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Benny was a shy, scruffy and untrusting foal when he was adopted from the wild. Now he's so gentle that he is the perfect role model for the at-risk children he works with.
Ros Rowe adopted Benny from the Kaimanawa horse muster in 2006. She wanted to give a wild horse a second chance and save it from the slaughterhouse.
He joined the Leg Up Trust's stable of horses which Rowe uses to reach out to children with behavioural and social challenges.
"Because we work with at-risk kids, and some of them are abused and neglected, it was lovely for them to see the love and care that was given to this horse to domesticate him and to make him accept human beings."
The children could identify with the untamed, motherless foal, Rowe said.
Benny had to learn how to be touched, groomed and accept feed that he had never eaten before. "It's a whole new ball game. It's not coochie-coo stuff, it's a labour of love."
He was so terrified it took him most of the winter to get used to Rowe.
"I used to sit out in the round pen with him late into the night with a blanket over me and a hot water bottle and feed on my knee. It was so he could come have his feed from my knee so he identified me with something good."
It took about three months before she could handle him fully. However, she had worked with another Kaimanawa horse that accepted her touch within days. "You never know what you're going to get."
Benny is now used as the trust's demonstration horse and has helped hundreds of Hawke's Bay children learn how to communicate clearly.
"Some of these kids haven't really got good role models and they don't know how to communicate with one another. I teach them, using Benny, how you can communicate effectively without being aggressive."
A grin was plastered on Donnell Nathan's face as he weaved Benny through a line of barrels. "I done it," he proudly told his classmates from Irongate School, in Flaxmere.
School chaperone Kerry Bartlett said that, in class, Donnell often gave up at the first hurdle. Working with the horses was teaching him to persevere.
Donnell, 10, said he had to show the horses "a bit of love" if he wanted them to obey his instructions. "It taught me to not be a bully. Everyone has feelings but some people are soft."
He was now trying to treat his classmates how he would want to be treated.
Another muster of wild Kaimanawa horses is planned in the next two months, whenever the weather is favourable.
- The Dominion Post