Sep 20, 2023 - News

Detroit Horse Power has unique land use plans

Cassidy Johnson, 11, grooms a horse at Willowbrooke Farm in Plymouth last month for the Detroit Horse Power program. Photos: Courtesy of Lon Horwedel via the Kresge Foundation

New grants are helping a local nonprofit get closer to opening a 20-horse equestrian center on an unused old school site.

Why it matters: Detroit is grappling with how to best use space left over from widespread demolitions.

  • David Silver, a former local public school teacher who started Detroit Horse Power (DHP) in 2015, calls the project an "out-of-the-box reuse" of vacant land.
  • The organization teaches perseverance, empathy, "responsible risk-taking" and other "critical character skills" through riding and caring for horses, Silver tells Axios.

How it works: The nonprofit averages 100 11- to 18-year-old students per summer for its free weeklong camps.

  • DHP also hosts an October-May after-school program teaching social-emotional skills sans horses, plus weekend trips to barns.

Between the lines: Students learn to ride and lead horses, but also about their nutrition, related careers and how their emotions and actions affect the animals.

  • "When students are riding, we talk a lot about your posture, your attitude, self-belief to control a 1,200-pound animal's speed and direction," Silver says.
DHP student Cheriah Johnson, 15, rides in a training ring at Willowbrooke Farm.

State of play: DHP buses participants as far as Saline and Holly to partner barns for the summer camps.

  • With all the travel, it doesn't have the capacity to take on more participants — but with its own campus, it could serve hundreds more.
  • The nonprofit has around $4.3 million toward the $8.1 million cost. It aims to break ground within a year on a campus with classrooms, stables, an indoor arena, outdoor riding area and pastures on 14 acres leased from the Detroit Public Schools Community District in the Hope Village neighborhood.
  • The Kresge Foundation announced last week it granted the nonprofit $500,000. Another $400,000 comes from an anonymous donor and $1.8 million from the state.

What they're saying: Jeffrey Jones, executive director of nearby Hope Village Revitalization, tells Axios the stable will be a "game-changer" for the community.

  • The lifelong neighborhood resident and DHP board member says the organization has "been here" getting buy-in and feedback from the neighborhood, "they didn't just helicopter in."

The bottom line: Past participant DaVion Sherman said in the Kresge news release: "It's amazing … It's like you're on a different playing field, like you're in a different dimension."


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