The Ebony Horsewomen of Keney Park started out as a riding organization for African American women, but now they’re all about helping kids of all kinds.
In the mid 1950s, Patricia Kelly’s parents bought a house on Warren Street in Hartford. They were one of the first black families in the neighborhood. Their neighbor, Mr. Fisher, was a Jewish grocer who had a horse and carriage. Kelly brushed the horse every day, and later learned to ride.
After graduating high school, and spending time in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kelly found herself back in Hartford. She approached a group of African American horseback riders, the Ebony Horsemen, to reconnect with her passion. The group was close to retirement, so she took up the mantle. In 1984, Kelly and her youngest daughter founded the Ebony Horsewomen.
Ebony Horsewomen were initially made up of skilled equestrians who took part in parades, rodeos, and horse shows. They were the first African American equestrian team invited to the Tournament of the Roses Parade.
Today, their main business is equine assisted therapy. More than 300 kids come through the farm program every year, learning how to care for horses and other farm animals.
“The biggest lesson of all is empathy. And that’s the piece we think is missing with a lot of young people today. The value of life, whether it be an animal or another kid, seems to be diminishing,” Kelly said. “The program we have here with the animals is helping to replace some of those thought processes they’ve had in the past with empathy, which we think is critical.”
Some young people referred to Ebony Horsewomen have behavioral or anger issues. “If a child has been acting out in school, and has been exhibiting a lot of social misbehaviors, to put them around animals is one of the best treatments you can find,” Kelly said. Being in an environment with animals helps calm them down. “It becomes a place where they’re not threatened, their triggers are not touched. The only confrontations they might have are with a rogue rooster, and they will learn to deal with that.”
Kelly said that when young people ride and bond with a horse, that translates to other animals, and hopefully each other as well. “So when that happens we know that we’re on the right path,” she said. “It’s not so much about teaching them to be riders. They’re not going to be Olympic equestrians, but if they walk out here understanding the meaning of life, then we’ve done our job.”