Work to ride is the name of the game... because that's exactly what you do at Chaumounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. This treasure, located near "The Bottom" was a treasure trove for Kareem and his siblings during their youth. His older brothers Dee and David, discovered the barn while on an exploratory bicycle foray through the park. The boys were entranced by the horses. When Lezlie, the barn owner, approached them and inquired as to whether they wanted to ride, they immediately agreed. Kareem loves equines just as much as his siblings, and he pined to join his brothers. So... after much poking and prodding, his mother ordered the older boys to allow the horse crazy youth to tag along.
Six kids. The first was born to a 14-year-old mother, the second to a 15-year-old mother. Kareem grew up in "The Bottom," a gritty, depressing part of town where one's foremost goal every day was to dodge bullets. Drugs, prostitution and poverty littered the sidewalks there as far as the eye could see. The boy's mom worked many jobs to try to support the family; she even became involved with abusive men who gave her money for food, rent and drugs. The kids were pretty much given free rein to go whichever way the wind blew. Fortunately, the youngsters happened upon Lezlie and the relative safety of the barn.
Lezlie was obsessed with horses from the time she was a little girl. She tried a conventional life by obtaining a BA in psychology, then a record store job. But equines were her passion, and they kept calling her back to them. She knew she had to find a way to spend her life with horses. One day, she met a young boy named Clay who pined to get involved with the large mammals. Unable to resist his charming whimsy, the lady took him under her wing and taught him all that she could about the animals and riding. Then, she was able to scrape together her money to found the organization Work to Ride, a not-for-profit devoted to helping urban kids find a better way in life. Donated horses that no one wanted and off-the-track horses populated the barn.
When Kareem first saw the barn, it was overrun with kids. Small humans were everywhere, coming out of the stalls, riding horses, leading horses around; it seemed like a dream. Not an adult in sight that he could recall. An older brother, David, took him for a pony ride. Young Kareem was terrified that he would fall, that the horse would bolt, any sort of calamities could occur... but none did. The ride merely consisted of his elderly mount walking carefully and slowly trotting in circles. Although the boy's muscles were sore when he dismounted, Kareem was overwhelmed with the urgent desire to do it all over again.
The cover of this work is priceless, though I would not recommend riding shirtless and in shorts. I lived in Philly for 4.5 years, and I love Fairmount Park. I was fascinated by Work To Ride, but I never visited the barn. I love that Lezlie is giving low wealth, urban youth a chance to choose a life other than violence, drugs and crime.