Equestrian Club in Compton Backyard Offers Youngsters a Stable Environment
From the moment he arrived at the backyard stables in Compton, Sterling Love had been stalling.
The 12-year-old had come to go horseback riding.
Instead, he did everything but -- avoiding horses just as he had done each visit since he’d been bucked three weeks earlier.
As Love sifted through a pile of helmets, fumbled reluctantly with the horse’s bridle and let out a long sigh, Mayisha Akbar watched him.
Akbar, who owns the stables, is the founder of the Compton Junior Posse, a youth equestrian club. For almost two decades, in a city so often troubled by violence, she has used horses to teach Love and other children lessons about life.
Love’s lesson for the day was about perseverance, and when he finally mounted his horse, Akbar knew he’d learned it. She nodded with satisfaction as he slowly circled the arena.
Akbar founded the Posse in 1988, shortly after moving to the city. A real estate agent at the time, she had gone to look at a Compton property for a client. When she realized it was zoned for horses, it occurred to her that it would be an ideal place to raise her children.
She also had another idea.
As a child growing up in Harbor City, Akbar had taught herself to ride by sneaking into her neighbors’ yard and climbing their unsaddled horse. Atop the animal, she always felt free and independent. She thought horses could give the children in Compton similar confidence.
When she started the Compton Junior Posse, Akbar’s three children served as her primary recruiting tool. “My kids were like pied pipers,” she said.
The children they brought to the backyard often lived in very rough worlds.
Once, Akbar took a young club member home and found that he lived in an abandoned house. When she set up an Inglewood fundraiser to sponsor a trip to Sacramento in the early 1990s, it ended in gunfire over a dispute about the color of tennis shoes.
Akbar’s own son, Khafra, was shot nine years ago as he rode his bicycle between gang territories. It took nine surgeries to save his right leg.
Since she began the club, she has welcomed dozens of youngsters, educating them about much more than horses without them ever knowing it. By making them groom the animals and clean their stalls before riding, she has taught responsibility. By ending disputes with a group huddle on how the conflict could have been better handled, she has taught anger management. By having the children handle change at fundraisers, she has taught math.
“It has a good effect on us,” said Justin Jones, 16. “It teaches us not to be lazy and keeps us out of the street so we don’t end up dead one day.”
Located in a secluded part of the city, Akbar’s backyard is a sanctuary. An altar-like wooden post with the group’s name scrawled in brown paint stands above the horse arena. Each Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning, the members arrive at the club behind Akbar’s house. Many of them greet her with a hug. Then they proceed to the stables, where they must clean the stalls before they can ride.
Once her students learn their way around the backyard, Akbar takes them beyond its fences.
Her riders, who range in age from 5 to 17, have competed in amateur events in such places as San Diego and Santa Barbara. She has taken some outside the state (to Nevada) and even the country (to France).
“What I try to teach my kids is this is a big world,” said Akbar, 53. “You can venture outside of Compton.”
When they do venture outside, the riders get their share of curious glances, said Bob Parron, 69, who has volunteered for the club ever since he met Akbar through a mutual friend in 1993.
“It’s a rarity, because you don’t expect to find a horse club in Compton,” said Parron, a retired Long Beach Transit worker. “They mostly find those places in Malibu or Beverly Hills.”
Parron enrolled his son, Justin, 10, after watching how time at the stables benefited other children.
Shortly after Akbar bought the land in Compton, she purchased her first two horses. They soon attracted neighborhood children.
But to her dismay, many of the children who wanted to learn to ride were not enrolled in school. So she made it a rule that children show her their report cards before entering the yard.
“I was like, ‘That’s all I have to do to get these kids into school?’ ” said Akbar.
Akbar wants her young riders to understand that they have options. They seem to get the message.
“We can develop relationships with horses and it’s relaxing,” said Randall Hook, 15. “Instead of everybody claiming gangs and territories, they claim horses or riding groups and have rivals. They find that more beneficial than gangbanging.”
Akbar charges children $50 a month to be part of the Posse, but she waives nearly all her students’ fees. She relies on donations, which also help her buy horses at auctions. Sometimes people give her horses too, she said.
Her plan was to end the club after her three youngsters grew up. They’re all in their 20s now, and children continue to arrive in her backyard.
And she continues to welcome them.
“Hundreds of kids have come through here,” Akbar said. “If we can help a handful of them, it would be rewarding.”