Over four years ago, the Rev. Robert E. Slade and some members of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Georgetown brainstormed about ways to make a contribution to the lives of young people. They decided to invite youth down to Slade’s farm in Upper Marlboro for a little country living.

“It was a vision that we had over four years ago in regards to seeing other children ride at Rock Creek Park,” Slade said. “Some of the cowboys in the area suggested that we ought to use what we have. I have some horses and some property to go with it so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide this experience to young people.”

The five-day camp has drawn kids from all over the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area as well as children from far away as North Carolina and Connecticut. They sleep overnight at the church and take a bus to Slade’s farm for their morning equestrian activities. Camp organizers say many of them come with a real fear, but it doesn’t take long for the youth to overcome that fear and start riding.

“We had a young man that stated that he was not going to get on a horse. Within an hour, he was on a horse and didn’t want to get off,” said Novella Jackson, a camp coordinator. “We had another little girl who didn’t get on a horse until halfway through the camp, but we’re at the end and she’s still riding and having fun.”

The participants do more than just ride horses. The camp’s head coordinator, Deedra Ross Jones, said they took the children bowling, roller skating and to see Chinese acrobats perform at the Publick Playhouse in Hyattsville. The kids were even allowed to sleep outside in tents on the last night of the camp.

Organizers did this to provide the campers with a well-rounded experience and to help build better life skills. “We know we’re building character and building relationships,” said Slade. “Some of these youngsters have never seen each other before, but they’ve spent five days and five nights with each other learning how to get along.”

Slade, the North Carolina native and farming hobbyist, hopes the camp can generate renewed interest in equestrianism. With four years in and many return campers, Slade says this exposure can lead to the children developing a lifelong love of horseback riding.

“We already have some kids with strong potential out there,” he said. “Some, you can tell from the first day, are gifted and not afraid. It’s something that if they want to embrace and carry into adulthood, it would be great. We would love to see that and I think some of them will.”


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO