and feed her carrots.
Several boys unloaded the tools Watters brought along for the teenagers at Jack Brown to use, examining tools for hoof care and such — some even jumping right in by gently detangling each horse's mane with a grooming brush.
Ambrosia, a little white horse with a white mane, took it all in stride — but soon tired of carrots and began pulling the well-manicured lawn up by its roots.
Baker Limore held Kiss-Me Katie's lead as boys kneeled all around the dainty dark-brown horse, stroking her mane, chattering and asking lots of questions.
Iris, a brown and white pony with a very round belly, was getting doted on as her lead was held by Sandie Hathcoat, senior director of Cherokee Nation Health Services.
"Iris isn't pregnant, I promise. She just loves food — all the food," Watters told the boys, laughing with them.
One boy scratched Iris' head and said, "Then I like this one. She's just like me.”