By Susan Bromley
– Johneisha Burse doesn’t often leave Detroit, the city where she lives, other than the occasional visit to Lansing or Indiana to see family.
But last July, the city kid met the country after she attended a five-day horse camp courtesy of Detroit Horse Power, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities to at-risk urban youth.
When the 16-year-old junior at Denby High School was approached by her counselor about the chance to attend the camp in New Hudson, she was excited. And scared.
“We don’t get a lot of opportunity to do stuff outside the city— this is different and unique,” said Burse. “Before this, I had never touched a horse, just seen them from a distance on Belle Isle. People told me, ‘You’re going to be kicked by them.’ I was a little scared, but I thought, ‘I’ll try.’”
Now, Detroit Horse Power is offering an opportunity for township residents to learn about keeping horses healthy as well as assist in giving urban youth equine experiences.
A parasite management seminar with Dr. Judy Marteniuk will be from 10 a.m.-noon, March 25, at the library, 304 South St. A suggested $5 donation for the seminar will benefit Detroit Horse Power, a non-profit organization dedicated to giving city kids the chance to ride, care for, and learn about horses.
“Parasite prevention is an often overlooked element of horse care,” said Detroit Horse Power founder David Silver. “There are all kinds of internal and external parasites that are harmful to horses and Dr. Marteniuk will teach about recognizing signs, symptoms, and which treatments are best to alleviate parasites. She is very aware of the threats presented by different organisms in Michigan. We are also providing great information about the work we do at Detroit Horse Power.”
This is the second seminar the organization has hosted at the library. Brandon Township resident Lisa Rossman helped facilitate last’s year’s seminar on equine emergencies and is excited to attend this year’s seminar in her hometown and continue supporting Silver and Detroit Horse Power.
“I think what he is doing as a horse person and as a citizen is fantastic,” said Rossman of Silver, whom she met through the Metamora Hunt II Pony Club. “As a horse person and as a mom who has a daughter very involved with horses, it is a tremendous benefit to provide children interaction with horses. That just is wonderful to me, it’s an endeavor that I support fully.”
Horses featured prominently in Silver’s childhood in New York. When he moved to Detroit in 2012 to teach elementary students, he found the schools under supported, with a shortage of resources. Even when a school is a safe space that supports learning, he notes, there are many barriers and challenges outside of school that hinder children’s growth and development, including crime, neighborhood blight, and instability and transiency in families.
The challenges were cause for reflection on the needs of his students and with a desire to provide kids with safe and enriching spaces outside of school to give them the skills to succeed in the future, he left the classroom and founded Detroit Horse Power in 2015. This is the organization’s third year of providing Detroit students with summer camp opportunities outside the city, done through a focus on five core character traits that are linked to academic and career success— confidence, perseverance, self-control, empathy, and responsible risk-taking. The camps do this through teaching kids how to ride and take care of horses.
“There are so many complex interaction with the horses— controlling an animal so much larger doesn’t come easily,” said Silver. “It’s all about continuing to work hard. When you struggle, fail, try again and find success, that builds perseverance. For the kids, it’s really becoming mindful and aware of themselves and building toward self-regulation, a big element. There is a powerful bond that occurs between a child and horse and it’s about teaching that compassion that is so important to being a well-rounded person.”
At camp, Burse did a variety of activities, including making treats, painting the horses to learn their anatomy, washing the horses, cleaning the arena, constructing jumping posts, and, of course, taking riding lessons, where she trotted with her horses, Dewey and Dante.
She was scared at first because of their size and also learned what a large responsiblity a horse is as she rattles off a list of things involved in their care— teeth cleaning, shoe changing, coat cleaning.
“You’ve got to make sure their nails are in their shoes correctly or they can get a horrible infection,” said Burse. “My horse had an infection, he was leaning on me, and I was helping take care of the infection. You have to care for them.”
But Burse didn’t shy away from the responsibility. Instead, she has been drawn back, taking advantage of weekend opportunities offered by Detroit Horse Power to visit horse farms and ride again.
“I feel good about myself, they are like a friend you never had,” said Burse of the horses. “They can’t talk, but they listen to you. When I go out there, it’s a whole different environment and feeling. Back at home, it’s so loud, but when I go out there (to the country), it’s very quiet. Even if you get a lesson, it blocks out everything, it’s very calming and relaxing. So quiet. I love it. You can really hear yourself talking… It’s given me a different outlook on a lot of stuff. It teaches me not to judge people, just like the horses.”
Silver is hoping to bring the country experience into the city. Detroit Horse Power is currently working with government officials to identify 15-20 acres of vacant, uncontaminated land in the city that would be suitable for an urban riding center and home to kids in the city year-round.
“With the amount of vacant land Detroit has, it’s an opportunity to think creatively about what it means to be an urban center,” said Silver. “Twenty years down the road, if Detroit is thoughtful and makes a strategic investment, we can combine the commercial, entertainment, and cultural core of a city, with a slower pace of life, a real connection to nature, that will make Detroit a world-class place to live.”
To RSVP to the March 25 seminar at the Brandon Township Library, email firstname.lastname@example.org.