Patricia Kelly is a former U.S. marine, award-winning community leader and equestrian trailblazer with a storied history as a Black cowgirl who has also just been inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Patricia E. Kelly has been at the helm of the Hartford, CT-based non-profit organization Ebony Horsewomen, Inc. for the past 30+ years. Initially started in 1984 as a cultural and social enrichment organization for African-American female equestrians, Patricia Kelly took note of the grip drugs and violence had on her community, and that local youth were at risk of falling through the cracks. So, in 1985 she reinvented Ebony Horsewomen Inc.—which is now a youth development organization that incorporates equine assisted therapy to empower youth toward successful lives and to create a safe space for youth to get mentorship and personal development. Recently, Patricia Kelly was honored as one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2014 for her work with at-risk kids, has appeared on The Queen Latifah and Dr. Oz Shows and is recognized as one of Aetna’s Champions for Change.
- Patricia, did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
No, I didn’t. It just sort of evolved over time as part of God’s plan. My path took me to many different places to build many different skills and experiences so that I could be able to do what I do today with our youth. I saw an unmet growing need of our inner city children, and knew that I was able to step up and help them with the skills, knowledge and experience that I had been building over a lifetime.
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
When I was little girl growing up in an initially all-white neighborhood that didn’t exactly want us there, Mr. Fisher, the neighborhood grocer who used a horse to deliver the neighborhood produce showed me kindness by introducing me to horses. From that moment on I was hooked on horses and old western movies. However, as I mentioned above my path wasn’t a direct one. I had many experiences that prepared me for the work. I went to the Marine Corps after high school to get the G.I. Bill so I could afford to go to college. Got married, had children, divorced several years later; went to law school and worked for Neighborhood Legal Services for sixteen years. Also, I worked with my Dad who was a Master Carpenter and we ran our construction company.
I had always known of the very well-known Ebony Horsemen who from the 1960’s to the early 1980’s operated their equestrian organization. In the early 1980’s the Horsemen were ending their organization. I founded the Ebony Horsewomen in the home of one of its members. And one day I with another member of our organization was riding our horses in Hartford’s Keney Park, and two boys ran up to us and asked me if that was a horse. Realizing that they weren’t really sure what a horse was, I just knew that I had to bring the experiences of horses to the community for the kids.
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
There were many, many, many bumps in the road from my father being dead set against me riding horses, to the time the real estate bubble busted in 2007 and funding started to dry up severally reducing our revenues. Our staff stayed loyal to the work and our kids. I believe that I have been able to get past these countless bumps in the road because it’s all been part of God’s plan. After, I’ve worked as hard as I can, God steps in and fixes what I couldn’t fix. For example, in the 11th hour, God found us some additional funding through a Hartford Foundation Grant on December 23rd, 2008 and Bank of America covered this large check at the last possible minute before the holiday, so that our bank could release the funds and we could pay my staff for Christmas.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
The success isn’t mine. The success is in the thousands of kids that have come through these doors, some with awesome challenges and have gone off to college and have done great things as highly disciplined winners. I also attribute this success to our horses. Horses can sense tension in people and this forces the kids to calm down, build some self-control, and bond with the horse so that both the rider and the horse have a feeling of security. Once the kids learn to do this, they then start wondering what else they could accomplish through their own thoughts and actions. Eventually, through our professional staff coaching and the horses, the kids learn the formula to success in all areas of life of: 1. Hear the instruction. 2. Process the instruction. 3. Implement the instruction.
- Patricia, what do teens need today more than anything else?
To just chill. They hear too much, they see too much. There is too much on them for their young minds to effectively process, so they just react. Too often, unfortunately, they react badly. They’ve lost childhood. In Africa they have a thing called a “depths of understanding”. The mind understands a certain lesson at 14, which becomes a deeper understanding at age 20 and yet even a deeper understanding at 30. Kids aren’t getting this time to slowly travel through the layers of experiences and understandings to develop wisdom. They’re being thrown 30-year-old experiences at the 14-year-old level, and it’s too much for them to handle.
- What would you tell a teen who was struggling?
Work. The mind needs rest. Concentrated hard work gives the mind rest, especially when we remove their electronics, which helps to eliminate outside drama. We don’t coddle the kids we make them hand in their electronics at the door, and then they go to work. Horse farm work is extremely hard, cleaning stalls, tack, and etc. year around – no exceptions. The work deflects from the outside world’s drama here. It’s just them, their horse and the hard work. In addition, this also develops a brotherhood and a sisterhood, similar to what the military has. They know that the person working next to them is also struggling through the same hard work with their horse that they are struggling through too.
- Patricia, what else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
Presently, we have many clinical agencies sending us children for equine and animal assisted therapy. This type of therapy works because it’s therapy without stigma and is very impactful. Further, no one knows who is here for therapy. There are more hurting children that need animal therapy than we can serve. We are looking to expand, add additional resources and replace some current resources to serve more kids. Operating a therapeutic horse farm is very expensive so additional resources are always needed.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
We are located in the Northeast section of Hartford, aka the North End. We are located in Hartford’s 693-acre Keney Park. The North End of Hartford is not what people might think it is. The people here are good hard working people who get up every morning, bring their kids to school, and then work very hard trying to make ends meet. Their dreams and aspirations for their families are just like everyone else’s all around this world. They want the best possible life for their family and an honest opportunity to create that kind of life. However, these good people are facing overwhelming odds of high unemployment rate and an estimated average $12,000+ yearly median income.
- How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
They can always Google me at Ebony Horsewomen or Patricia Kelly.
Or, go to my website at www.ebonyhorsewomen.us
Address: 337 Vine Street, Hartford, CT. 06002
Thanks for your time Patricia and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Author, Speaker and Educator