Diversity and Opportunities: Leg Up for Cleveland’s Kids

It’s easy to get trapped in the bubble of our own existence, and nothing makes us more excited than seeing the citizens of EN looking beyond themselves and stepping up to help make a real difference in the world. Emma Knight, an eventing enthusiast and student at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, has undertaken an effort to share her passion for horses with at-risk youth in her community. It just goes to show that you never know what can happen when you take the time to care. 

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

In January 2018, Leslie Wylie wrote an Eventing Nation article called “Where Is the Diversity in Eventing?” It struck a chord with me, and I began to wonder what I could do about the issue as a white, broke college student. Most of the comments both in and around the article agreed that the major issues are financial status and urban settings.

Please bear with me as I write this, because I acknowledge that there are many well-off men and women of color that live in many areas. However, I decided to focus on those issues because they are real issues that face equestrian sport. Horses require quite a bit of money and space; many urban environments offer neither.

I started thinking about how we could bring diversity into the sport more. As everyone knows, the next generation is the future of any sport. I started focusing on kids, and what we could do to provide more opportunities. Kids means schools.

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

I’m lucky to attend John Carroll University, where service is an important part of education. So, I knew I could start a service club at JCU. I called it JCU’s Equine Opportunity, where urban kids and JCU students could work together with horses. I pulled inspiration from organizations like the Compton Jr. Posse in Los Angeles, City Ranch, Inc. in Baltimore, and the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadelphia.

I wrote up a proposal and brought it to JCU. Imagine my surprise and delight when John Carroll told me that a similar program had already been started in Cleveland. With the blessing of the school to go out to the program about starting a JCU student service club to provide volunteers, I contacted LUCK.

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

Leg Up for Cleveland’s Kids, or LUCK (www.luck4kids.org), is a program that provides free instruction and transportation for urban kids in Cleveland to horse barns nearby. The area that LUCK runs in is primarily hunter-jumper, but you better believe I’ll be bringing a little eventing touch. It is not a therapeutic program, though the kids benefit from the calming effect horses have.

LUCK’s mission statement:

“Leg Up for Cleveland’s Kids, known as ‘LUCK,’ addresses multiple challenges facing Cleveland’s vulnerable youth. A shortage of extracurricular and career-readiness activities, coupled with a sustained environment of community trauma and strained relations between neighborhoods and authority figures, negatively impacts young people’s ability to create viable and sustaining futures.

“Through riding and caring for horses, program participants acquire valuable job-training and social-emotional skills that prepare them for success. A partnership with Cleveland’s Mounted Unit offers unprecedented collaboration and community engagement, while immersion in the equestrian industry allows Cleveland youth access to previously unreachable social capital and career pathways.”

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

When I reached out to LUCK, they were excited to have me. Not only could JCU students provide support, my website experience came in handy as LUCK had yet to build theirs (check it out at www.luck4kids.org). I’ll continue to provide publicity support as the organization grows.

In my planning meeting with co-founder and, ironically enough, JCU professor, Laura Hammel, I realized just how much impact LUCK can have. She told me about a girl who lost her sibling in a gun accident that coped with the trauma with “her” horse. She told me about a boy who rides every month and has the drive to continue riding as long as possible as he wants to become a mounted unit police officer. She told me about a girl who said, “If I could be around horses more, maybe I wouldn’t be so angry all the time.” The students that work with LUCK enjoy it and learn from it.

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

What started out as a push for diversity has transformed into something bigger. LUCK gives kids a chance to discover something new. To push themselves. To take care of another. To learn a trade. To make connections. These kids are strong, intelligent, and ready to thrive; they just need a Leg Up.

I have so many ideas swirling in my head about how to make LUCK better and how to reach more kids. We have a Friend-raiser coming up November 3 for potential donors and friends of the program to meet LUCK students and see what we do. If you’re interested in attending, please email [email protected]

Photo courtesy of LUCK.

The kids have loved the clinics and workshops that LUCK has provided so far (farrier, vet, braiding), and I’d love to have clinicians from different disciplines (eventing, dressage, western disciplines, etc.) come in to teach or demonstrate. They also enjoyed attending the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic and volunteering. If you would like to donate a clinic or workshop or have another idea LUCK kids would enjoy, please reach out!

Many thanks to LUCK for the good and important work it is doing, and to Emma for sharing her experience. Learn more about the program here