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Equestrian center to serve hundreds of youths planned for northwest Detroit


Fundraising for $8.1 million facility moves forward with commitments from Kresge, state of Michigan, anonymous donor

Planners of an $8.1 million, 14-acre equestrian center to serve hundreds of Detroit youths are optimistic that recent fundraising positions them to break ground on the northwest side within the next year.

Detroit Horse Power (DHP) Executive Director David Silver said that a $500,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation, $400,000 from a donor preferring anonymity, $1.8 million from the state of Michigan and anticipated New Market Tax Credits, give the organization confidence that remaining funds needed can be raised.

The organization currently serves about 100 youths ages 11-18 annually through school year and summer programs that ferry them to supportive stables as far away as Davisburg and East Lansing, Michigan, while using classroom and administrative space on the Marygrove campus in Detroit.

A 13-year-old student in a dark Metallica T-shirt walks a horse in a barn of a horse farm.
Charles Johnson, 13, walks a horse around the Willowbrooke Farm training ring as part of the Detroit Horse Power summer program. Willowbrooke in Plymouth is one of the facilities supporting Detroit Horse Power’s work while the organization raises funds for its own equestrian center. (Photo by Lon Horwedel for The Kresge Foundation)

By having their own 20-horse stable and eliminating the travel times, Silver said Detroit Horse Power will be able to serve 100 youth a year in a highly focused program while giving some horse time to 10 times that number and enroll 500 in summer programs.

The organization currently maintains an extensive waiting list. Making more horses more accessible is key to meeting this growing demand.

“There is a growing body of research showing that for young people, animal-assisted activities like working with horses have physical and mental benefits, including growth of social-emotional skills,” said Silver. “And we know that students with greater social-emotional competencies are more likely to graduate from high school, graduate from college and persist in their chosen career paths.”

“Eventually, we will be able to ensure that every Detroit Public School student has some exposure to horses over the course of their education,” Silver said.

The Detroit equestrian center — modeled on similar facilities and programs in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but to be larger — will be built on vacant land leased from Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) at the site of the former Paul Robeson Academy, which was demolished more than a decade ago following a fire. It is near Fenkell Ave. and Linwood St. and the Focus: HOPE campus in the Hope Village neighborhood.

Silver emphasized that the difference in having their own facility goes beyond the number of youths to be served and the elimination of long travel times.

“Having consistent exposure to the same horses and greater involvement with their care takes the rider-horse bonds and their benefits to an all-together higher level,” said Silver. The center will include classrooms, administrative spaces, an indoor arena with bleachers, multiple outdoor riding areas and paddocks for horses to graze.

“Opening this new facility will mean horses play a far greater role in our students’ lives, at a space our students can count on and where they can take ownership. We are building an asset for the community and a launching pad for students to have successful futures,” Silver added.

Kresge Detroit Program Managing Director Wendy Lewis Jackson said that the foundation first supported Detroit Horse Power with a $35,000 Kresge Innovative Projects Detroit grant in 2018 and has been impressed with the growth of the organization since then, leading to additional planning support and the more recent $500,000 grant.

“The Detroit Horse Power equestrian center promises to be a major benefit to young Detroiters and a positive force in the revitalization of the Hope Village community. This will improve the lives of hundreds of Detroit students while turning blight into an asset for the neighborhood. It is a win-win,” added Jackson.

A 12-year-old student grooms a horse with a brush in a stable.
Autumn Ringo, 12, part of the Detroit Horse Power summer program, grooms a horse in the stables at Willowbrooke Farm in Plymouth. (Photo by Lon Horwedel for The Kresge Foundation.)

Neighbors of the planned facility, like HOPE Village Revitalization, the area’s community development corporation (CDC), are enthusiastic.

“From the very beginning, Detroit Horse Power has been deliberate about actively engaging the residents in Hope Village,” said Jeffrey Jones, the CDC’s executive director. “Over the years, the neighborhood feels like real partners with DHP in this endeavor. Hope Village is excited to see this new facility open because it represents a transformational investment in our community that will impact generations of kids across the region.”

Meanwhile, the potential of the site’s proximity to the Joe Louis Greenway isn’t lost on Detroit Horse Power.

“The Greenway will be just steps from our site, and we expect this confluence of investments in quality of life for Detroiters, easily accessible and just off the Lodge Freeway, to become a regional recreational destination,” said Silver. “The synergies are even more fitting because Joe Louis was a barrier-breaking Black equestrian himself.”

As a Detroit public schools teacher at Burns Elementary-Middle School, Silver became conscious of the benefits of equestrian training he had once taken for granted growing up in affluent suburbs of New York City.

“I wanted to level the playing field so that if you grew up around Burns Elementary-Middle School on Detroit’s west side you could still have access to the same enriching opportunities and a healthier future,” he said of his motivation to found Detroit Horse Power in 2015.

“Looking back, it’s crystal clear to me that horses shaped me into the person I am today,” he said. “We say that equestrian training builds PERCS – perseverance, empathy, responsible risk-taking, confidence and self-control.”

Explaining the impact of a dedicated stable and horses, Cass Tech senior Le’Airra Jones said that “it would mean the world.” Having made the long treks to Detroit Horse Power’s partner stables in the program since the fourth grade, she said, “ I think that having it in the community, something new for everyone else, especially people of color to experience would be life changing.”

As to the experience of riding, one alum, DaVion Sherman, said, ”It’s amazing. … It’s like you’re on a different playing field, like you’re in a different dimension.”
“We have significant fundraising yet to do, but we have momentum now,” said Silver. “We invite any individuals or organizations who want to contribute to youth opportunity and community revitalization to join us. You can find out more at our website”