Zachary waited at the farm, hours after school had ended, excited to be the first student to meet our newest companion. As late afternoon cast long shadows across the pastures and the cows were in their yard after evening milking, a blue Jeep, pulling a trailer, turned into the red farm-gate. Otis! The appaloosa mustang looked around cautiously as he descended the ramp, assessing the pastures, taking note of the cows across the fence. “That’s a fine looking animal!” Will, the dairy farmer, said, nodding in approval. Zach stood near Otis’ head and offered a hand, allowing Otis to breathe him in – a horse’s equivalent of asking your name.
The next morning, Otis spent some time at the fence, eyeing his bovine neighbors, flaring his nostrils as he accustomed himself to their scent and all the other scents of the new air. The cows, equally curious, approached their side of the shared fence and watched Otis as he took graceful laps around the ring. Every few laps, Otis would halt right in front of the fence, and the cows, his awestruck spectators, would back off momentarily, startled by the unfamiliar creature. Later, all of the Otto Specht students gathered together to meet this new creature, who they would soon be learning and working with. A sign, painted by the students, hung from the railing of the corral, decorated with the students’ handprints and the words “Welcome Home Otis.”
Otis quickly settled into his new home, thrilled to have fresh grass, and becoming accustomed to, and even, it would seem, fond of the cows across the fence. The children gladly worked to care for the horse, mucking stalls, carrying water, and clearing undesired plants from the riding ring and debris from the paddock. Students found a sense of purpose working with Otis, which helped them brush aside other concerns and social anxieties and delve into the work. The fifth grade girls exclaimed that Mr. Bosch always knew the right jobs to give them when working with Otis. He knew who could stand mucking the stalls, and who could carry the heavy water buckets. Life lessons were also readily learned with Otis. The students could reflect upon themselves through what they learned about the horse. For example, they all learned that we do not feed Otis from our hands since he would get spoiled and then he would expect treats from us whenever he saw us and be disappointed when we didn’t have them. “What does that remind you of?” Mr. Bosch asked the third graders. “The red truck!” Ori quickly replied. “Exactly!” Mr. Bosch confirmed. “Ever since I gave you one ride in the red truck, you have asked for it every gardening class.” The third graders nodded. They understood this lesson, and look forward to many more.