In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and following some discussions among prominent equestrians and other equine industry professionals, Six Horses Equestrian was created to provide no-cost riding lessons to inner city kids at Valhalla Equestrian in King City, Ontario. In addition to valuable and often life-changing interaction with the horses, Six Horses will provide guidance and mentorship should any youth members wish to pursue a career with horses.
HorseSport.com spoke with Kelsey Perry-Carlsen, who developed the idea along with friends, about this uplifting initiative.
What does the name represent?
Anyone who listens to Drake knows the nickname [“the 6”] he gave the city of Toronto. I am not one of those people, but I am part of a great Facebook community for equestrians of colour and their allies. It was actually a dressage lady named Pamela Millin who suggested “6ix Hooves Saddle Club” and I modified it to become “Six Horses Equestrian.” My family’s show stable is called Valhalla Equestrian and it was really important to me that the branding be just like any other show stable.
Who besides yourself was involved in Six Horses’ creation?
Some credit goes to the Compton Cowboys ‒ I’m just copying their idea and giving it a hunter/jumper twist. Everyone should to follow the Compton Cowboys on social media and hear their story! They have an urban ranch that they work out of [Richland Farms in Compton, CA].
Where I struggled was figuring out how to connect the kids with horses. I falsely thought that without my own urban stable there wasn’t much I could do except keep working hard until I could put enough money together to get one. It was actually my friend James Gillam of G&G Sporthorses who called me with the specific idea to fund riding lessons at an already established riding school. James’ idea really sparked this whole thing. It’s elegant in its simplicity, and it’s something we can do in the here and now while I chase the dream of acquiring a plot of land in the city to make equestrian activities even more accessible.
What is your mandate/goal?
The official goal is to develop character and community through horsemanship. Pretty much anyone who’s been around horses knows that they can teach you empathy, responsibility, time management skills, problem-solving, goal-setting and countless other life lessons. On a deeper level, I want the participants to know that they belong at the barn, that they are worthy of enjoying horses and they have a barn family that loves them and wants to see them flourish and succeed in life.
To support them in making horses a mainstay in their lives, we will be partnering with several equine industry professionals to not only share their knowledge, but offer guidance and mentorship should anyone want to go down that career path. For example, Dr. Mike Pownall jumped at the chance to support us by having some of the folks at McKee-Pownall Equine Services come and not only share their knowledge on equine health, but their experiences with vet school and vet tech programs. Michelle Seberras at Mountain Oak Farriers has expressed an interest in talking about shoeing. Justin Pope has offered to come and talk about the time he spent working at Medieval Times and now alongside the horse industry at System Fencing. There are so many opportunities and careers that I myself had never even considered; by laying out as many options as possible and reinforcing them with mentorship and guidance, I hope these kids will find fulfilling careers and enjoy horses in some capacity for the rest of their lives.
Even if we encourage one kid to make better choices in life, I’ll consider it a worthwhile project. It stands to benefit the animals, too ‒ the more diversity and inclusion we create in our industry, the more horses will find purpose and loving homes.
Which coaches are currently on board?
Irish Olympian Denis Lynch been an incredible supporter of this project. Although he is based in Europe, he’s kindly offered to come to Canada and do some lessons with our participants and possibly some sort of clinic to help fund-raise. Due to the COVID-19 situation and the newness of this initiative, it’s hard to say exactly when that will happen, but it’s so encouraging to see a professional with a demanding show schedule and busy operation offer what little free time he has.
I’m optimistic this will encourage others to do the same or get involved with similar programs, like Detroit Horse Power. Denis and I have also had some chats about creating a network of top professionals (both in terms of what they’ve achieved in the sport and their character) who might hire some of our program graduates who are interested and of age.
Every single trainer I’ve shared my vision with has offered to help in some capacity. However, partnering with an established riding school makes the most sense for the time being. I’ve been in contact with The Meadows Equine Riding School [near Kettleby, ON] and they’ve graciously agreed to partner on the initiative and work with us to make lessons as affordable as possible.
Is this venture primarily volunteer-based?
Some support is being volunteered, and some support is being paid for. The professionals (like Dr. Pownall and his associates) offering their career advice and knowledge are volunteering. Some people in my network have volunteered their skills ‒ everything from photography, marketing, social media and web design. I couldn’t name them all, but I’m so grateful to see so many wonderful people bring their talents to the table.
There are some things that will need to be paid for, like the actual riding lessons and transportation to and from the barn. Anyone who has run a stable knows the margins are razor thin at best. On top of everything, so many facilities are struggling to rebound from the weeks they spent without any income due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. I just don’t see how it would be possible for riding schools to offer their services for free on an on-going basis.
Will you be doing fundraisers to support the program?
There already have been and there will be more fundraising initiatives! For most of July, my family (specifically my mom, Sandy) was good enough to let me rent out our ring for private schooling sessions at our Valhalla Equestrian facility. My coach, Johan Letimonier, has experience in course designing and he built a track on par with anything you’d see at a show. The boys who maintain the farm were good enough to be ring crew and help put together a well-decorated course. Everyone pitched in and it was wonderful!
With so many events cancelled, the community jumped (pun intended) at the chance to practice some place different that echoed a show environment, while still enforcing proper social distancing and sanitation protocols. All that money earned is being put towards the legal fees to have Six Horses properly incorporated as a charity so we can issue tax receipts in the future. I’ve also been toying with the idea of having a fun, one-day-only, ship-in derby horse show at Valhalla to continue fundraising. Of course, that very much depends on COVID-19 restrictions and if we can safely gather in larger groups.
Lastly, I’m very fortunate to have built a growing Arbonne business. If all else fails, I am committed to growing that so that it can finance Six Horses entirely if need be.
How will you advertise your services/spread the word to inner-city kids?
The plan is to partner with some kind of youth services organization to help us find kids who would be a good fit for this program‒ kids who genuinely need a place to thrive, but will also be able to respect the animals. Of course, we will need to meet some specific requirements to prove we’re in it for the right reasons. There needs to be some screening on both ends to protect everyone.
What are the next steps?
We’re currently in the process of having the organization officially created and having all the necessary legal documents and paperwork filed. The agencies that would help find suitable participants for the program need us to fulfill certain requirements to prove we are a legitimate organization and that we are here to help. It’s still uncertain exactly what that will be, but I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to earn their trust and check all the boxes.
If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please send a DM to 1-416-277-1298 or via Facebook here.