UConn 4-H

Ebony Horsewomen: Empowering Hartford for Over 36 Years

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

Ebony Horsewomen's Junior Mounted Patrol with founder Pat Kelly at the Connecticut Greenways Awards in October 2020
Photo: Stacey Stearns

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.”

A girl on a bay horse smiling and holding up a blue first place ribbon at a horse show
Photo courtesy of Ebony Horsewomen, Inc.

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.”

Learn more about Ebony Horsewomen and how you can support their programs at https://www.ebonyhorsewomen.us/.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Diego Marks: Engineering His Future

Diego Marks on his tractor with it hooked to the sled ready to pull the weightsThe Goshen Fairgrounds in Litchfield County stretches out in an expanse of open space, rings, and buildings that host the annual fair and other events. On Sunday, September 27th vehicles towing tractors slowly started arriving for the first annual Litchfield County 4-H Garden Tractor Pull. UConn 4-H, Extension’s youth development program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), hosted this socially distanced event.

Diego Marks of Bethany woke up early the morning of the tractor pull. He hadn’t participated in a pull with UConn 4-H before. The pandemic cancelled the other tractor pulls he was supposed to compete in this year. Diego, a 9th grader at the Engineering Science University Magnet School in West Haven, was looking forward to getting his tractor out and testing the modifications he had made. He packed extra masks and hand sanitizer, in case anyone needed them, and secured his tractor for the trip to Goshen with his parents.

Youth acquire engineering and math skills when they’re working on their tractors and participating in a tractor pull. Machines pull sleds with weights at a tractor pull. Those that can pull the sled the farthest, win. Weights become progressively heavier as the day continues. Tractor operators must be strategic and skilled. Tractor engines lose momentum and torque when they are continuously pulling weight. A successful pull requires momentum and torque. The operator that can modify his machine’s engine to withstand the most pressure and successfully manage the engine throughout the demands of the day often wins.

Diego gives a thumbs up after checking his second tractor into the 4-H garden tractor pull“My son has been tractor pulling since the age of six, and was very disappointed with the season being cancelled,” Wendy Marks ’92 (CLAS) says. “The day he heard that Litchfield County 4-H would be able to host the tractor pull, he was beyond excited! It instilled a joy and excitement in him that was missing for a long time because of the pandemic. Immediately he began preparing his tractors and discussing with his friends how great of an opportunity this is.”

Opportunities to participate in a program can introduce a whole new world of ideas and experiences to youth. UConn 4-H offers transformational life experiences for youth through our club-based programs, afterschool programs, and various other events and activities. The Garden Tractor Pull is one example of our commitment to offering youth opportunities to learn and grow.

“We had over 35 entries at the Garden Tractor Pull,” says Bill Davenport, the UConn 4-H Educator in Litchfield County. “It was a team effort and many volunteers made it happen while adhering to strict safety and social distancing guidelines due to coronavirus. Volunteers and sponsors that helped coordinate the event include Shawn Uscilla, O & G Industries, Missy Cole and the Willing Workers 4-H Dairy Club, and Dean Florio and the Working Wheels 4-H Tractor Club.”

Diego’s father, William Marks, volunteered in the pit crew area of the tractor pull all day, helping hitch and unhitch tractors from the weight and measure distances pulled. Diego’s grandparents, Edward and Hazetta Jackson spent the day at the tractor pull with the family, cheering on all the participants.

Edward Jackson ’62 (CAHNR) was a 4-H member in his youth and started a lifelong journey for his family with UConn. Wendy and her three sisters all graduated from UConn. Hazetta helps Diego every step of the way, helping him with school and getting his tractors ready. She drives him to the different stores for tractor parts; both grandparents are a big part of encouraging Diego and his engineering interests.

“In my spare time, I enjoy working on my tractors, and inventing items that help homeowners make chores easier and faster,” Diego says. “Skills I have learned at school have helped me to fix and modify my garden tractors. My future career goals are focused on owning an engineering and construction company where large equipment is a daily part of my business. One of my goals in the future, is to be able to give back to the community and help others have a 4-H experience.”

Diego is new to 4-H, he’s a member of the 4-H dog club in Hamden and recently joined the Working Wheels in Morris after meeting other youth at the tractor pull. “4-H is very important to me because it gives me the opportunity to be outdoors and work with nature. I am a kid that loves the outdoors,” he says.

“My son is a hard-working student in school, however, with no activities to look forward to, it is hard to keep him Diego with his first place ribbon after winning a class at the Litchfield County 4-H Garden Tractor Pullmotivated on his studies,” Wendy Marks says. “The 4-H tractor pull is exactly the type of activity he needed to keep him working hard in school. What a way to raise a child’s self-esteem, interest and keep them motivated to be involved! At the 4-H tractor pull, for the first time, he placed first in one of the classes.”

Transformational life experiences can happen anywhere, at any life stage. The magic in the UConn 4-H program is that there is something for every youth member. Diego Marks, a young man with a keen interest and skills in engineering, found a new community and opportunities for continued growth and lifelong learning at the Litchfield County 4-H Garden Tractor Pull.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, civic engagement, and life skills through their 4-H project work. Learn more and enroll your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Jack and Mavis Collins: 90-Years of Combined Service to the UConn 4-H Program

Jack and Mavis CollinsA volunteer is defined as someone that donates their time to participate in a cause or program. UConn 4-H is the Extension youth development program and has thousands of volunteers across Connecticut that help us provide programming to over 18,000 youth, annually. Jack and Mavis Collins of Enfield have been volunteering with the UConn 4-H program for a combined 90-years.

The Hartford County 4-H program recognized Jack for his 55 years of service and Mavis for 35 years of service on Sunday, November 8th with a socially distanced presentation at the Collins’ Powder Hill Dairy Farm followed by a county-wide virtual ceremony.

Jack was a member of the Merry Moo-ers 4-H club as a youth and started volunteering while he was an animal science student in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Mavis grew up on a dairy farm in England and came to the United States with the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) Program. Both volunteered while their four children were 4-H members and have continued serving the program.

The true impact of the 90-years of volunteerism that Jack and Mavis have given to 4-H is in the youth that have benefitted from their dedicated service. All are welcomed into the Collins family and 4-H is part of their lives. They have served as teachers, role models, and mentors. Jack and Mavis share their love of animals and help youth grow into the best versions of themselves.

“The volunteer resumes of Jack and Mavis Collins go far beyond their service as club leaders to the Merry Moo-ers 4-H Club and the Powder Hill 4-H Equestrian Club,” says Jennifer Cushman, the UConn Extension 4-H Educator in Hartford County. “They have volunteered with the Fair Association, at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm, 4-H Camp, and the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE). Their contributions to the dairy cattle program area have made the best better for thousands of 4-H youth dairy project members.”

“You’ve been an inspiration to both 4-Hers and leaders alike, and an inspiration to generations of 4-Hers,” says Jennifer Syme, a 4-H alumna, parent, and volunteer. “We’re so grateful for you and your service.”

“Jack and Mavis, on behalf of the past and present Hartford County 4-H member, their parents, your fellow volunteers across the county, the state, and across New England, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your 4-H volunteer careers, and thank you,” Cushman says.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship, and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more about becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Fairfield County 4-H Grows True Leaders: Youth Garden Club Serves the Community

4-h youth at food pantryThroughout the summer, 20 youth in the 4-H Community Garden Club have managed a one-acre garden in New Milford. They were led by leaders Anna Loor and her daughter Amira. Each youth worked eight hours every week at the garden and during 4-H time, learned the principles of seeding, planting, weeding, harvesting and garden pests. Critical thinking skills were used as they solved various gardening problems such as: 

  • Is this a good garden bug or a bad one?
  • How much water do these plants really need?
  • Why isn’t this one growing as well as the others? 
  • How big does this vegetable need to be before I can harvest them?

 As a 4-H club, they had a monthly business meeting lead by youth officers. Youth met with the 4-H Educator weekly to learn how to develop an agenda, lead a meeting, use Robert’s Rules of Order, and meet the criteria for being a club in good standing. After much discussion during the business meeting, it was determined that for their community service project, they would donate one day’s harvest to a local food pantry.

 August 27th was the day they choose to donate the harvest. At 7:30 am, in the misty rain, all 20 youth and their parents started harvesting and cleaning the vegetables. By 11:30, over 300 pounds of produce was cleaned and packed into a truck and the trip to the Danbury food pantry began. At the food pantry, the volunteers were so delighted to receive the fresh vegetables. The pantry opened for the day a few hours after the delivery, with people getting the fresh vegetables that just that morning were still in the ground! 4-H Does Grow True Leaders! The 4-H Community Garden club will continue serving their community in Bethel and Danbury through their civic engagement initiatives.

 

Article by Edith Valiquette