By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
If you’ve ever been downtown or at a neighborhood event, you may have noticed that the police officers in attendance are often accompanied by a horse or two. Seeing a horse in an urban setting can be a jarring and exciting experience and given recent developments, it might become a more common occurrence.
MKE Urban Stables is Milwaukee’s newest landmark located at 143 E. Lincoln Ave. The stable, which first broke ground in 2019, is home for the Milwaukee Police Department’s mounted patrol unit. It also offers equine therapy for youth and veterans and a community space.
Kent Lovern is the chief deputy district attorney for Milwaukee County and the president of the MKE Urban Stables board of directors. The idea behind the stables originated with downtown business leaders, he said.
At the time, the mounted patrol unit horses were kept at various stables throughout the state such as in Racine. Transporting the horses was difficult and costly, Lovern said, and the city wanted a permanent home for the horses that was safe, healthy and convenient.
During conversations with police officers who rode the horses, the topic of equine therapy arose. It was suggested that if a stable was going to be built, it should be built large enough to accommodate space for police horses and equine therapy horses, Lovern explained.
The facility, which sits on about 4 acres of land, is 30,000 square feet and has 12 stalls for police horses and 12 stalls for therapy horses. A large portion of the property is green space, Lovern said.
Recently, MKE Urban Stables received a $100,000 grant from Bader Philanthropies.
Bridgett Gonzalez, a program officer with Bader Philanthropies, said the organization thought it was important to support this unique message, that is building community and police relations and equine therapy.
“I think this is an opportunity to intentionally create community space,” she said, adding that it’s a more inviting space for the community.
This space generates curiosity and can help break down barriers between police and the community, Gonzalez said. She’s also a big proponent for equine therapy, in which horses play a role in a person’s healing.
“More people are talking about well-being and mental health,” Gonzalez said. “This sends the message that its OK to get help.”
Rawhide Youth Services provides the equine therapy for youth and young adults. The program launched in June and currently serves 25 individuals, Lovern said.
Equine therapy can address physical challenges and emotional challenges caused by exposure to trauma or stress, Lovern explained. Through Rawhide, individuals work one-on-one with a therapist and a horse. Three therapists from Rawhide conduct the therapy sessions.
Each session varies, Lovern said, adding sometimes its grooming the horse, sometimes its leading the horse to pasture, it depends on the session.
“It can be as simple as being near a horse,” Lovern said. “They’re very perceptive creatures.”
At the moment, MKE Urban Stables has two staff members. It is hoping to hire an executive director with the money it received from Bader and is currently recruiting for the position.
“From our standpoint, this is really essential and we’re so grateful to Bader,” Lovern said.
Board members and veterans, who have experience with horses, volunteer throughout the week, Lovern said. Rawhide and the MKE Urban Stables are working with the Milwaukee Veterans Administration to expand therapy and volunteer options to veterans.
Lovern hopes that the MKE Urban Stables becomes a vibrant community space where people can volunteer, receive therapy and convene. One of the goals is to foster relations between the police and the community through dialogue and conversation.
“It’s a peaceful place and it’s a place where officers can be seen and present where there’s not a crisis going on,” Lovern said.