Tag Archives: Detroit

‘Tis the Season

So I may have missed #GivingTuesday with this blog, but in the spirit of the season I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the amazing non-profits which I have had the opportunity to be involved with this past year.  Any or all of them would be worthy recipients of a seasonal donation, should you be so inclined.  Alternatively, choose a group that YOU believe in and support, close to your own home.  Donations don’t have to be monetary (though I am sure that is always appreciated)…donations of goods and services often also fill a need.  And so many non-profits rely upon the dedication and commitment of good volunteers.  Really, there is just no excuse to not get behind a cause that is important to you!

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for UnTacked magazine about Detroit Horse Power, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by David Silver.  DHP’s mission seeks to use horses to provide opportunities for Detroit’s underserved youth, and in the long term, to establish an equestrian center within city limits which will provide the residents with a center for community events and equestrian services.  The story of the path which led David to the creation of DHP was really inspirational to me; I have so much admiration for people who identify a problem, see a solution, and then actively set themselves on the path to put the plan into action, despite some seemingly insurmountable hurdles.  You can read more about Detroit Horse Power here or visit their website at www.detroithorsepower.org.

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Detroit Horse Power Summer Camp participants from a 2015 session; founder David Silver is in the red polo on the right.

The United States Pony Club is still a group near and dear to my heart.  USPC states as its mission that it “develops character, leadership, confidence and a sense of community in youth through a program that teaches the care of horses and ponies, riding and mounted sports.” USPC is represented by its graduates in many walks of life, from the upper levels of equestrian sport, to related fields such as veterinary medicine, to leadership roles in various equestrian organizations.  Perhaps as significantly, USPC graduates cite their experience as Pony Clubbers as being influential in contributing to their success in other, non-equestrian, ventures.  Visit www.ponyclub.org to learn more.

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The Equine Land Conservation Resource (www.elcr.org) is one of the most organized and effective advocacy groups supporting the cause of equestrian land preservation.  Since 2007, the organization has assisted in protecting more than 200,000 acres of land and more than 1,200 miles of trails.  They maintain an online resource library, with free information on topics such as conservation tools for horse lands, best management practices, and more.  The ELCR keeps tabs on local threats to equestrian access across the country, and helps to provide solid facts and figures to present to key stakeholders.  Through their partnership with My Horse University, the ELCR provides free webinars on topics such as manure management, developing a private trail system, and more.  As a community, we MUST be attentive to the long term management of public and private lands which allow equestrian use.  We can all list places where we used to ride; once equestrians have lost access, it almost never returns.

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Just recently, I had the chance to write a Charity Spotlight on the Standardbred Retirement Foundation for an upcoming issue of UnTacked.  This group was founded in 1989 by two women closely affiliated with the Standardbred racing industry, and since its inception they have helped to place over one hundred horses per year.  As with many racehorses, some animals are left with injuries and other limitations which make them unsuitable as riding horses; the SRF will retain ownership of these animals and provides them with care for the rest of their lives.   The organization remains involved with all of the horses which it places, requiring twice yearly follow ups on the animal’s health and well-being, signed by the owner’s veterinarian.  In addition to saving literally thousands of horses in its twenty six year existence, the SRF has assisted with programs for at-risk youth, exposing them to the sweet, gentle personalities of the Standardbred horse.  Executive director Judith Bokman commented in her interview with me that their limiting factor, always, is funding.  With more funding, they could take in more horses and expand their youth programming.  To learn more, visit www.adoptahorse.org.

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Standardbreds are uniquely identified via their freeze brand, seen here.  Their gentle personality and willing nature make them wonderful riding and companion horses.

Finally, an introduction to All Better Pets, a Manchester, NH, based nonprofit with the mission of providing care to abandoned and homeless pets. This organization is affiliated with the Center for Advanced Veterinary Care, a small animal emergency and referral hospital. Many of the animals which come to the clinic are in need of medical attention for treatable conditions; without intervention, however, euthanasia would be the only option.  Since 2010, the organization has helped over 200 animals get well and find new homes, and has provided assistance to hundreds of others through affiliations with other groups.  I am a little partial to All Better Pets because my cat, Nieva (nee Willow) is an alum.  She is pretty much perfect. Visit www.allbetterpets.org to learn more.

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Nieva

These are just five worthy organizations for your consideration this holiday season.  Please comment with information about YOUR non-profit organization of choice.  Even small donations add up, and in this season of giving please do not forget to consider the importance of supporting the efforts of these grassroots groups.

Detroit Horse Power

Last June, I was invited out to the Great Lakes Region of the United States Pony Club to teach at their (amazing) Regional Camp. Held at Hunter’s Run Farm in Metamora, MI, these Pony Clubbers had a great few days—most horses stayed in grass temporary pens, and the campers slept at the home of a local Pony Club family (bless them!), after riding twice daily, supplemental horse management lessons and other enrichment activities.  I know we instructors had a great time, and the whole camp ran like clockwork, with instructors rotating among groups, disciplines and subjects.

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While I met many new faces at the camp, one stood out in particular.  David Silver was clearly not the typical Pony Club camper.  At 25 years old, he had already graduated from college and participated in the Teach for America program, working for two years with fourth and fifth graders at the Burns Elementary and Middle School on Detroit’s west side.  David had taken advantage of USPC’s age extension to rejoin the organization in an attempt to earn his H-A Pony Club certification (formerly rating).

While I admired his desire to keep learning and growing as a horseman, part of me did wonder what on earth would motivate someone so…adult…to come back to this youth organization as a participating member.  When I learned the reason, my respect for this inspiring emerging leader deepened.

It would have been easy for David to leave Detroit after his two years with Teach for America were up.  Raised in Westchester County, NY, David had competed through the CCI* level in eventing before college, and had enjoyed the advantages of a privileged upbringing.  With a degree from Dartmouth and connections up and down the east coast, there is little doubt that he could have secured a lucrative position in an upscale suburban community somewhere else, away from the struggles and challenges faced daily by the young people living in metro Detroit.

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Detroit Horse Power’s logo.

But instead, David founded a non-profit organization called Detroit Horse Power.  As a teacher, David felt he had made real connections with his students, and wanted to do more to help them to develop the social, emotional and life skills which many of us have and take for granted: a sense of self-worth, self-efficacy,  and self-confidence,  as well as empathy, perseverance and patience, for a few.  Working with underprivileged young people in the city is a challenging task; issues such as residential transiency, poverty and neighborhood violence can be a routine part of their daily lives, with an education their only real hope of getting out.  Reflecting upon the life lessons that his years with horses had taught him, David saw an opportunity to bring his two worlds together.

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Participants in Detriot Horse Power’s second summer program in August of 2015.  David is in the red polo.

Detroit Horse Power was awarded its nonprofit status in April of 2015, and that summer, they provided programming for eighteen children during two, five day camps.   The children were vanned out of inner city Detroit to farms generously loaned to the program for its use.  Volunteers came from the local equine community as well as residents eager to work with city youth.

As most horse people know, something magical happens when you bring children and horses together.  For a young person raised in the city, meeting a horse face to face is unlike anything else which they have experienced.  Horses are big, docile and (usually) gentle, yet they require control of one’s emotion and energy.

Through their five day session, the children were given a life changing experience.  According to volunteers, children went from negative self-talk to self-confidence.  They learned to lead, groom and even ride.  They learned how to problem solve, and they learned conflict resolution skills.  They learned from farriers, vets and even a mounted police officer.  In just five days, these children had a transformative experience, made possible through the support and generosity of many and the leadership of David.

One could say that these sessions alone were a victory for a fledgling program; but David has a vision for what Detroit Horse Power will become, and these camps are just barely a warm up.  Detroit is a large, sprawling city, and due to a steady decrease in population from a high of 1.8 million in the 1950’s to 700,000 today, nearly 23 square miles within city limits lay vacant—a land mass as large as Manhattan.  Decaying, unmaintained buildings remain barely standing on some of these sites; some land is contaminated due to its previous use, while other sites have returned to grassy, unkempt lots which become trash filled homes for pests.  The city lacks the resources to maintain these vacant lands, so residents will often try to do so instead.  These untended lands are the embodiment of urban blight, reducing property values as well as the overall quality of life for residents.

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Urban blight in Detroit, MI

Where some might see an overwhelming problem, David sees an opportunity.  His vision is to open a riding and horse boarding center, right within city limits. The Detroit Horse Power riding center will be a unifying resource for its local community, allowing young people a safe place to come to receive tutoring, support and time with the horses.  Other city residents who might normally move to the suburbs to keep their horses could instead choose to stay, leaving valuable financial resources within the city.  The boarding and equestrian events activities will support the operating costs and infrastructure of the center, leaving Detroit Horse Power as an organization with the opportunity to direct all of its resources towards its programming for youth.

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A vacant, boarded up house stands in the once thriving Brush Park neighborhood with the downtown Detroit skyline behind it (Rebecca Cook/Reuters).

In 2016, Detroit Horse Power will be expanding its summer programs, reaching seventy five young people during six weeks of five day camps, held once again on farms donated to DHP for its use.  This summer’s programs are intended to be a launching point for getting into schools for the fall, with the objective of providing after school programming in horse management, as well as tutoring.

This whole story didn’t come out during my visit to Michigan last summer—that week, I helped David with some tips for longeing and bandaging as he worked to prepare for the H-A certification, a rating he attained later that summer.  David wanted the H-A as a credential to provide greater legitimacy to his work with horses and youth, because he knows that the US Pony Club and its certification system is recognized worldwide as producing thinking, skilled and effective horsemen.   I am glad I could play a small role in helping David get to where he wanted to go.

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A participant in the June 2015 Detroit Horse Power camp enjoys a visit by a mounted officer.  Photo “borrowed” from the gallery on the DHP website.

It was only after I had returned home that I began to do a bit more research, and learned more clearly what it was that David was trying to accomplish.  I was so inspired by his work and his goals that I asked him if I could do some writing related to it; a 3,000 word piece on Detroit Horse Power is scheduled to run in the July/August 2016 issue of Untacked (published by The Chronicle of the Horse).  I hope you will read it!

I must say that one of the things which has always bothered me about the horse world is seeing just how self-centered and demanding most of us horse people can be.  In college, I studied environmental conservation, and I definitely saw myself going into a field where I would be working to “make the world a better place”. In spite of my passion for riding and for horsemanship, I didn’t really want to go into the field full time because I thought it was too self-centered of a thing to do.  I know that the use of horses in therapeutic settings is increasing, and I really wish I could get interested in that for myself—but it just isn’t my niche.  So the “self-centeredness” of the equestrian world has always bothered my inner hippie soul, and it is still something I struggle with.  Hearing about someone who has so clearly been able to translate their love for horses with their desire to effect positive change is really inspiring.

If you want to learn more about Detroit Horse Power, you can follow them on Facebook or visit their website, www.detroithorsepower.org. I definitely recommend checking them out!