While horseback riding may be perceived as a sport catering to the wealthy, a new program developed by the Southern Blues Equestrian Center aims to level the playing field.
After operating her equestrian center for four years, McKrell Baier and her husband Christian noticed that their students were coming from the same type of household.
"We've noticed that there is not enough crossover in the demographic of our students," Baier said. "Horse riding has always been a very suburban, elitist sport, and we wanted that to change."
Realizing that there were no programs available in Memphis that offered these services, the Baiers developed an introduction to horses class called the Urban Equestrian Program. After pitching their idea to the city's Summer Camp Program and hosting a successful fund-raiser in April, the first Urban Equestrian Program will be available at the Whitehaven Community Center starting June 6th. Baier said she chose the Whitehaven location for her inaugural class because of the history she has with the area.
"When I was a child, a woman named Lucille raised me. She was with me every day, and she was from Whitehaven," Baier said. "She showed me that good people are everywhere, regardless of how much money they have. She has always been a real inspiration for me. She was the toughest person I've known, and I wanted to do something special in her honor."
The first Urban Equestrian Program will have eight sessions, four on the grounds of the Southern Blues Equestrian Center and four in the classrooms of the Whitehaven Community Center. The sessions in the classroom will address equine science, training theory, and safety in the stable.
The four sessions at the stables include riding the course, stable management, and grounds maintenance, as well as sessions with equine professionals such as farriers, veterinarians, and equine dentists. After completing the classes, children who have shown an interest or skill may remain students at the Southern Blues Equestrian Center free of charge.
Baier said the Urban Equestrian Program will provide a unique experience for a child who may not be able to experience the outdoors otherwise.
"If you look at the different subjects being taught in school, you can teach them all with horses," Baier said. "Riding horses is obviously an art, but there's also the science of how we take care of the horses, the nutrition they require, and the way they are trained. The history of men and horses goes back before Christ. Then, of course, there is tons of math and science that goes into how a course is laid out."
After the program is finished at Whitehaven Community Center, Baier said she will take a month off to prepare for her next class, with the second program hopefully starting in September at a different inner-city community center.