It’s a program with a catchy name -- Detroit Horse Power. But it has nothing to do with cars.
Instead, it’s a program that started with a novel idea – to give Detroit kids the chance to care for and ride horses.
That dream has become a reality thanks to David Silver, a young former Detroit elementary school teacher who grew up around horses in the suburbs of New York City.
Silver, a former competitive horseback rider, reasoned that such a program would give kids who would never otherwise be around horses the chance to learn perseverance, empathy, responsible risk-taking, confidence, and self-control, among other attributes.
“Horses helped change my life when I was growing up, and I wanted the kids I’d seen to learn what they could take away from such an experience and apply to their everyday lives,” he said.
In 2015, Detroit Horse Power launched two pilot summer camps that served 18 kids. Since then, the program has brought over 500 Detroit kids to horse barns outside the city for free summer camps as well as an after-school program.
Besides learning how to ride and care for horses, Silver said the kids have gained confidence, learned about being responsible for another (large) living creature and not giving up when things get hard – lessons that can help them succeed in life.
“It’s teaching kids not only so much about horses but how to get through life and succeed,” he said.
Now, plans are underway for the second part of the dream – turning a large piece of vacant land in Detroit into an equestrian center.
In October 2019, the group reached an agreement with the Detroit Public Schools to acquire a 14-acre vacant former school site on which to build an urban equestrian center. The center, at Linwood and Fenkell on the city’s west side, was originally the site of the St. Francis Home for Boys and later the Paul Robeson Academy.
The center’s plans envision stables for 17 horses, an indoor arena, an outdoor riding area and large grassy paddocks where the horses can graze. Groundbreaking is set for the middle of 2024, with the center opening in 2025.
One of Detroit Horse Power’s volunteers is Michele Klippstein. She’s hosted events at her Grosse Pointe Farms home to introduce the program to the community. She’s very positive about the changes it can make.
Already, $5 million has been raised for the center. Among the sponsors are the Wayne County Farm Bureau and Grosse Pointe Equestrian, the former Grosse Pointe Hunt Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, which hosted a program there with Detroit Horse Power on Dec. 3.
Another volunteer who’s been with the program almost since the beginning is Elizabeth Tick of Grosse Pointe. She’s also been involved with fundraising, but she’s most enthusiastic about working as a youth leader with the kids in the program.
“I have worked with kids who have never even seen a horse up close before, let alone ride one,” she said. “We had a sixth-grade girl who was so terrified to be on her horse and by the end of the supervised ride, she was hugging it around the neck.”
“The beauty is applying that confidence and seeing them connect with the horses. There’s a lot of amazing life lessons the kids learn,” she said.
She added that it’s not just about riding; students also get hands-on experience in the care and grooming of horses. “You don’t just get on a horse – there’s barn chores too,” she said.
Le’Airra Jones of Detroit was in middle school when she joined the program. Now, she’s a senior at Cass Tech and still with the program. She remembers being asked about her hidden talents years ago in school.
“I said, ‘Oh, I ride horses’, and everybody was like ‘Whoa!’ You do what?’ and I’m like ‘Oh, I ride horses’ and the whole lesson stopped. It’s just not a very common thing in the people of color community,” she said.
To learn more about Detroit Horse Power, please visit detroithorsepower.org or call 313.899.0075
“The beauty is applying that confidence and seeing them connect with the horses.
“It’s teaching kids not only so much about horses but how to get through life and succeed,”