2018-06-16 / News

Detroit Horse Power Nonprofit Organization Visits Mackinac Island

By Marley Tucker


Members of Detroit Horse Power gathered at the Little Barn to kick off their weekend exploration of the Island and journey of learning more about the rich equine history that the Island prides itself on maintaining. From left, Kelsey Ullenbruch, Tariq Morrison, Anthony Passmore, Mya Harling, Kaira Clanton, Jaaden Hines, Shatese Walker, Lea Jones, Tamia Edwards, Berenice Angulo, David Silver, Brianna Brown, and Yvonne Mejias. Members of Detroit Horse Power gathered at the Little Barn to kick off their weekend exploration of the Island and journey of learning more about the rich equine history that the Island prides itself on maintaining. From left, Kelsey Ullenbruch, Tariq Morrison, Anthony Passmore, Mya Harling, Kaira Clanton, Jaaden Hines, Shatese Walker, Lea Jones, Tamia Edwards, Berenice Angulo, David Silver, Brianna Brown, and Yvonne Mejias. For the third straight year, Mackinac Island has played host to students from an organization called Detroit Horse Power, whose founder believes children can benefit from what he describes as equine culture. Ten youngsters and their chaperones arrived Saturday, June 2, for a weekend of learning about Mackinac Island horses and having a little fun.

David Silver, founder and executive director, said the nonprofit offers children opportunities with horses they wouldn’t otherwise have. The organization connects young people with communities, such as the Island, that are influenced by equine culture. There is no cost for children to participate in the educational program.


A pizza lunch is enjoyed at the Little Barn. A pizza lunch is enjoyed at the Little Barn. “For most of these kids, it’s the first time on the Island, and it’s really exciting,” Mr. Silver said, adding that this year’s visitors were from his first after-school group. In the past, Detroit Horse Power was operated only as a summer program.

“In prior years, when the summer camp ended, it was a bittersweet goodbye, so we created a way to keep the learning going year-around,” said Mr. Silver. “We want to provide the best program for them by offering different equestrian opportunities where they can grow individually and together as a group.”

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry gave the visitors a free ride across the water, after which they were housed as the guests of Mission Point Resort and treated to the hospitality of other Island businesses.

“It’s beautiful here,” said Brianna Brown, a student who has been with Detroit Horse Power for one year. “I love the horse barn tours and how every barn is run differently. I love seeing how everyone’s relationship with horses is different. I really like the horses here, especially Clarence and Henry.”

The students received a complimentary tour and lecture about driving horses from Joe Herscher, the lead trainer for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.

“One of my best pieces of advice for people handling horses is ‘fake it until you make it,’ ” said Mr. Herscher. “Do not let your horses drive you, but instead drive your horses.”

Mr. Herscher explained that horses make friends for life when they are out on the job transporting people and goods around the Island. He used hand and arm movements to demonstrate how to correctly handle the reigns when driving horses and answered questions from students about what not to do when something bad happens.

“If you’re next to something that scares the horse, then they’re going to jackknife and break the pole attaching them to the carriage, so a driver has to always be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “Horses freak out from things like bags and wax paper flying around from fudge shops and bikes toppling over. Safety is paramount here on the Island, and when you drive 2,000-pound draft horses, you have to know how to handle them and minimize harm,” Mr. Herscher added.

Ben Mosley, Grand Hotel head coachman, showed students the hotel’s stables. The Benser family sent fudge from Murdick’s Fudge Shop and pizza was provided by Island Slice Pizzeria. Bad weather forced them to forego a ride, planned by the Mackinac Community Equestrian Center, along Island trails. Instead, the group came to the Little Barn on Sunday morning for activities in which they interacted with horses before heading for the ferry to leave the Island.

Detroit Horse Power aims to help students gain five key character traits: confidence, perseverance, empathy, self-control, and responsible risk taking. Mr. Silver previously was a teacher at Burns Elementary and Middle School in Detroit, where he was involved in the Teach For America initiative, which confronts educational inequity by providing activities for students from low-income families.

He left that to build his equestrian nonprofit for inner-city youth. It teaches children how to ride and take care of horses, also exposing them to equine professions and lifestyles through guest speakers.

“One of the most important lessons we focus on is what horses can teach kids about themselves internally,” said Mr. Silver. “Learning the confidence that comes from riding, taking responsibility for a horse, and not backing down are important lessons to teach that we want these kids to carry with them for many years to come.”

The organization has grown significantly since launching two summer camps that served 18 children in 2015. The summer camps had 81 students in 2016 and 107 in 2017. Mr. Silver expects 150 students to come through the camp program this summer.

He founded the organization with memories of the impact horsemanship had on his own life. Mr. Silver, who grew up near the New York City suburb of Westchester, said that it took him a while to appreciate the privilege of having horses as a part of everyday life. Exposing children to a culture steeped in equine tradition outside of Detroit, he said, broadens their worldview and creates connections that they can bring back home with them.

Besides housing the youth, Mission Point Resort provided meals, a round of Glow Golf, and bike rentals for the duration of their visit.

“We’re always glad to help Detroit Horse Power with whatever they need during their stay on the Island,” said Liz Ware, the resort’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “We believe in their mission and the amazing activities that the youth get involved with. We’re glad to partner with them to make the children’s stay something to remember.”

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