(Originally published as a cover story in the print edition of The Oregonian SW Weekly Nov. 10, 2012 Oregonian story link online)
Grace Fischer and Emily Harkavy, both 9, peer into the stalls in the barn at the Little Corral, where they stroke Clover and Patches.
Clover and Patches seem optimistic as they anticipate being let out of their stalls.
When Liz Dugger, the owner of the Little Corral, unlatches the gate that holds Clover, Patches whinnies as if to say, “What about me?”
Patches does not get to come out right now, as he is not a horse you can ride. Dugger leads Clover to the waiting girls, who grab the brushes to begin grooming.
“I like to drag my hand over the mane as I brush his hair,” says Grace,
as she gently soothes the Shetland pony. If Clover were a cat, he’d be purring.
“He looks so pretty,” Emily says as she brushes Clover’s other side.
“I think he likes you guys,”
Dugger says, looking at the Girls. Emily’s mom, Sheri Harkavy,responds, “They are part animal.”
Meanwhile, Patches longingly whinnies again, peering out of the stall. Grace is moved, saying, “Oh, poor Patches.”
The girls are part of Horse Play at The Little Corral, a four-week after-school program of Wilsonville Parks and Recreation.
When it’s time to saddle up, Dugger asks the girls who goes first. The two home-schooled Lake Oswego girls make their decision the old-fashioned way.
“I want to,” Grace says, and Emily suggests, “Let’s do ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors,’ to decide.”
“Great idea,” Grace agrees. Emily wins.
“That’s what I’m talking about here, kids at that age need a place that’s joyful and fun, a place to build great memories,” Dugger says.
A new path
Dugger opened the Little Corral a year ago after months of soul searching when hermusic director job at Rolling Hills Community Church ended.
She would meander on the 30-acre property she owns with her husband, West Linn dentist Rob Dugger.
“I saw how beautiful our property was, and I thought about kids not playing outside anymore, and my kid was inside playing video games, and my heart just broke.”
Liz Dugger reflected on her own childhood, when others had given her the opportunity to be in barns around horses. As a child she had a horse for a while, and her husband had a pony at one point.
“Those days are … some of my best memories,” Dugger says.
It occurred to her then that she could help this generation of kids make similar memories.
“While walking the peaceful property, I could just hear kids laughing and playing,” Dugger says.
Now kids laugh and play at the Little Corral. She offers day camps, birthday parties, holiday and customized parties, and classes such as the one Emily and Grace are taking.
Sound of laughter
When Emily and Grace are finished riding, they ask if they may braid Clover’s mane.
Yes, Dugger says.
Clover is content to allow them to make his mane beautiful.
“He looks like a Clover,” Grace says, pointing to the Shetland pony’s forehead. “He’s so handsome.”
“He’s very happy,” Dugger says. “I know he likes you.”
Patches peers out of his stall again.
As the class finishes up, Dugger opens Patches’ stall to let him out for some fresh pasture air. Patches paws the ground, anticipating being able to see the kids up close.
Dugger leads him past Emily and Grace, who pet him, and the other kids in the class also reach out.
Dugger is exuberant about finding this new calling.
“It’s just slowing down, smelling the grass, splashing the water in the bucket,” she says, “using all the senses, those tangible experiences they will remember.”
THE LITTLE CORRAL Website
— Email author: Cornelia Seigneur