Highland Twp. horse camp empowers young Detroiters

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Highland Township — Destiny Williams had her “Chuck E. Cheese” smile on.

The 8-year-old held on to the reins as she slowly and carefully led her horse Winnie around the obstacles in the ring.

“That’s what I call it,” her mother Nicole Williams said, as she proudly watched her daughter riding by, “when her whole face is just one big smile.”

Williams was one of 11 excited children who spent the past week learning how to care for and ride horses through the Detroit Horse Power program. The five-day camp hosted at Equinox Farms in Highland Township is a pilot of a program founders David Silver and Paul Mack hope to one day bring into Detroit city limits as a way to offer more educational programming for children and to find a use for some of the vacant land in the city.

“A lot was given to me in my youth and it’s important to me to provide the kind of access I had,” said Silver. “Detroit needs to be open to creative solutions that utilizes the existing space and provides more for residents.”

As a former competitive rider and former Burns Elementary and Middle School teacher on the city’s west side, Silver has formed a plan to marry his two passions.

Hopeful change

With Winnie and T.C., two patient and docile horses, the donated venue and a group of volunteers, the camp has already been making an impact.

“She was so scared when she first came here, she was crying,” said Williams, whose son Dorian, 12, also attended the camp. “Now she’s going around putting on saddles and brushing them and everything.”

It’s given her children something to bond over.

“To see them both doing the same thing without arguing, oh my gosh, I’m going to have to get horses just to keep them quiet like this,” she said.

Most of the children were former students of Silver and most of them have never seen a horse before, aside from mounted police.

Silver hopes to change that. He envisions a 10-20 acre stable in one of the Detroit neighborhoods that could address the need for more positive enrichment options for youth and the shortage of horse boarding options for metro Detroit horse owners. The revenues from this subsidiary enterprise, which would manage boarding, equestrian events, and more, would help lower the fundraising needs of the nonprofit.

Over time, the hope would be to expand the social impact to serve other communities in need, including children and adults with disabilities, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, returning citizens, and more.

One of the biggest hurdles to this plan is that city code considers horses to be livestock animals and as such they cannot be kept within the city limits. Any changes would require what could be a lengthy approval process, not to mention the support of residents.

“Larger animals like horses should be in (their own) category that should be decided on a case-by-case basis,” said Silver.

He’s working with partners in the city now to make his pitch, but in the meantime, Silver isn’t waiting around to make a difference.

Confidence, empowerment

Shatese Walker, 11, spent her week at Detroit Horse Power learning responsibilities that come with having a horse.

“I love riding them, feeding them, cleaning them, everything,” she said.

Her 8-year-old sister Ariel didn’t want to stop coming to camp, or at least wanted to take her horse home with her.

“I’m going to bring your bed here in the hay,” said their mother Darlene Walker. “And you can eat horse food.”

“No mom,” replied Ariel. “I need real food.”

One of the key skills Silver hopes to impart through the program is self-confidence. For Tariq Morrison’s mother, watching her 11-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum, be confident enough to control such a large animal brought tears to her eyes.

“His behavior affects how the horse reacts. He has to listen and follow multistep directions so this is great, therapeutically, for him,” she said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him.”


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To learn more about Detroit Horse Power or to make a donation, visit www.facebook.com/dethorsepower.