Inner City
Saviours

29 September 2016

Meet the Horse Club That Helps Kids Get Back On Track

Winners of the FEI’s Alltech Development Award in 2010, Ebony Horse Club (EHC) started in 1996 and works with young people aged between 8 and 21 by introducing them to riding and caring for horses in one of the most deprived areas of the UK.

We caught up with them 6 years down the road to see how they have been getting on since their win.

 

Tell us how this all started...

 

On August 3, 2007, Nathan Foster was murdered near Brixton Tube Station. Nathan was 18 years old and was one of the original members, who, as an eight-year-old, had made those pioneering trips to riding centres. 

 

He was a talented rider and his death shone a light on the reality of life on Brixton's streets. 

 

Though nothing could bring Nathan back, the nationwide publicity surrounding his death raised awareness among the general public and the sporting and equine world, including the FEI. This resulted in major funders, including the Lottery, Sport England and the British Equestrian Federation, becoming involved, and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall becoming our president. 

 

It was an incredibly proud day when the Duchess opened the centre in Wyck Gardens in October 2011. At last, young people could not only learn to ride, but to experience the responsibility of caring for horses and all the life skills involved in doing so. 

 

It's a terrible story about Nathan, but a wonderful legacy that he left.  How big is the club now? How many horses do you have?

 

We have stabling for 10 horses, a wood chip and grass paddock, a floodlit arena and a classroom.  In total, over 400 children and young people attend the centre annually.

"We see young people flourish and develop and witness dramatic changes in their behaviour."
    

So, what sorts of skills do you teach children at the club? 

All the children and young people who attend the centre have a weekly riding lesson in our outdoor, floodlit arena. 

 

As they progress, they spend more time on the yard, performing all the tasks associated with horse care from skipping out to feeding, grooming and tacking up.

 

Anyone who has grown up around horses understands how valuable this experience can be in developing life skills, such as empathy, resilience, determination, time keeping, team work and pride in a job well done. 

 

These are skills that are eventually transferable to the workplace. Every young person who joins EHC has the goal of rising from beginner, through intermediate to senior, and becoming a Young Volunteer who helps and mentors less experienced riders.

 

That's a great idea, to see them progress like that!  Do you run any kinds of events as well?

 

Absolutely - weekly lessons run throughout the year. Very shortly, we will be introducing a six-week introductory programme for new riders.  These sessions will provide an experience that is otherwise unavailable to children growing up in Brixton. 

 

This summer, we have taken children to a donkey sanctuary, a day out with Hampshire Hunt Pony Club and to the British Racing School in Newmarket. We also organise residential trips to equestrian centres throughout the country for a more immersive experience, and have arranged work experience for three young people who are pursuing careers with horses. 

 

At our own yard, Dodson & Horrell ran a feeding workshop and we have held Friday night clinics in Dressage and Jumping. We've run training sessions for polo and pony racing, both activities that our members are involved in through the Pony Racing Authority and Power of Polo.

 

 

So, the big question is, does it work, this "Horse Therapy?  What sorts of transformations have you seen in children over the years? 

 

We are endlessly impressed by the resilience of the children and young people who come through our gate. 

 

Being on top of, or beside, a large animal is a great leveller. Once they realise that a horse will respond to your mood, will return your affection unconditionally, and will not judge you, they are often able to let go of issues that affect them at school or at home. We see young people flourish and develop and witness dramatic changes in their behaviour. 

 

The sense of achievement a child experiences when they do their first circuit off lead, or who jumps their first cross pole is one they'll remember when things are going less well. One 14-year old boy here has told us that "Being with the horses helps me with my troubles".

 

Another 12-year-old, who attends with her brother who has significant learning difficulties, has said of the horses, "They are like my diary".

 

These are such terribly sad words to hear from young people, but ultimately, they are getting great benefit from being around the horses.

   
“Winning the award from FEI was a tremendous boost to all the staff, volunteers and young people”

What sort of work goes into the everyday running of the club by the volunteers?

We couldn't manage without our terrific volunteers, of whom there are around 40. On the equine side, they support our staff on the yard and help during beginner lessons, leading the ponies and teaching stable management. We have some BHS and RDA qualified instructors who generously give their time to teach sessions, which is a tremendous financial saving to EHC.

 

Have you any success stories about children you’ve worked with who have gone on to achieve anything special later in life?

 

We have four young people already working in the industry. We are very proud of one young man who is Yard Manager at one of the riding schools we used to visit before we had our own centre. Nine members have gone on to foundation or degree courses in equine studies. Three more will join them in September and two will start apprenticeships. 

 

Without EHC's role in building their ambitions, none of this would be possible. 

 

What did it mean to the club to win the 2010 FEI Alltech Development Award?

 

Winning the award from FEI was a tremendous boost to all the staff, volunteers and young people, who, at that time, were committed to opening our own centre. To have the recognition of a world renowned and highly respected equine organisation created an energy to our drive to succeed and added credibility to our fundraising campaign. A vital element of our ethos is to nurture pride in achievement, to build confidence and to raise ambitions. Winning the FEI Alltech Development Award did that for Ebony Horse Club and as a consequence for all our young riders. 

 

It was very well deserved, and it's terrific to see how you and the kids have progressed since winning the award.  We wish you all the very best for the future!

 

We are very proud of our achievements so far, but we know that the future has even more potential to change young lives and to build better futures for young people growing up in circumstances that, without our intervention, could jeopardise their prospects of living happy and productive lives.

 

To follow or support the amazing work of the club, check out their website at www.ebonyhorseclub.org.uk

 

Text by Carly Dolan

Photography by Ebony Horse Club