Like many girls, 10-year-old Vicki Galvan loves to draw horses.
But before Anaheim police officers Chuck Erickson and Dave Grace brought their horses to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on Wednesday as part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, Vicki had never ridden one or seen one up close.
"I didn't know horses were so big," she said, after taking a short ride around the playground under the officers' supervision. "I had only seen a donkey."
Drug Abuse Resistance Education--or DARE--is a 17-week program in which police officers visit local fifth-grade classrooms weekly to talk about the dangers of drug use.
Erickson and Grace staged the riding exhibition to remind the students that sports are an alternative to drug use. Erickson brought along his 9-year-old son, Philip, who raced his horse around pylons to demonstrate that children can ride safely.
"A lot of people use alcohol to relax. A lot of people use tranquilizers to relax. My family relaxes by riding," Erickson said. "Our goal is to show them that riding is something that they can do, that they can go down to the stables. For their homework tonight, we are going to ask that the children write down all of the sports and activities they enjoy, things that they can do instead of using drugs."
After a short introduction in the classroom, Erickson took Vicki and her classmates to the playground. Erickson and Grace rode their horses around the group and then directed the animals straight at the children, pulling the horses up about 20 feet short of the students as the youngsters laughed and screamed in delight.
The officers then dismounted, placed the children in pairs up in the saddles and then led the horses on a trot around the playground.
"This is fun," said 11-year-old Ivan Saldana. "You go around real fast."
"I had a pony in Mexico and this reminds me of him," said Manuel Pech, 11.
For Johnny Hernandez, it was his first time on a horse.
"It was kind of different and I didn't know if I would like the horse, but it was fun. But I thought the horses were going to be this small," the 10-year-old said, holding his arm out shoulder high. The horses were over 5 feet tall at their shoulders.
Principal Loretta Barthrop said she believes such programs will help keep her students--most of whom come from lower income families--off drugs.
"This helps open the world to them, to possibilities that they might not find in their neighborhood," she said. "There would not be much of a chance for many of them to experience this otherwise."