Lesson Plan: ‘Some Kids Play Sports. These Kids Train Wild Horses.’

Featured Article: “Some Kids Play Sports. These Kids Train Wild Horses. Photographs by Maggie Shannon and text by Jill Cowan

A remote northeastern corner of California had too many wild mustangs. What could be done? “The people in charge of managing the wild horse population thought of an idea,” Jill Cowan writes. “Have children from across the state adopt and train them. After six months, they would show off their skills at a competition.”

In this lesson, you’ll learn about this program, known as the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge, and how both the horses and the young people involved benefited from it. Then, you’ll identify a problem or a challenge your community is facing and come up with a proposal for how young people can be part of the solution to it.

In today’s featured article, you’ll learn about young people who adopted and trained wild horses as part of a community program.

Have you ever worked with horses — wild or tame — before? Imagine you were given this opportunity: Would you take it? Why or why not?

Discuss with a partner or small group what might be the challenges of caring for and training a wild horse. What might be the benefits? What life lessons might you learn from this undertaking?

After talking through this scenario more, did your answer to the original question change at all? Would you take a wild horse into your care?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why was the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge started? What problem was it trying to solve?

2. The author writes, “The Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge taught the young participants how to train a horse — and much more.” What did young people learn from participating in this program? Give at least three examples, and explain how each of these lessons might apply to life outside of horse training.

3. The author writes that Cliff Thomas, a volunteer judge for the Modoc County Junior Livestock Show, “said he saw the program as a desperately needed corrective to a decline in youth participation in horse culture.” How might youth participation in horse culture benefit this rural California community? Cite at least one piece of evidence from the article to support your response.

4. The photos in this article help tell the story just as much as the text does. Choose one image that stands out to you, and write about why. What story does this photo tell? How does it relate to the themes in the article? How does it help us understand this story better?

5. Would you like to participate in a program like the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge? Why or why not? What do you think you could learn from it?

The people in charge of managing the wild horse population in the Modoc National Forest came up with the idea of the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge as a solution to the region’s overpopulation of mustangs. They soon discovered that the program had benefits for both the community and the young people who participated in it.

What is a problem or challenge your school or local community is facing? For example, are public spaces in your community piling up with trash? Are students at your school struggling to make friends? Are there certain streets in your town that are unsafe for pedestrians?

What idea or program, like the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge, could you come up with where young people are part of the solution? What benefits could it have for the community and for those involved?

Here’s another example: An elementary school gym teacher wanted to find a way to get children more active and to reduce traffic in his community. So he organized a weekly “bike bus” to school. He found that the bike bus not only accomplished his original two goals, but that it also helped children socialize, made them excited to go to school and brought joy to the whole neighborhood.

Once you’ve identified a problem you want to solve, brainstorm several solutions for it. Then, choose one and create a proposal for it that does the following:

  • Clearly defines the problem or issue and how it is affecting the community.

  • Explains the program, event or activity you are proposing and how it addresses this problem.

  • Describes some benefits the program might have for the community and for the young people involved in it.

You can add photographs, illustrations or graphics to your proposal to help make your case.

Find more lesson plans and teaching ideas here.

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