“Leap and the net will appear” is a quote by John Burroughs. It also reflects how Matt Doward, founder of A Horse’s Friend leads his life. When Matt was growing up around Batavia, New York he was given the opportunity to experience horses through family and friends. He really liked riding horses. Matt’s experience was that he did not see any other Black faces when he rode, only White ones. After school Matt moved to Atlanta, Georgia and was managing a carwash. One day when Matt was at work two Black men came to the carwash with horses. Matt wondered if they were cowboys. He decided the only way to find out was to ask them if they were cowboys. And yes they were cowboys. These men invited Matt out to ride with them, which he frequently did, and they developed a lifelong friendship. It was the first time Matt had experienced riding with other Black riders.
“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.” Buddha
Matt eventually moved back to Rochester, New York and began a family. He wanted to show his son the joy of riding so Matt bought a horse for himself and a pony for his son so they could ride together. His son did not like riding and saw it as a punishment due to what he saw. There were no Black or Brown faces riding, only White ones. As the good father Matt is he did not give up on teaching his son about riding. Matt got his daughters and a cousin to ride along, which made a difference. In Atlanta there were many minorities who rode horses. In Rochester that was not the case. In Rochester the riders were White.
As Matt continued to encourage his son he realized inner city children did not have the opportunity or experience of riding or learning about horses. Sometimes Matt would ride horses through the streets of Rochester with children and adults having great interest in this Black man on this horse. Matt knows all too well how the cost of owning, boarding, and lessons keeps the horse riding identity in Western New York one dimensional. So Matt being Matt he knew he had to follow his heart. He quit his job to create a riding program that would expose children and youth from the inner city and underserved population to the experience of caring and riding a horse.
“The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King Jr.
A Horse’s Friend has been in existence since 2004. The core fundamental of this program is to teach respect, ethics, and character. To date over 5000 inner city children have participated in a variety of riding camps and programs. To see a child who was terrified to touch a horse learn how to tack a horse and ride is inspiring. There are some students who are asked to return after they complete a session to teach other children and adults how to ride. Matt loves seeing a nine year old showing an adult the correct way to tack and treat a horse. Children in a session learn quickly when they are taught by another child. When you learn to ride a 1000 mlb animal the confidence from that experience becomes part of you that no one can ever take away.
“I will ride. I will fly. I will chase the wind and touch the sky.” Author Unknown
As often as possible Matt and the students go into the city to ride. He loves bringing the horses to the children in the inner city, to break down the barriers that stop children who are Black and Brown from learning how to ride. The riding programs at A Horse’s Friend teach “respect and responsibility, role modeling and mentoring, work ethic, fitness, lifestyle, and character skills.” Matt has witnessed over and over how the experience of learning how to ride and care for a horse can change a life, helping that child, and sometimes adult, see all of the potential they have within themselves.
A Horse’s Friend has trained staff and volunteers. As Program Director Matt works many hours seven days a week to keep the programs running smoothly, caring for the horses, setting up connections with other community agencies like the Villa of Hope and Hillside. He has been purposeful and thoughtful in how to facilitate the way each session is run so each rider gains as much skill, knowledge, and experience as possible. Choosing student mentors for the next session provides another level of “I can do this” to each rider.
Matt has never lost sight of his dream. Despite the challenges A Horse’s Friend has faced he still loves the program and everything about it. He hopes that one day the horses will have new equipment and riding gear as currently what they have while usable, is the bottom of the barrel. That one day in the City of Rochester A Horse’s Friend will have a home. A riding program that is accessible for the inner city and underserved youth. A riding program that gives minority children the opportunity to experience the joy of riding.
We proudly shine our Kindness Champion Spotlight on Matt Doward and A Horse’s Friend.
To learn more about A Horse’s Friend here is their information:
Facebook: A Horse’s Friend