With its Mustang Troop, the Kentucky Horse Park participates in one of the most unique programs in the United States geared to helping young people, in mostly at-risk situations, to find guidance and learn discipline that will help them to grow into productive and responsible adults. The Kentucky Horse Park Mustang Troop program teams inner-city youth, 10-years-old and older, with adopted formerly-wild mustangs, and teaches them how to interact with horses, care for their needs and learn to ride.
Founded in 1993, the objective of the program is to foster continuing development of the Mustang Troop. It is our belief that this will prove to be an outstanding vehicle for introducing and promoting women and minorities in the equine industry, natural resources management and law enforcement. It is also our belief that the Mustang Troop program will provide the youth the discipline and guidance they need in their formative years.
Officers of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Division of Police Activities League (PAL) select youth for the program. PAL officers transport the troopers, help with supervision, and are the direct contact with parents and the Lexington community. The mustangs used in the program were adopted through the BLM's Adopt-A-Horse Program.
The troopers begin the program with no previous horse experience. Most have never even touched a horse before, and many are too timid to even go into a stall with a horse. Under the tutelage of the Kentucky Horse Park's Education Department staff, new troopers learn how to handle, groom, ride, train, and care for their horses.
A Mustang Trooper's day begins at 9:00 am to set up their stalls, catch their horses, and lead them to the barn. The troopers are responsible for grooming, tacking up, cooling out, turning out, cleaning their stalls and the barn's aisle, and caring for their tack. They spend two to three hours each day riding and practicing their drill with a break for lunch. The Mustang Troop works and trains together Monday through Friday during summer vacation, and on occasional Saturdays during the school year. They also take field trips to horse farms, training facilities, veterinary hospitals, and racetracks. The trips show the youngsters the many opportunities available to them in the equine industry. The troopers are their own best ambassadors, impressing horse people with their knowledge and understanding of the horse.
Every trooper's goal is to become a member of the Mustang Troop precision mounted drill team. Troopers have won ribbons and awards for their performances at many festivals and equestrian events, and many parades including the 53rd Presidential Inaugural Parade for President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C. in 1997; the parade at the dedication of the "Spirit of Freedom National Memorial to African American Civil War Soldiers," sponsored by the African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation in Washington, D.C. in 1998; and the Gator Bowl Parade in Jacksonville, Florida on New Years Eve in 2003 and 2006.
The direct interaction between the young troopers and their horses has provided challenges and tangible results. Parents, teachers, principals, and officers have commented on positive changes in attitudes and behaviors. Troopers who were failing and had poor school attendance now bring their improved grades to show to the Kentucky Horse Park staff. They write essays about their horses, bring friends to the park to show off their horses, and talk about the jobs they are going to get working with horses. Many of the youngsters, who began the program as ten year-olds, are now doing well in high school. Two troopers have been awarded $1,000 educational scholarships.
Through PAL, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Division of Police strives to reduce drug use and criminal activity among youngsters. While offering fun and challenging activities from which kids can learn and grow, children learn self-respect and respect for authority figures. Through positive reinforcement and encouragement by police officers children see an alternative lifestyle to much that surrounds them and have a chance to develop the skills needed to set and achieve elevated goals.