By focusing on teaching underserved kids to ride, Roberta Wilmore is introducing more color into Boston equestrian circles.
At an auction at the Washington International Horse Show in 2004, Roberta Wilmore won a coveted chance to breed a mare to a well-known stallion. The only problem was she didn’t own a horse. “I had sperm but no mare,” says Wilmore, an energetic woman who looks younger than her 52 years. But it was hardly a major obstacle for someone who has worked in her own small way to do for the local equestrian scene what Arthur Ashe did for tennis: open the doors to kids of color.
The daughter of a black Presbyterian minister and theologian, Wilmore grew up in a white Quaker community in rural Pennsylvania. Wilmore has had a lifelong love affair with horses. By age 10, she was working in local stables in exchange for riding lessons. Later, when her parents enrolled her in an all-black Presbyterian high school in Georgia, she persuaded a former employer to send a few horses to the school, where she started a riding club, giving lessons to her peers, none of whom had ridden a horse. “I did whatever I had to do to make being with horses happen,” Wilmore says.
Working with and caring for horses gave her the confidence to “walk in many worlds,” she says, and became the cornerstone of her social development. Wilmore became an accomplished rider and, later, a popular riding instructor. She made Massachusetts her permanent home in 1982 and has continued to teach on nights and weekends after working days as property manager for MB Management Co. in Braintree. In 1997, she bought a 60-acre horse farm in Ashfield and named it Lee Ella Farm after her mother.
But in more than 30 years of working with horses, she rarely saw another black face in the riding centers where she spent so much time. So in 2001, Wilmore founded the nonprofit Children’s Equitation Center with the mission to encourage children of color and other underserved youngsters to participate in the horse world. “I had a wonderful experience with horses as a child with no money,” Wilmore says, “and I wanted other children to have that same experience.” With headquarters at her farm, the center now has six horses and runs programs after school and on weekends, holidays, and during summer vacation.
“She’s introducing a whole group of people to something that they didn’t even know was there,” says Edna Doggett, president of the center’s board of directors.
Read more here.
Source: The Boston Globe