ZACHARY — Five girls kept swatting the air thick with swirling black love bugs as the Rev. William King told them what not to do when grooming a horse.
“Don’t stand right behind her. Always stand to the side, because this horse doesn’t know you. And you don’t know this horse,” King told the girls Saturday morning while standing alongside his horse, Black Beauty.
King was going through the fundamentals of approaching, petting and brushing a horse with a group of girls who have never seen one up close much less ridden one of the animals.
King has been exposing urban children to the rural world of horses for almost 30 years.
King started the ministry, Project R.I.D.E., which stands for Ride into Deep Entertainment, in 1984 to show children that “just touching an animal can bring you into a whole different atmosphere.”
“It can make kids feel better about themselves. It can keep them out of trouble. It shows them the rural life,” King said.
King said horses, sometimes, can change lives.
“It can give you something to think about and not have to worry about the crime in their neighborhood,” King said.
Although King’s nonprofit group has existed for three decades, he recently teamed up with Harold Williams, who is a businessman and former Baton Rouge police officer, and the Louisiana Business and Community Alliance to put on a month long equestrian academy for inner-city children ages 8 to 14.
“Horses can be very therapeutic. You have control over something when sitting on a 1,400-pound animal. Out in the community, some kids can get angry and exert control using guns or knives or fighting,” Williams said.
“Here, there is control over the horse, plus balance. You need to have balance when riding a horse,” Williams said.
Saturday’s academy session was held in the horse arena behind the 5D Western Store on Plank Road.
Two cousins, Markia Stevenson, 15, and Diamond Stevenson, 13, were two of the five girls out Saturday listening to King.
Neither girl had mounted a horse before, they said.
“It was my first time. I was scared at first but I got used to it.
“It was a bumpy ride but I’m a little more confident about it now,” Markia Stevenson, a student at McKinley High School, said after riding Black Beauty around the arena.
Diamond, a student at Park Forest Middle School, said she had fun riding the horse.
“I would ride again,” Diamond said.
The five girls were not the only young people out at the academy Saturday.
Eight student athletes from Central High School volunteered as mentors to participate in the event.
Preston Fondren, 16, a pitcher and outfielder on Central High School’s baseball team, said Saturday’s program showed him that people can adapt when exposed to situations they may at first find uncomfortable.
Austin Hunt, 17, a pitcher on Central High School’s baseball team, said the exposure to horses can show an inner-city child that there is a rural life beyond what they may see and experience on a daily basis in their neighborhood.