Taking the Reins Program Brings City Kids to the Stables

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“Taking the Reins…gave me a second home and it gave me a second chance, and it gave me a reason to be good.”

Mary Barrientos is one of approximately 300 girls from low-income and at-risk neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area who participates in Taking the Reins annually. Her experience with TTR isn’t unique. Participants in the program are able to avoid gangs and other risks of living in some of LA’s tougher neighborhoods while gaining skills and confidence through working with horses. TTR was featured on the local news back in 2015, but the video clip above has gained a second life on Facebook in recent weeks, drawing more attention to the work TTR does.

The equestrian program is more than just riding lessons. It’s a comprehensive system that teaches the girls all aspects of horsemanship. Participants learn to groom, feed and care for their horses and how to manage the facilities in the Horse and Barn Care component of the program. In the Riding section, they learn the basics of western riding in a system designed to teach girls to find their own voice and leadership ability while they learn the sport of riding. The Equine Science component provides a practical environment for learning about nutrition, anatomy, horse behavior, and physical fitness.

More advanced students can participate in hippology and judging competitions, learn bareback and English riding, and ultimately join the TTR show team to travel to area competitions.

In addition to the equine program, TTR is also home to an organic garden and urban farm with goats, chickens, and ducks. The facility also has a kitchen, so participants learn not just how to grow food, but also how to make nutritious meals with the harvest.

According to TTR, Los Angeles schools are very often overcrowded and under-resourced. Students get little individual attention, which means they aren’t challenged to achieve their full potential. The graduation rate for the Los Angeles Unified School District has been steadily increasing year over year since 2010, but is still considerably below the national average: 72% in L.A. compared with 82% nationwide. TTR’s program is designed to engage middle school aged kids with the mental and physical challenges and rewards that come with working with animals and spending time in a safe outdoor environment. By reaching them at a time when many students begin to disengage with formal education and potentially fall to negative influences, TTR seeks to offer participants another way.

And it seems to be working. In 2015, all eight of the high school seniors in the program were not only graduating, but college-bound. All of them would be the first in their families to attend college, according to TTR Executive Director Jane Haven.

Learn more about the program at takingthereins.org.


Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com

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