2016-09-10 / Columnists


Detroit Horse Power Program Comes to Mackinac Island
by Candice C. Dunnigan

David Silver looks too young to be an executive director, let alone a founder, of an organization in the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. Beyond his appearance of boyish affability, there is a dedicated and well-organized individual. Silver, 26, is accomplished: a graduate of Dartmouth College, an event rider, a former Teach for America educator in the inner city districts of Detroit, and the founder of a unique equine program called Detroit Horse Power.

The nonprofit is the brainchild of Silver. He wanted to do something useful for the underprivileged city children of Detroit, as well as combine his talent and passion for horses. He began a grassroots idea with another local Detroit outreach organization, “Alternatives For Girls,” with Connie Garcia. A few days ago, 14 middle-school-aged young women came to Mackinac Island, along with David Silver and three chaperones, to have a “hands-on” experience Island style.

Riders who participated in the Detroit Horse Power and Alternatives For Girls programs enjoyed visiting Little Barn during their stay on Mackinac Island. Riders who participated in the Detroit Horse Power and Alternatives For Girls programs enjoyed visiting Little Barn during their stay on Mackinac Island. Many of these girls have never been beyond Detroit. They enjoyed a carriage ride provided by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, lodging at Mission Point Resort, and a pizza party at the Little Barn. Pizza, lemonade, and chocolate chip cookies were shared with Island kids from the Little Barn, who got to meet these young women. The following day, they had hands-on time with horse chores as well as riding with local youth. Gretchen Colman, director of the Mackinac Island Children’s Riding Academy, heard of Detroit Horse Power and Alternatives For Girls earlier this year. Since Colman was working for her certification for therapeutic riding, their paths crossed and the invitation to visit Mackinac Island was sent. Colman also volunteers as a jump judge for the three-day event competitions at Richland Park near Kalamazoo, which is “home turf” for David Silver as a competitive rider. Detroit Horse Power is a lot of things, and it has the potential to do great things.

Early on in his career as a rider and a competitor, he recognized the power a horse can have on a person.

“A horse is a living creature, not just a vehicle,” he has said. Horses can help people, and vice versa. The interdependence moves into a partnership that does not need words, but responds by all sorts of rewards. This is so true when it comes to youth, and those needing to be needed. For a child in an urban environment, the ability to care for and master riding a horse provides a genuine skill and an alternative to drugs, crime, gangs, and street life. The numbers for a child in poor and dubious living conditions improves greatly when he or she has something that gives them not only a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment, but also a living animal that gives them an immediate sense of reward for kindness.

So, Detroit Horse Power is teaching these girls about perseverance.

Add to that drive, discipline, and routine on an individual level, as well as group dynamics, and the pros and cons of “herd mentality.” The organization also illustrates to these young women the generosity of people who care about them and who volunteer their time with them. Mackinac Island is a world unto itself, and what an eyeopener these girls had. The group visited the combined Grand Hotel-Mackinac Island Carriage Tours stables. They saw carriages that they never knew existed in this day and age. As luck would have it, Ben Mosley, “chief” of the barn and head driver of the hotel’s famous Hackney horses, was on hand. He gave the group a mini lecture, tour, and even pulled out a horse for them to see.

Detroit Horse Power is, its supporters hope, in the process of changing the face of the city. Detroit, as a city, is one of the largest in the United States. Decades of urban blight, flight, and fight have left sections of it asphalt deserts. There is poverty, neglect, and a poor tax base. Interestingly, the city also has ordinances on livestock within its boundaries. What Silver would like to see happen is legislation that unselfishly allows for horses, and horse programs to be permitted in the urban world.

His vision is to have a year-around facility in central Detroit dedicated to providing alternative educational programs involving equines and young people, especially disadvantaged youth. The first hurdle is the legislation. If that can be approved by the Detroit City Council, and backed by it, then the road opens up for programs and a central stable with an indoor arena. David Silver has enough experience in the horse world, as well as recent experience in the educational world, to understand the need for a year-around base that needs to be built and run.

David informed me that several areas are under consideration, if legislation allows him to proceed. The Detroit Mounted Police work out of Palmer Park. (This mounted unit has been campaigned for over many years by Island resident retired Marine Corps General Robert Raisch. When I mentioned this to Silver, he smiled, because he knows the family). It is a small world. Silver feels that wherever he can locate, it must be in a neighborhood that would want a stable, as well as be geographically accessible to those who would use it. There needs to be significant acreage to encompass stables, area, and turnouts. All of this will take considerable amounts of money, sponsorships, and backing.

Having a viable horse program, a not for profit, for kids who cannot afford a horse, in a city with limited public transportation, and in an environment not yet legal to allow it, is a big undertaking. David Silver has a great idea. He also has the determination and belief that he can help to “expand opportunity for Detroit’s youth through riding and caring for horses.” I tend to believe him. For more information about this exciting and challenging project, visit the Web site at www.detroithorsepower.org.

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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