Friday, July 10, 2009

Mounted Patrol and PAL team up for riding program for inner-city children

This is an article from our monthly Informant newsletter about a fun program we started last month. You can check out the rest of the newsletter at :

Marissa Simons, an 8-year-old who attends Garfield Elementary School, had been near a horse only one time in her life.

“It was a few years ago at a county fair,” she said.

But that changed in June. She chose to participate in the Police Athletic League’s new partnership with the Mounted Patrol that aims to teach inner-city kids how to ride horses.

“I like it,” she said. “They’re really gentle and nice.”

PAL and Mounted Patrol launched the program June 10. More than a dozen children come out to Mounted Patrol’s stables for two hours every Wednesday morning to learn the basics of horses and how to ride them.

“Most of these kids have no exposure at all to horses,” PAL Officer Shawnie Nix said. “ … They really like it. Some are a little scared because the horses are so big and they’re not used to them.”

A different group of children is supposed to come every week, but some kids, like Marissa, loved it so much they begged to come back.

Mounted Patrol’s stables are located in the Lake of the Woods area of Swope Park. When the facility was constructed in 1999, the grant used to build it stipulated that the occupants would have to offer riding programs to inner-city children. The Mounted Patrol took over the facility in 2006, and the terms of the lease continued to mandate the riding programs, said Sergeant Joey Roberts, supervisor of the Mounted Patrol Section. He said they tried some classes with Parks and Recreation, but they never really took off. So this year, they decided to partner with the children served by the department’s own Police Athletic League.

Mounted Patrol officers first brought the PAL officers over to teach them about horses and horse safety so they could assist the children. The children spend about an hour in class learning horse basics, like how to approach them safely, how horses see (they can't see anything right in front of their faces) and more. They spend the next hour actually riding police horses.

This is just a prelude to a bigger program, Sergeant Roberts said. The PAL officers will pick the 10 children they think show the most interest and aptitude to participate in a more advanced horsemanship course this fall. Through eight lessons, those children will learn about how to care for and ride a horse. Their instructors will be Mounted Patrol officers.

“We’ll start from the ground up,” Sergeant Roberts said. “We’ll teach them how to tack a horse. We’ll teach them how to walk and trot. Some may even be able to canter.”

Officer Nix said she hopes the program has a positive impact on the children.

“We always say, ‘If you can reach one kid,’” she said. “If one kid comes out of this and turns out to want to be a veterinarian or something like that, it’s worth it.”
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