“The world is a canvas. You got to find your space to paint on,” were the words that Ahesahmakh Dahn said to me as we set under a tree watching the children engage in activities with staff members of the City Ranch organization. For most of us when we think about horses in Baltimore, the Pimlico Race Track comes to mind which people visit frequently as well as the Preakness because of Baltimore’s long history with horses. However, Ahesahmakh Dahn found his space in the world and created an organization that brings horses to the community. City Ranch, Inc is a Baltimore based organization located in Maryland. Founded by Ahesahmahk and Jean Dahn in 2007, City Ranch has given children lifetime memories of horseback riding and horsemanship throughout the urban community. Its purpose is to develop positive character in children through horsemanship and bring the joy of horseback riding to the urban community. As I set there that day I could see the mission and purpose in full effect.
Eshet: When was City Ranch established?
From 2007 to July 2009, we were trying.. you know doing the administrative stuff. The mission, goals, objectives; all of that kind of planning, equipment… strategizing how we were going to market ourselves in the period of time. In 2009, we were in Artscape and after Artscape, we started a summer riding program after work basically on Rolling Road, 2918 Rolling Road. We did it there that summer and in 2010 we went around the corner to my sister’s at 3818 Chatam Road; we did it in her back yard that summer. Than in 2011, we came around here and we’ve been here at Liberty since than and we have a real good relationship with Liberty. There children get to participate, we’ve had some community open houses for the community to come in. We haven’t done any this year, but that’s kind of how we have been at it.
Eshet: Is this program only for the summer or all year around here at Liberty?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: Well it’s seasonal and the season is determined by the weather, obviously. We have a guide that we use that if it’s below 40 degrees we don’t bring the horses out. We have programs throughout the city; some church organizations, other civic organizations, schools, and other private individuals would ride during the evenings, but in the winter would ride on Saturday and Sunday.
Eshet: So what made you decide to form the organization? Did you see a need for it or did you want to bring something different to the city?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: I guess what was the “watershed event” that caused it to get moving. I had a nephew that got killed in the drug trade and you know as an elder in the family as an elder in the community, what part of his death was I responsible for? I looked around and said even though I worked in public service as an officer, school teacher, group home for teenage girls; that’s public service, there was nothing that I had created from the knowledge and experience I had to generate some work for young people. So, well we had one horse and a dream and then we just decided to go for it. I worked at the Downtown Sailing Center, which is a nonprofit organization which does sailing that does sailing. They bring children to the sailing center cause you know you can’t take the boats and the water to the neighborhood (shares a laugh). So this is why we decided to use this model; bringing the horses…taking the horses to the community. Because it makes it a lot easier, more people can participate, it generates a whole lot of interest, and there is a lot of conversation that goes back and forth between myself and the community people as a result of it being out here.
Eshet: Can anyone come and participate?
Yes, City Ranch is a nonprofit so it’s a public charity and it’s open to the whole community. There is a fee base; we have sliding fee scale. Every organization has to earn a profit some kind of way; whether it is donations, grants or whatever it is because you got to pay… buy food, the horses have to eat, we have transportation cost, we have insurance cost, we have cost associated with it. But because it is a charity, we have sliding scale so that if someone needs some financial assistance we can reduce the price based upon their income; were they live or what kind of income they have. Because each zip code has a salary index; income index to it and that’s what we use. So if you live in zip code 21244 and I’m making up a number; the mean income for that zip code is $50,000 and so we would than give a reduction based upon that mean income. There is a percentage that we would reduce it from the mean income. So, yes long and short it’s open to everybody; everybody can participate.
Eshet: Can you talk more about your services for private events?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: We take the horses everywhere; public and private events. if a person is having a party or something, that’s a private event. We will go there and for the schools we take them there and set up an enclosure like you see here and work with children in a horsemanship program.
Eshet: So five years from now where do you see yourself or as faas expanding what other things would you like to do with this program?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: We have expanded some since we got started. We have two crews, eleven horses so there is a crew of people who are out on another job now at a daycare summer program… summer camp where they will be giving children pony rides and some lessons. As far as expansion is concerned, the long-range goal would be to have about 110 horses so that this program… so that what we’re doing here can be done all over the city. You know, creating some simple work for young people an introduction into an industry that otherwise is closed not because of any other reason except knowledge. You know our folks are just not exposed to it; the city folks are not exposed to it so that the long run plan. In five years we would like to be able to have an anchor in atleast 3 to 4 different legislative districts; councilmatic districts in Baltimore City. so there should be a riding program like this in each councilmatic district in the City and think there is 14 of them now.. whatever the number is now. But to have one that is centrally located, so people living in southeast Baltimore don’t have to go over to Druid Hill Park, Leakin Park or here to learn to ride. So that is what the five-year goal is.
Eshet: Do you all train the children and how long does the sessions last?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: Well the summer is set up in two-week sessions. In the two-week period of time the children get to ride at least an hour a day and then that’s when the horse is down. Than they get other experience with the horse; grooming it, cleaning it hooves, bathing it, there is a equine dentist on his way and that demonstration and tomorrow will be a farrier which is the manicurist for horses. He will come out and work on the hooves and that’s another demonstration. Those are two career opportunities that do not require college degrees. This is every two weeks a group come. We have full day sessions and half day sessions. We also doing when the children go to lunch and after lunch they go swimming, so during that time, hour… hour half period of time it is open for community groups to bring their groups by for either pony rides or lessons; individual lessons…group lessons.
Eshet: You know all of my life I have been in Maryland, but I have never heard or witnessed a program like this? Is there any other programs like this in Baltimore like this or are you the first one to do something like this?
Ahesahmahk Dahn: Most people do pony rides, but taking it to the next level where you actually out and teaching children and working with as to how to control the horse. Not only that but just the whole industry that goes into it. You know exposure to the whole industry; the equine industry is not being done. See the space if there is nothing there put something. It’s a canvas; the world is a canvas. You got to find your space to paint on. You know and so that’s the work the Almighty has given me to do. (Eshet talking: It’s a passion because I remember you talking about the love for horses as a child) Uh huh, it’s work I mean you know getting the staff together.