Meeting two hour each week throughout the CGLA school year, the MLP program exposes girls to a variety of hands-on experiences grounded in science, life skills, and leadership development. All three components are closely intertwined within core lessons as girls are challenged to make connections between their work with mustangs and their own lives. With an inquiry-based learning approach, lessons integrate numerous equine experiences, team building activities, question and answer sessions, and reflection opportunities.
All MLP lessons are aligned with science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) concepts and state curriculum standards, which helps our students to gain critical academic knowledge that ties to their school-day work. Our goal is to provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that bring STEAM concepts to life for MLP students and inspire students to want to pursue STEAM careers.
Components of Our Core Curriculum
Safe Horse Interactions
Ensuring students understand and practice safety standards when interacting with the horses is critical, not only for the protection of the girls but also to develop trust and respect with the horses. Every girl is issued a helmet to wear while working with the horses and is taught about safety and proper interactions, such as how to approach the horse, haltering, leading, and proper seating. Every MLP lesson integrates a discussion of proper horse interaction and safety, building upon prior lessons and helping girls continue to develop their equine knowledge.
Anatomy & Physiology
Mustang Branding Identification
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has developed an intricate branding system to identify every wild mustang, which reveals the mustang’s state of origin and birth date. MLP students learn about the history of this branding system and are trained to use the BLM’s branding guide. After studying each mustang’s unique brand, students determine their birth date, state of origin, and age. Learning to decode this unique system provides an important opportunity to explore the history of the mustang and to develop each girl’s confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Building on the anatomy and physiology lessons, girls learn more about the health and care of horses. Dr. Reynolds teaches the girls about the horse’s skeletal structure. Later, Dr. Mike White, the farm’s veterinarian, teaches girls how to find a horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rate and explains why these are so important in keeping track of the health of our horses. Girls are able to try finding and counting pulse and respiration rate after being shown how, and the instructors demonstrate taking a horse’s temperature and allow the girls to practice reading the thermometer. Dr. White also brings a few stethoscopes so that the girls can listen to the heart and respiration rate, as well as listen to gut sounds which ties in to what the girls learn about the horse’s digestive system.
Dental & Vision Health
As our mustangs interact on the farm they have much to teach us about leadership, communication, trust, and respect. Students observe the interactions of the mustangs in the pasture to learn about leadership and the subtle ways in which horses communicate with each other through body language. These observations help girls understand how their own behavior and body language—whether intended or not—affect their interactions and communications with the horse. Girls learn how important it is to give clear, energetic messages to the horse in order to build trust, respect, and a successful partnership. These lessons also inform girls’ daily interactions at school by helping them become aware of how they relate to their teachers and friends and how their actions affect others. Ultimately, the goal of behavioral observations is to help each girl develop skills to create a collaborative community—with the horses and with teachers and peers.
Safe Catching & Approaching
Successfully leading a horse requires a strong grounding in proper technique, assertiveness, leadership, and confidence. Teaching students how to lead a horse is a multi-step process lasting several sessions. Using “Rusty,” the horse statue in front of our barn, the girls are given a quick recap of the haltering lesson and are shown the proper placement of their hands, body, the horse’s body, and lead rope while leading. The group then plays a small leading game that helps show the girls how all the parts of a horse need to follow the head in order to get where you want to go safely. Once the girls feel comfortable, we bring out Narci, one of the girls’ favorite horses, for real-life leading practice. Our team leaders demonstrate what NOT to do when leading a horse, and the girls point out the actions being done incorrectly. During the next two leading sessions, each of the girls gets to lead Narci in the round pen while the team leader calls out instruction and direction. At first, not all of the girls feel comfortable leading Narci without the team leader right next to them. However, all of the girls soon grow in confidence and are able to successfully complete a small course around cones on their own.
Grooming is important to the care of a horse and requires knowledge of grooming brushes and techniques, as well as trust between human and horse. To demonstrate proper grooming, our team leaders review safety precautions, explain the purpose and sequence of each brush, and show how each brush is used. We use our mustang, Narci, for the demonstration since she enjoys taking mud baths in the pasture and is one of the girls’ favorite horses. The girls are divided into pairs, with each girl cleaning and grooming one side of Narci. At first some of the girls are nervous about standing so close to Narci and fear she might step on them or kick them. However, once they get started grooming their tension eases as they gain trust in Narci and realize she is calm and enjoys the grooming process. The team leaders explain how important it is to groom a horse and relate this lesson to the girls’ own personal grooming habits. Each December, MLP students participate in a Christmas Decorating party with the horses, which allows the girls to review grooming basics with the team leaders and learn additional grooming techniques related to show preparation (ribbons, twinkle glitter gel, and hoof polish). The girls enjoy the opportunity to express themselves and the ways in which the MLP program has empowered them.
As with bridling, saddling a horse requires a careful and conscientious routine to ensure the safety of the horse and rider. MLP staff first introduce the girls to the basics of saddling by showing them the key saddle components that factor into fitting a saddle to horse and rider. Girls learn all steps involved in saddling, including initial grooming preparation, how to properly and gently place the saddle pad and saddle, positioning of the cinch or girth, and how to adjust the stirrups to the correct fit. Special attention is focused on the challenges of cinching the girth to the proper tightness and the issues that can arise if the girth is too loose or too tight. Girls see several demonstrations of saddling and unsaddling and practice the entire saddling process with the assistance of MLP staff.
Mounting & Dismounting
Focused on creating a strong connection with the horse, seat lessons help girls establish good posture and position, build trust with the horse, and foster confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Seat lessons are an ongoing process as the girls get more comfortable with the horses and their own abilities to lead, groom, and halter. Team leaders focus initial lessons on the basics of good posture and position to help the girls feel comfortable and confident in the saddle. Each girl masters seating in her own way, and team leaders give each girl specific tasks to help with her riding, such as sitting up straight, keeping the shoulders back, and working on a general sense of pride to facilitate the confidence needed to ride horses. Even though each of the girls experience some initial anxieties and trepidation in riding the horses, they all manage to overcome their fears and eventually walk and trot on the lunge line in a successful, enjoyable manner. Each girl develops a special connection with her horse, and the girls become more interested in being more active in the work required to un-tack and groom the horses after rides. The girls learn true leadership qualities as demonstrated by their desire to assist the team leaders, their confidence in working with the horses, and their joy and personal pride in a job well done.
Maintaining clean stalls is a daily responsibility when caring for a horse, and there are many scientific and economic lessons related to stall maintenance. Our team leaders demonstrate proper cleaning techniques by working side-by-side with girls to clean a stall. Girls learn about the main reasons for cleaning a stall: the high concentration of ammonia that builds up (which is toxic to both humans and equines and can cause respiratory problems) and the caustic properties of manure (which can break down materials it comes in contact with). Our team leaders teach the girls about different materials available to aid in the absorption process (such as shavings, newspaper, straw, and finely milled shavings) and the costs and environmental impact of each. To extend the budgetary discussion, team leaders also discuss the variety of costs required for upkeep of a horse each year, including: vet care, medicine, vaccinations, registration requirements, breeding registry, transportation, housing, grain, hay, equipment, footing, show budgeting, and training.