ANDOVER — Police Officer Steven Gerrior typically starts off an anti-bullying program in local elementary schools with lots of talk about being kind to others and being sure to accept people’s differences.
Then, he says, “whoa,” when he’s almost done and two adorable miniature horses make their entrance and the children in the crowd go crazy in delight.
All of a sudden, Gerrior has the attention of every kid in the audience and they are sure to remember to “Just Say Whoa to Bullying.”
“Just Say Whoa to Bullying” is a national program that uses the tiny horses to teach bullying prevention. The miniature horses are only about 3-feet tall, much smaller than a regular horse. Sure, a miniature horse also looks different than its larger relatives, but so what, is the message here.
“So what if a mini horse looks different. They are still beautiful,” said Toni Hadad of Andover who founded Lifting Spirits Miniature Therapy Horses in Andover and is now part of “Just Say Whoa to Bullying.”
Hadad, who owns Ultimate Perk coffee in both Andover and Groveland with her husband, helped bring the program to South School on Oct. 11. Visits are also planned for Sanborn on Tuesday and High Plain on Friday.
Lifting Spirits Mini Therapy Horses is the only program in the state using the “Whoa” approach to promote anti-bullying in schools.
“This program reminds kids that everyone has something valuable to offer. Kids learn respect, acceptance and tolerance,” Hadad said. “We are honored and excited to be chosen to be a part of this.”
Gerrior called the program “a home run,” as he brought a miniature horse to headquarters and his fellow officers stopped what they were doing to learn about the program.
“Grown men were taking pictures with the mini horse. They thought the program was a great idea,” Gerrior said.
The small horses live in a Haverhill stable. Hadad rescues the tiny wonders from around the country. She also rescues dwarf mini horses, which only grow to about 27 inches tall. Two dwarf mini horses, named Mr. Buttons and Peaches, were scheduled to appear in the local school presentations.
Earlier this month, Hadad drove to Kentucky and rescued another dwarf miniature horse to add to her horse family. He’s got a white patch on his body in the shape of Idaho, so that will be his name.
Kids also sign an anti-bullying pledge, receive a parent handout and also go home with a 12-page activity book at the presentations.
“Our goal is to reach as many schools and children as possible to fight this issue.The Andona Society has also awarded us a grant towards this and we are looking for sponsors to help support this program and other programs we have with the horses,” said Hadad, noting the grant was for $800.