Berkeley Heights police officer Joe Williams talks with students about horse training. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Governor Livingston student Jordan Deaveroux works with Cheyenne, while Joe Williams coaches him. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Students from Governor Livingston's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program spent Tuesday at William's farm in Long Hill. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Joe Williams and Cheyenne Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Joe Williams talks student Angel Matos through how to communicate to Cheyenne that he wants her to step back. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Students from Governor Livingston's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program spent Tuesday at the farm of Berkeley Heights Police Officer Joe Williams. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Berkeley Heights Police Officer Take Off His Badge and Puts on His Boots to Help Deaf Kids Learn to Work with Horses
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 • 7:20am
LONG HILL, NJ – The student and the horse stood face to face. The boy bent down slightly, his eyes on the horse’s chest. He stepped forward, and the horse stepped back. It was a moment of perfect communication between the horse, blind in one eye, and the boy, who has a hearing impairment.
A group of students from Governor Livingston High School’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program spent the day Tuesday at the Long Hill Township farm of Joe Williams, a detective sergeant with the Berkeley Heights Police Department. Joe said he invited the students so they would have a chance to be around horses and find out that because the animals respond best to non-verbal communication, they interact well to people who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Williams said he first got the idea to invite the students to his farm on a visit to Governor Livingston in September, which happens to be Deaf Awareness Month. He was talking with one of the teachers, who had brought her daughter to the farm for riding lessons, and mentioned he thought deaf students would do well with horses.
The majority of the horses at the Williams’ farm, Skyler’s Acres, are rescues. Some had been mistreated, others had been sick or injured, and either their former owners no longer wanted them, couldn’t keep them, or lost interest once they were unable to race. Joe and his wife, Collette, rehabilitate the horses, train them to trust people again, teach them how to respond to gentle signals.
“Personally, I like a horse with a quirk,” Collette said. “They’re more interactive. Horses that are afraid of people are that way because someone made them that way.”
Tuesday threatened rain all day but the students took no notice as they crowded around to hear Joe and Collette talk about how to work with horses, the non-verbal ways of communicating, even the different career paths that are open to them. Several instructors signed along as they spoke.
Governor Livingston teacher Dr. Meredith Morgan also spent the day at the farm, where she learned to ride just a year ago, as a way of conquering her fear of horses. She demonstrated how she’s trained her horse, Gucci.
“You can work with horses,” Joe told the students. “You aren’t at a disadvantage. In fact, you have an advantage. Horses respond very well to non-verbal communication.”
Joe and Collette brought out two of their horses, Cheyenne and Blackout, and demonstrated some basic training tips, like how to get the horses to walk forward, walk backward, stop, even how to calm them when they’re upset. Joe demonstrated and gave a thorough explanation, then invited the students to try.
And try they did. Smiles abounded when the horses responded to their signals. Later Joe taught them how to trim and shoe a horse, a skill he said could also become a career. Still later, they played team-building games with Collette, even though the threatened rain finally started to fall.
“I could hear their laughter all the way from the barn,” Joe said.
The students stayed at the farm from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., and Joe said later he’d been worried they might get bored. His concerns turned out to be unfounded – as they were reluctantly leaving, the kids were already asking when they could come back.
“We did this for the kids,” he said. “It was worth it to see their eyes light up when they connected with the horses. And to me, if I can change even one kid’s life by showing him or her another career path or even another activity they can get involved with outside of school, then every minute spent here was worth it.”