Image for The urban cowboys tackling gun crime

The urban cowboys tackling gun crime

On the streets of Philadelphia, horses are helping disadvantaged young people gallop towards a brighter future

On the streets of Philadelphia, horses are helping disadvantaged young people gallop towards a brighter future

In the US city of Philadelphia last year, there were 2,326 victims of shooting, the highest on record. Against this backdrop of violence, increasing numbers of young people are turning to the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in search of a safe haven, according to its founder, 83-year-old Ellis ‘El-Dog’ Ferrell. 

Located in an impoverished inner city neighbourhood, the club offers young people the chance to learn to ride and care for horses, whilst teaching life skills and promoting academic excellence.

The club stems from a long tradition of urban black cowboys. After the civil war, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to black men, and many travelled to the northern states and cities like Philadelphia where ranching was more profitable.

Ferrell started working with horses after a stint in the army, pouring all of his earnings into buying nags destined for the knacker’s yard at auction, and teaching neighbourhood kids how to ride. They officially became a non-profit in 2004, so they could start accepting donations for the community work that Ferrell and generations of black cowboys had been doing for decades, free of charge.

“I want to give these kids something to do and keep them off the streets,” Ferrell told Positive News. “If they got nothing to do, they might get into trouble.”

Seeing black kids riding horses lets them know that they can do it too

In the above photograph, Yasin – a young volunteer – walks a horse named Victory down Fletcher Street. It’s a regular sight: the horses being ridden through the city’s streets and parks.

“A lot of these kids have never seen a real live horse before. The only time they see people riding, it’s white people,” Ferrell said. “Seeing black kids riding horses lets them know that they can do it too.”

Main image: Nathan Morris

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