Local students defy odds to ride horses

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Only on 9, an inspiring group of local students from the KIPP DC charter school has overcome obstacles to fulfill a dream that once seemed out of reach.

Horses and riding are not a normal part of inner city life. But a teacher-turned-coach has changed all that.

"I feel free. Like stress free," said Javone Love, a high school student in Washington, D.C.

On a warm spring morning, far from the chaos of the inner city, she and other young equestrians are soaring. "It's like a time for me to be me. And just be free -- of stress of school, friends, family and just worry about me and the horse," said Love.

Added Team Captain Terry Daniels, "It liberates you. Like I feel free. I feel like I can do whatever I want. And that's why I love riding so much."

Seven years ago, English teacher Lelac Almagor defied the odds and launched this inner city riding team. "We don't have access to horses. We don't have transportation. We don't have tons of money. And also, I think this isn't one of the sports people think of our kids doing," said Almagor, the team's coach.

Daniels is well aware of the image of an African-American inner city student, particularly a young man.

"The reality of it… they already have stereotypes about me—that, oh I'm black, I'm ignorant, I'm not well educated. And I'm proving them wrong every day," he said.

It's even more remarkable considering how far these kids have come. Ninety percent of their families live in poverty in neighborhoods where violence is a relentless visitor.

"When I come here, I feel like there's no violence. I don't have to worry about nothing going wrong," said Love.

Two key principles are instilled in these young riders: you help each other out and if you fall, you dust yourself off and get right back on.

"That means a lot to me. To hear kids say to each other 'you're doing great! Keep it up! Keep trying!'" said Almagor.

In an unlikely pairing, horses have become a key part of their lives.

"People are judging me, but they're not judging me on my color. They're judging me on the way I ride," said Daniels.

"It helps me set goals for myself. And it helps me like know that I can't give up when a struggle come," said Love.

The riders did not set out to break down barriers to a sport that has long been predominantly for the wealthy, but they have.

"Just because they have money, that doesn't mean they're better than me. Just means they can buy more expensive things," said Daniels.

Their riding gear may be donated, but their confidence and pride; money can't buy.

So far, the young riders haven't been able to afford to compete as a team, but they are hoping they may be able to next year.

The team is extremely grateful for the local stables that allow them to ride, donating ring time, horses and riding gear: Hideaway Horse Center in Brandywine and Meadowbrook Stables in Chevy Chase, where the young equestrians take riding lessons and compete in shows.

To learn more about the KIPP DC Riding Team, check out their Facebook page.

And if you'd like to support them, go to: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kipp-dc-riding-team-help-us-go-varsity


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