In the midst of south London’s hustle and bustle, only a 10-minute walk from a subway station, is a school where children are encouraged to horse around.
The Ebony Horse Club is an urban riding school for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. General Manager Naomi Howgate runs a close-knit and organized team that with the help of volunteers provides 140 rides per week, offering children the opportunity to learn important life skills along with horseback riding.
The club recently reopened its stables after months of being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The program’s eight horses have returned to their inner-city dwellings from a long rest outside London in East Surrey. Across the road from a housing project, club members are again learning how to mount, walk, trot and finally canter the horses.
One of the club’s youngest riders, Shaddai Mcleod, 9, is thrilled to be back in the saddle. His rides after school on Thursdays but joins the team on Sundays to help out in the yard, taking great pride in mucking out the stables, grooming the horses and measuring out the chaff for their evening meals.
Shaddai recently received his first award — a Pony Club badge for a grooming session.
He has been riding for over a year along with two of his older siblings. His sister Zion, 13, is just as conscientious as her brother as she saddles up her favorite horse Eddie for her session. She recognizes how fortunate she is to be a member of the club.
“You would never think this was here in the middle of Brixton,” she said, referring to a London neighborhood once known for racial discord, crime and gang violence.
Along with practicing the fundamentals close to home, Ebony Horse Club members take day trips to pony clubs in the English countryside. Pre-pandemic, groups of children from the club had incredible experiences, traveling as far away as Sweden to ride. Several alumni have ended up working in the equine industry.
Ebony’s senior youth worker, Radikha Nagar, played a vital role in keeping children and their families connected to the club during the pandemic by running virtual workshops and checking in on their well-being.
The club, which has experienced a surge in children wanting to join, is a charity that relies on fundraising for its survival. Lesson fees are subsidized depending on the riders’ home circumstances. Donors have remained supportive during Britain’s COVID-19 lockdowns, but like other organizations, Ebony may experience funding challenges as the British economy tries to recover from the pandemic.
The staff and volunteers are nevertheless “committed to keep raising funds to not just maintain but grow our activities,” Howgate said.