In rural Croom, Md., a small community nestled inside Prince George’s County, sits Robert Slade’s 55-acre farm that transforms every year into a field of dreams for a group of campers who spend the week grooming and riding horses.
In its 13th year, Grace United Methodist Church hosted its Equestrian Camp for more than 50 youth from July 16-20 where they participated in equestrian activities, swimming, bowling, skating and exploring the Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
“This is an opportunity providing an experience for young people that they probably will never have,” said Slade, pastor of the Grace UMC in Fort Washington, Md. “We know that when they leave here today they will be better than when they were when they came here on Monday.”
Tucked away in southern Maryland, the camp exposes Black youth to the ins and outs of caring for and riding horses.
Grace UMC has sponsored the summer camp for over a decade with the premise of being both a cultural experience and a history lesson.
“We have youth coming from all over Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina and even Chicago,” Slade said.
“Some of these young people come afraid of horses, and some are even afraid of flies, but by the time they leave, they have learned to ride a horse and know how to deal with the flies and overcome their fears.”
Ray Parker, coordinator of the Educated Horseman program, said “we take young riders and older riders in the beginning to the finished stage of riding.”
“They learn at the start how to groom a horse from riding at a walk, trot and cantor, and we teach them both English and Western techniques,” Parker said. “Kids need to get out of the city. They need to get off the computer and get in the great outdoors to experience camping, hunting and anything that gets them physically involved and doing something. They learn for the mind, body and soul and at this camp they also learn Christian principles.”
For two nights, campers participated in worship services and were given demonstrations by motorcycle groups and a presentation by the Prince George’s Country Police Department.
The mother of first-time camper Taylor Bridges expressed her gratitude for her daughter’s new experience.
“This was her first exposure to horses and learning how to ride horses,” she said. “It gave her access to something that she doesn’t get to do every day.”
Cynthia Hagan, 50, and her 13-year-old daughter Madison Paris both work at the camp, enjoying the equestrian activities together.
Madison said that she loves horseback riding and taking part in rodeos because “it helps me mentally and emotionally.”