It’s that time of the year again! With the weather warming up it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy hiking trails both locally and globally.
Just like drivers share the roads with runners and bikers, trails are enjoyed by pedestrians, dogs, and people on horseback. Keeping this in mind, here are a few helpful tips for encountering a horse on a trail!
This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.
A group of young Black men confidently guide their horses through the streets of Hartford’s North End. They smile and wave to friends and residents as they ride through the neighborhood. But this isn’t a chance encounter. They are members of the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit at Ebony Horsewomen, Incorporated, a non-profit equestrian and therapeutic organization located within Keney Park. These young men are a familiar site on the trails that wind through the 693-acre park. They report trail hazards to the Keney Park Sustainability committee, help with trail maintenance, and permanently mark trails and provide hospitality for visitors to the park on their weekly Sunday patrols.
Ebony Horsewomen and the myriad of programs they offer is a unifying figure in the North End and has been for over 36-years. Ebony Horsewomen is well-known for their youth programs, but the services they provide extend to a wider population and address mental health issues across all ages through their certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapy services.
Hartford’s North End is known as one of the toughest neighborhoods in a city that is constantly ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in Connecticut (WTNH, 2020). Growing up as a Black youth in Hartford can be stressful, challenging, and dangerous, says Patricia “Pat” Kelly, the founder and CEO of Ebony Horsewomen. The number of homicides in Hartford per year is above average and Black men are a disproportionate number of the victims (Perloe, 2020). Black girls and women face their own challenges. Ebony Horsewomen provides a place of connection, a safe place to learn, a home, a family, and guidance during the critical early years for youth.
The Ebony Horsewomen programs become a catalyst for participants and help them find their voice, their path, and reach their full potential. The impact of Ebony Horsewomen’s programs is larger than the number of youths served, or hours of programming provided. It’s about the individual lives that have transcended the circumstances that they were born into to achieve success.
“There are so many intricacies to what we do,” Pat says. “We are a herd here. When we all come together people understand there is a level of responsibility. It’s about training our participants to handle the situations they’re going to encounter in the rest of their lives.”
The Healing Power of Horses
Equine therapy is a widely accepted form of therapy. Youth and adults can work through their trauma in a safe place during equine therapy. The format allows the individual to open up on their own terms. A licensed clinical therapist works with participants, and sessions are covered by health insurance providers.
“Most of the clients at Ebony Horsewomen are people of color,” Pat says. “To better connect with the audiences that we serve, all of the therapists at Ebony Horsewomen are Black and Brown. It’s easier for a Black or Brown therapist to provide therapy to a white client than the reverse.”
There is a lot of growth and healing for participants through the equine therapy practice. During a session they may go for a walk in the park or brush a horse. The session is based on whatever works for the participant. It helps them open up to the therapist and talk through the issues they’re having. Equine therapy is a healing process so the participant can meet the challenges of the society that they live in.
“The horse becomes the instructor and our staff serve as guides. The horse is the master teacher,” Pat says. “Some of these are young men that could be dead, but the horses have provided them a path and made an impact. Equine therapy changes how the participant manages and approaches society. It is the horse that offers that healing. When they walk out of here, they still have to worry about being targeted but their mindset isn’t reactionary. They have learned to manage an 1,100-pound horse that’s misbehaving. Later, if they’re stopped by a police officer, they know how to handle the situation from a calm mindset.”
There are a lot of new families and individuals participating in the equine therapy sessions now, especially during COVID. The sessions at Ebony Horsewomen all adhere to social distancing guidelines. A recent study from the National 4-H Council found that 81% of teens cite mental health as a significant issue, and COVID is intensifying the issue (Harris Insights & Analytics, 2020). Youth often struggle in talk-therapy. Equine therapy works for them. Some participants can attend therapy as much as two or three times per week. Veterans and first responders also participate in the equine therapy programs at Ebony Horsewomen. Another course was offered to the Hartford Police.
“Mental health is the bottom line of what we do – it’s one of the greater challenges these kids have living in America as a Black person,” Pat says. “We have three boys that are old enough to get their drivers’ licenses now. It’s a rite of passage for young people but it scares me to death. Now, I’m not just worrying about them getting home safe, but about them driving while Black. That daily stress is layer after layer after layer.”
Positive Youth Development
Addressing those daily stress levels is one of the focus points of the youth-oriented programs that Ebony Horsewomen offers. Some youth in their programs would never be in trouble but they want to experience equestrianism. Ebony Horsewomen offers something for everyone, and all participants and horses are treated as individuals.
Positive youth development is a cornerstone of all programming. They offer mentoring, financial, and life skills. Youth opportunities include the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit, the Young Ladies Dressage Team, the Saturday Saddle and 4-H Club, the Extended Day Program, and the Summer Day Camp. Most youth participants are from Hartford, although some are from Bloomfield and Windsor. There are 15 to 20 youth participating in each program. The numbers are being kept lower during COVID but will increase again when its safe. Summer Day Camp serves between 80 and 100 youth each year.
“4-H Positive Youth Development is built upon the essential elements of belonging, independence, mastery and generosity. Ebony Horsewomen programs provides youth the opportunity to be a part of a community, demonstrate decision making through independent thinking, master experiential hands-on tasks and to demonstrate generosity in caring for animals as well as their peers,” says Jen Cushman, Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator.
Ebony Horsewomen has programs and partnerships with other members of the community as well. The Milner Elementary School had an afterschool program three days per week before the pandemic. Students learned safety and life skills and worked with the horses. This program transitioned to a virtual environment when COVID started with a Friday riding club that follows social distancing guidelines. A kindergartener class comes every Tuesday for small animal and agriculture activities. Partnerships exist with other agencies and organizations throughout the greater Hartford area.
“Many youths that participate have been through traumatic experiences and being at Ebony Horsewomen gives them a sense of hope and belonging,” Chaz Carroll says. He is the mentor for the Junior Mounted Patrol and the facilities manager. “They are a part of something that is empowering.”
Youth are also forming bonds with the staff and their fellow participants. “It’s amazing to see the connection kids can make with each other when they’re given a chance,” Pat says. “They’re learning about life and the differences of people regardless of their color or what the media says they are. It’s more than just life skills.”
Ebony Horsewomen participants have longevity with the program. For example, two recent high school graduates have been participating in programs since they were six years old. Chaz is an alumnus of the program. Dominique Bourgeois started as a program participant and is the director of programs now; she’s been working for Ebony Horsewomen for 18 years.
A Catalyst for Change
Program participants are a testament to the impact of the Ebony Horsewomen programs. Having a place to belong and a community that becomes a family is the catalyst for change for the youth and adults that participate in programs.
One student started with Ebony Horsewomen by stopping to visit daily. He hadn’t visited in a while when Pat received a phone call from the local psychiatric hospital that one of her students was requesting to see her. She didn’t have any missing students but went to the hospital. The young boy that had been stopping to visit the horses had attempted suicide and was there. Pat continued visiting him. He was in the hospital for a long time. They broke both of his hips trying to restrain him during an episode. When he finally got out of the hospital, he came to the barn every day.
“Chance, one of our horses, saved that boy’s life,” Pat says. “He received a full scholarship including housing, to the Cornell University Farrier Program. He was scared to go, but we pushed him. He didn’t think he was smart enough. He excelled there. Now he shoes horses up and down the East Coast. It’s about more than a youth program – there are so many layers to what we do here.”
Many of the youth refer to Pat as Mom, and her husband as Dad or Pop. Some youth are looking for a connection. Some have deteriorating thoughts about themselves and the horses tell those youth that, no, they are pretty smart. Some kids find their voice at Ebony Horsewomen. Others learn to better control their mouth. Each youth is treated as an individual and receives the support they need to reach their full potential.
Jen Cushman, Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator notes that the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development (2013) concludes that “Effective youth development programs . . . are . . . focusing on three important areas: positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults; activities that build important life skills; opportunities for youth to use these skills as participants and leaders in valued community activities” (Lerner, Lerner, & Colleagues, 2013, p.3). Ebony Horsewomen’s programs accomplish all three of these goals.
“The education system is an atmosphere of testing and evaluation, it’s not about critical thinking, it’s about data collection,” Pat says. “Kids come out not developing their minds and we’re changing that here. We have kids that have graduated from Harvard University, attending on full scholarship, Howard University, Boston University, to mention a few, and many Black historical colleges, finding their voice and pushing through to their dream to their involvement with the horses.”
One example of how the program helps youth achieve their dreams is LaShawnda Phillips. She started as a youth program participant with Ebony Horsewomen. “I took a stroll one day and found this place,” she says. “I never imagined that I would be learning about horses. I didn’t know I would have a connection with a horse. This place means the world to me.”
She has grown from a program participant to an associate riding instructor for the Saturday Saddle Club, the Ladies Dressage Team, and an equine and camp specialist. LaShawnda is currently a senior at UConn, and using the remote learning option during the pandemic. She’s an Animal Science major, and had opportunities to work with Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, the UConn Equine Extension Specialist. LaShawnda plans to continue teaching horsemanship and serving as a riding instructor after graduation. She’s also working on her equine psychotherapy certification as a Horse Specialist.
“LaShawnda has really grown in her time at UConn and has learned how to overcome any difficulties,” Jenifer says. “She is a wonderful person with a bright future ahead of her and has good horse sense and people sense.” LaShawnda and others from Ebony Horsewomen participate in the UConn Riding Camp Instructor Horsemanship Safety Camp and the annual Connecticut Horse Symposium hosted by the UConn Equine Extension program.
At UConn, LaShawnda is a member of the Western Team, an extra-curricular activity offered by the Department of Animal Science. “It’s my favorite part about school. I was the shy one, but Ebony Horsewomen and the UConn Western Team pushed me out of my comfort zone. I also love my teachers; they’ve all helped me a lot.”
“LaShawnda is one of the best examples of how a horse can heal, and she’s also a testament to Domonique and her work with the program and youth,” Pat says. “Dominique guided LaShawnda through high school and towards UConn, and LaShawnda loves UConn. She can’t wait to get back there. She comes here and shares what she’s learned. She’s training her favorite horse, to drive. I have not seen a child so in love with a school and get so much out of it.”
Programs and services offered by Ebony Horsewomen are not readily available. Their 36-year history is full of examples of transformational life experiences through connections with horses. The staff and volunteers at Ebony Horsewomen set strategic goals for continuous improvement, and to serve more of the population. Funding and resources are a challenge that they creatively address with support through grants and donations to the program.
“Our goal is for Ebony Horsewomen to become the premier equine assisted mental health facility in the country,” Pat concludes. “But there are so many other things we’re doing because there is a need in other places too. We are addressing a lot of areas to develop well-rounded citizens.”
Ebony Horsewomen, Incorporated is a non-profit equestrian facility in the North End of Hartford that has been empowering Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor residents through equine programs for over 36 years. Patricia “Pat” Kelly is the program founder and CEO. The programs offered by Ebony Horsewomen include youth development, mental health, and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
An Oasis in Hartford’s North End
The driveway into the Ebony Horsewomen facility leads visitors to a calm oasis amidst the backdrop of Hartford, racial injustice, a global pandemic, and other stressors of everyday life. Keney Park is the largest municipal park in New England with 693-acres and miles of trails. Those trails are accessible via a short walk out of the barns and past the horse paddocks.
Chaz Carroll is giving us a tour of the property. He is the facilities manager and serves as the mentor and supervisor for the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit. “My dad was a Hartford policeman and I had a fascination with horses,” he says. “I started here as a youth with the Saturday Saddle Club. I was working full-time for the Hartford Community Court and came back to Ebony Horsewomen through an assignment with them. I’ve been here ever since.”
The main barn has a wing connected to it with a classroom, library, and staff offices. The classroom is currently set up with social distancing pods that youth use for remote schooling. An indoor riding ring and a second barn are short distances away. The second barn has offices for the saddles and equipment of the Ladies Dressage Team and Junior Mounted Patrol Unit, and there are offices and a conference room for the mental health staff.
Horses quietly relax in small groups in the paddocks behind the barns. A flock of chickens alerts us to their presence in a pen adjacent to the barn and gardens. Over in the indoor arena, War Paint, one of the horses, is hanging out by himself. He’s 28 and a senior member of the herd. Chaz remembers riding him as a boy in the program. War Paint has some health issues due to his advanced age and the softer footing of the indoor arena keeps him comfortable. He’s bright and perky as he walks over to the gate to greet us.
The horses receive exceptional care, as is evidenced by the health and well-being of War Paint and other senior equines. Ebony Horsewomen works with Beckett Veterinary Services for equine care and their farrier, a graduate of the Cornell University Farrier Program is an alumnus of their program who sees to their equine hoof care. Staff also receive training and continuous education through The Herd Institute, a NBCC approved continuing education provider that offers training and certifications in equine facilitated psychotherapy and learning and through the UConn Equine Extension program.
“I first met the Ebony Horsewomen staff when they came to the UConn Riding Camp Instructor Horsemanship Safety Camp Training,” says Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, the UConn Equine Extension Specialist. “They have also participated in the Connecticut Horse Symposium. It is fabulous what they are doing for the community, and how dedicated and hard-working they are. I can definitely see the impact they are having just by meeting their instructors and the youth at my programs.” A UConn 4-H program is also part of the programming offered by Ebony Horsewomen.
Empowerment Through an Equestrian Program
Each of the youth programs has a classroom component. The Saturday Saddle Club starts their day with chores. Once the barn is taken care of, they head into the classroom. Then, it’s on to lunch and riding time. The Ladies Dressage Team meets three times per week, two classes are held virtually on weekdays due to the pandemic, and they ride during an in-person session.
Spending time with the horses helps the rest of the world disappear for a while. “When you ride through Keney Park none of the other stuff is there, the tough neighborhood of Hartford’s North End or the problems the students may be facing,” Chaz says. “The Junior Mounted Patrol Unit helps the young men acquire the drive and motivation to be something. We are also trying to show the community we are here when we ride the horses around the neighborhood.”
The Ladies Dressage Team learns life skills in addition to dressage and equitation. The young women often come to Ebony Horsewomen focused on their hair and body. The conversation changes when they begin working with the horses. It’s about how to sit the trot or another aspect of horsemanship. The level of importance shifts to the internal instead of the external that media and other influences push.
“It’s never about the ribbons when we go to a horse show,” Pat says. “Our youth have to understand three things, classism, racism, and business. Sometimes we go to a horse show and our students won’t place well, but the other riders are happy to have them there. That’s classism. Our students go to another show and get a lesson on dealing with racism from people that have negative reactions to our participation. And then we go to a third show where they get a lesson on business because the riders from that barn win all the classes. Our students need to understand the difference between classism, racism, and business and how to respond to it.”
Horse shows provide one avenue to learn, and the staff at Ebony Horsewomen ensure these lessons are always in a supportive environment. “We are healing kids and horses,” Pat continues. “They are learning to manage life’s challenges and understanding the life they were born into. When you’re born into a Black community that’s all you know. We are getting our students out to other places so that they meet some really nice people. They meet real and authentic people and they begin to understand how not to classify people. You have to give everyone a chance and get to know them.”
A Bright Future
The positive impact on participants and changes the program has facilitated in the community are creating a legacy for the program, and a bright future as it continues to expand. “Seeing the faces of our participants gets me here every morning,” Chaz says. “We are here to help someone’s life and let them forget they are in pain and trauma. Seeing the difference in a participant from when they arrive to when they head home at the end of a session is why we are here. All the staff feel the same way. Ebony Horsewomen leaves a lasting impact on the people that work here and the program participants.”
Ebony Horsewomen wants to keep pushing themselves higher and do more to serve the community that they’ve been a part of for over 36-years. Funding and resources are always a challenge for any non-profit. The program needs monetary donations, volunteers, and community support through awareness building.
Younger horses are another need the team has identified. Most of the herd is over 20 years old. They are senior horses, and each can only have limited responsibilities with participants. Horses have a home for life and excellent care at Ebony Horsewomen, and a few younger horses would allow the program to continue growing and serving as that catalyst for change for more participants.
Private riding lessons and horse boarding are also available to those interested and provide a source of income to support programming. People come to Ebony Horsewomen to experience riding. Horseback riding lessons are different here, they provide music and therapeutic exercises. People love it, they connect with the music and it relaxes them. The team is discussing setting up a volunteer system for horse care when COVID-19 subsides.
“The proudest moments for me is always something the kids have elevated to – kids that would be dead if not for a horse,” Pat reflects. “The horses give the kids a place to come where they’re not treated differently because of their circumstances.”
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Guidance for Horseback Riding Schools and Stables / Boarding Stables
Source: Connecticut Department of Agriculture
HARTFORD, CT – In addition to implementing the Stay Home, Stay Safe protocols effective on March 23, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. through April 22, 2020; Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7H required the Department of Economic and Community Development to provide a guidance document to determine essential businesses.
The Essential Businesses or Nonprofits designated in the guidance are not subject to the in-person restriction set forth in Executive Order 7H. Item 7 Services Including contained: “Animal shelters or animal care or management, including boarding, grooming, pet walking and pet sitting” as an essential business.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg), working in concert with the Connecticut Farm Bureau and the Connecticut Horse Council, recognizes that this is a challenging time for all – both equine boarding facilities and horse owners alike. It is our intent to ensure the health and welfare of animals is met, while mitigating the risk to the people engaged in those tasks. It is prudent for all of us to use common sense as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Every equine facility is unique with various capacities, services, and capabilities in providing the care essential to the wellbeing and health of the horses entrusted in their care.
Stables providing full-board services that meet all of the horses’ needs may set their own policies about restricting access by owners seeking to visit or ride horses. The Department supports limitations imposed by stable owners. Specific concerns regarding care should be addressed between the horse owner and stable owner/manager.
All stables should set up a schedule of access times to ensure that there are no more than five (5) people at the barn at one time. It is imperative that the principles of social distancing, proper disinfecting, and sanitary practices are maintained. Stables are free to enact additional measures and controls as needed to ensure the safety of all.
This guidance document cannot cover every single scenario. The following information is meant to clarify what equine activities may continue and which should be discontinued at this time.
Essential Equine Care
Providing food, water, proper handling, health care (veterinary and farrier services), and proper housing
Turnout and exercise necessary to an individual horse
Not Essential Equine Care
Visits to an equine facility by anyone other than an essential equine caregiver
Maintain the recommended social distancing protocols that include six (6) feet of separation between individuals
Limit gatherings to fewer than five (5) people
Ensure proper hand washing
Limit access to and disinfect common areas regularly
Avoid sharing equipment and supplies between people
Non-porous materials (leather bridles/saddles/halters, nylon halters/lead ropes, gate latches, door handles, spray nozzle) harbor the virus longer than porous materials (cotton lead ropes, saddle pads)
Clean communal leather tack daily with tack cleaner
Disinfect gate latches, spray nozzles, cross tie snaps, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, and other frequently used items regularly or after contact with personnel
Stall door latches, hose ends, light switches and feed scoops should be cleaned and disinfected frequently
Sporting events are prohibited
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (CT DoAg) mission is to foster a healthy economic, environmental and social climate for agriculture by developing, promoting, and regulating agricultural businesses; protecting agricultural and aquacultural resources; enforcing laws pertaining to domestic animals; and promoting an understanding among the state’s citizens of the diversity of Connecticut agriculture, its cultural heritage, and its contribution to the state’s economy.For more information, visit www.CTGrown.gov.
The UConn Equine Extension program has two upcoming programs for horse owners, enthusiasts, and anyone else that wants to attend.
Latest Innovations and Research in Winter Horse Care – Join us on February 4th at 7 PM at the Eversource building in Newington for this presentation by Dr. Jenifer Nadeau. The event is free, and UConn ice cream will be served. Please RSVP so we can prepare. This event is sponsored by Connecticut Horse Council.
Connecticut Horse Symposium is Saturday, March 28th at the Horsebarn Hill Arena in Storrs. We have a full day of horses, friends, education, and fun planned. You can see the full schedule and register at: http://horsesymposium.uconn.edu/
The Department of Animal Science is offering the Winter Riding Program beginning January 8th and registration is now open! This would make a great gift for the equestrian on your list or yourself! Space is limited so reserve your spot today!
On December 7th the UConn Extension State 4-H Horse program hosted the Horsin’ In Stride workshop at the Storrs Campus for 4-H members and adults. This is the eighth year the event has taken place. Dr. Jenifer Nadeau and Emily McCabe Alger worked with the State 4-H Horse Advisory Committee to plan and implement the event. Workshop teachers included undergraduate students from UConn’s Equine Science program, UConn’s Animal Science faculty, and 4-H staff.
Kristen Greenwood presented a workshop that keyed in on visual identification of horses through observation of colors and markings. Participants learned color and marking terminology as well as how to communicate visual identification to another person. Sarah Heitzman presented a critically valuable program teaching form-to-function evaluation when selecting an equine for purchase. She also reviewed important information and questions to ask as a prospective buyer. Stephanie Watko presented a workout video designed to teach riders how to increase their balance and fitness level with a concentration on the core muscle groups. A disease workshop was presented by Jen Solter, and taught participants about the signs and symptoms of equine diseases and treatment. Breed Bingo was a fun, family friendly, and inventive workshop presented by Rachel Perkins. The game tested participants’ breed knowledge and taught them fun facts about various breeds of horses. Jessica Barry did a session on horse judging, covering what judges are looking for in the show pen. She also gave participants tips on how to better critically evaluate your own horse and rider performance. Emily and Dr. Nadeau orchestrated the holiday ornament session, where participants learned to engineer a horse ornament that will withstand the test of multiple holidays. Participants also interacted with Dr. Nadeau who happily answered many questions about the UConn Equine Science program.
Participants from New London, Tolland, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex and New Haven Counties attended Horsin’ In Stride, and workshops were given in four time slots. Thanks to all of those who attended and we commend the great job done by the undergraduate presenters. Bravo.