First-grade students at Flippin Elementary School Thursday didn’t horse around during a reading program on the school grounds.

Horse owner and Mountain Home resident Bonnie Smith walked about 50 students through a “first touch” event featuring a horse and a pony acting as equine characters from the world of books.

The event and a follow-up experience in May are part of the Black Stallion Literacy Project.

The horse and pony enchanted Flippin’s first grade in a grassy area behind the school. Organizers channeled that excitement into inspiration to read.

Children teetered on the edge of good behavior as they waited to touch the beasts, staying quiet enough not to spook the animals but visibly shaking with excitement.

Each student was given a copy of the book “Little Black, a Pony” by Walter Farley, author of “The Black Stallion.” The students met and petted “Big Red” the horse and “Little Black” the pony — the book’s two main characters — and were encouraged to learn to read the book.

Some of the first-grade students jumped up and down and gleefully cried “Yes!” when Smith told them that “Big Red” would kiss each of their books.

Smith and other volunteers made sure the children and animals were comfortable as each student went through the line to get a book and pet the horse and pony. She chatted with some students about their previous experiences with horses and mentioned the importance and fun of reading.

The children will get to read the books to their two new friends at a “second touch” event in May, Smith said.

The extra nudge toward literacy for these students comes at no price to taxpayers. Flippin’s Wal-Mart paid for the project in Flippin and Yellville-Summit and plans to expand it next year to include Bruno-Pyatt.

The horses also visited Mountain Home Elementary School students Wednesday, where the project is funded by a grant Smith procured from the Arkansas Humanities Council.

At the end of the “second touch” in May, students are to be given a second book of their own. Each is to receive a copy of “Little Black Goes to the Circus,” another book in the “Little Black” series.