Serve Your City (SYC) has recently received well deserved attention for its work with Ward 6 Mutual Aid (W6MA), providing food and supplies since the pandemic began in March. But SYC has been in operation for almost twenty years, offering non-traditional sports programming to youth from under-resourced families. All too often activities such as rowing, swimming, scuba diving, tennis and yoga are not available to these children – or are experienced by them, especially Black and Brown children, as exclusive, unwelcoming spaces. This past fall, SYC expanded to include a partnership with Sprout Therapeutic Riding & Education Center to provide a comprehensive five-week program at their location. On 27 bucolic acres in Aldie VA, Sprout offers therapeutic riding lessons and programming, primarily to students with special needs, so they customized the curriculum for SYC participants.
Each child was paired with a horse or pony and developed a real relationship, learning how to care for their special friend and take responsibility for their well-being – not just hopping on for a ride. Under the guidance of a team of instructors, each session began with basic grooming tasks (brushing, cleaning hooves), followed by anything needing to be done after the ride, to get their mount cooled down and cleaned up. They also learned how to do basic barn chores such as cleaning stalls, feeding, and watering.
As Winston Churchill famously observed, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Or in this case, a child. It’s a real confidence-booster to manage an animal umpteen times your size. SYC volunteer Jackie Cook shared this example: “A few weeks in, one of our SYC students was asked to help with a lesson they were doing for a client with special needs. It was incredible to see our student (who had never interacted with a horse prior to the program), to be able to serve with confidence in a teaching assistant role.“
In addition to learning basic riding mechanics, veterinary science and horse communication skills, the program included a lot of interesting and fun components such as trail rides, dressage, gymkhana (competitive games on horseback), and driving a pony cart. Not to be discounted: the peace and serenity of the farm environment, a much-appreciated change of pace for these urban kids.
The program took a break for the winter holidays, but will start up again in January 2021 with the same group of kids. Everyone had a great time and loved the horses, the farm and the whole experience. So the focus for the next session will be on extending their skills.
SYC is guided by the principle of “Solidarity, not Charity” and the belief that “We, the community, keep us safe for our common survival and well-being and share a common responsibility.” SYC Executive Director Maurice Cook accepted a 2020 Brickie Award from City Councilmember Charles Allen’s office on behalf of W6MA. To learn more about SYC, W6MA, and many ways you can help support your community, please visit https://www.serveyourcitydc.org/