Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

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The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is an inner-city horsemanship program in north Philadelphia.

In this informal community program, local horsemen teach neighborhood youth to ride and care for horses while encouraging academic excellence and providing positive ways to spend their leisure time outdoors. The nonprofit program is part of a century-long tradition of black urban cowboys and horsemanship in the city, although it continues to face challenges to its sustainability, as evidenced on a Facebook page for the club set up by supporters.

The Fletcher Street club stables are in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of north Philadelphia, on the edge of Fairmount Park. Informal stables exist throughout North and West Philadelphia neighborhoods, on private and abandoned city land.[1] The horses are ridden throughout the city's streets and parks, and regular races are held on an open strip of Fairmount Park called the Speedway. Experienced horsemen and youth in the area care for the horses, and the Fletcher Street club horses receive additional care from a prominent area veterinarian.[2] There are also stables in Cobbs Creek Park and west Philadelphia. One organized group is the Black Cowboys Association, which Philadelphia Weekly called "a Philadelphia institution that offers kids in the city's toughest neighborhoods the chance to claim a path out of the 'hood on horseback."[3] One other formal horsemanship program for local teenagers is Work to Ride, based at Chamounix Equestrian Stables in Fairmount Park.

The horses are usually purchased at a livestock auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, giving a second chance to horses that would likely otherwise be killed.[4]

As of 2009, the club planned to bring more formal mentoring and tutoring elements into its programs,[5] although tight budgets make this difficult. In the late 2000s, the city government razed some of the stables and the club house, ostensibly to prepare for redevelopment of the land. Many horses had to be moved, though a few dozen remain.[6]

The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is a registered nonprofit in Pennsylvania.[7] Friends of Fletcher Street, a supporting organization, is under the fiscal sponsorship of MAP Holistic Community Development, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The program held a benefit event on Halloween of 2009 at the First District Plaza in Philadelphia, a collaboration between local fishermen (who also run a youth program), local churches, the urban cowboys themselves, and the local business association, Strawberry Mansion SMART Business Association.[8] As of 2014, the club is led by Ellis Ferrill and supported by other local horsemen and community members.[7]

Other urban horsemanship programs[edit]

Black urban horsemanship programs exist in major cities throughout the United States. These include Horses in the Hood in Los Angeles and the Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens in New York City, recently portrayed in a New York Times article.[9][10][11] They were also the subject of a feature film by Ghost Robot film company, produced by Zachary Mortensen.[12]

Internationally, the best-known related program is based in Dublin, Ireland. Like the Fletcher Street club, these urban cowboys known as Pony Kids have access to 3,000 horses (as of 1996). The horses attract and engage youth in a difficult low-income neighborhood. Britain's The Independent described "Dublin's suburban horse culture" as "a fascinating example of what happens when the poor appropriate the pleasures of the rich."[13] They face many of the same challenges as their American counterparts, as The New York Times reported in 1996. While Philadelphia's young cowboys predate Dublin's, the urban youth in Ireland had access to 3,000 horses.[14]

Like their Philadelphia counterparts, Dublin's urban horsemanship has also been the subject of numerous articles, books, photos,[15] and other coverage. Two photo essay books are exclusively focused on the Dublin urban cowboys.[16][17] An anthropological study of the Dublin program examined the community development program in the context of anti-poverty efforts.[18] A television series documented the story of five pony kids selected to ride and tour the fancier equine world.[19]

In the media[edit]

The club has been mentioned in NPR's This American Life (television version) and in regional equestrian magazines.[20][21] It has also attracted a range of photographers and filmmakers, local and global, amateur and professional, who are interested in documenting their way of life. Martha Camarillo published a book of photographs, "Fletcher Street."[22] City residents, surprised to see horses passing through the city, regularly snap and post images on personal webpages. Also, a number of the cowboys volunteered at the Devon Horse Show, a nationally known annual event, at which Camarillo's book was featured.[2] Musicians Rudimental, whose song "Feel the Love" featured the Fletcher Street horses and men in its music video, which has been viewed more than 40 million times. G. Neri's 2011 novel Ghetto Cowboy is based on the Fletcher Street culture.[23]



  1. ^ Sanjiv Bhattacharya, "Red riding hood." Telegraph. 17 Feb 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3663231/Red-riding-hood.html
  2. ^ a b "Urban Cowboys Come to Devon." Main Line Times, May 21, 2008.
  3. ^ Tim Whitaker, "Urban Cowboys." Philadelphia Weekly, August 11, 2004. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/urban_cowboys-38386494.html
  4. ^ Tim Whitaker, "Urban Cowboys." Philadelphia Weekly, August 11, 2004. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/urban_cowboys-38386494.html
  5. ^ Suzanne Bush, "Struggling to Keep Hope Alive in an Urban Stable." Pennsylvania Equestrian, 2009. http://www.pennsylvaniaequestrian.com/news/urban-stable.php
  6. ^ Sarah Nassauer, "In the Inner City Of Philadelphia, Horsey Set Bridles: Traditional Black Stables Get Booted, as Government And Developers Encroach." Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2007. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119067100738737868.html
  7. ^ a b "Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club Cooperative, Inc." Business listing as PA Non-Profit Cooperative Corporation, Pennsylvania Department of State, accessed December 15, 2009. https://www.corporations.state.pa.us/corp/soskb/Corp.asp?2716726
  8. ^ "First Annual Horseman & Fisherman Youth Benefit." PlanPhilly website, run by PennPraxis. http://planphilly.com/event/first-annual-horseman-fisherman-youth-benefit
  9. ^ "The Federation of Black Cowboys" official website, accessed December 16, 2009. http://www.federationofblackcowboysnyc.com/
  10. ^ Corey Kilgannon, "Black Cowboys Ride the Range in Queens, and Keep a Sharp Lookout for Traffic." New York Times, October 10, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/10/nyregion/10cowboys.html
  11. ^ Horses in the Hood website, accessed December 15, 2009. http://horsesinthehood.org/
  12. ^ The Federation Of Black Cowboys film, accessed December 16, 2009. http://ghostrobot.com/work/films/the-federation-of-black-cowboy.html
  13. ^ Finton O'Toole, "Pony Kids: Urban Cowboys." The Independent, 6 February 1999. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/pony-kids-urban-cowboys-1069074.html
  14. ^ James F. Clarity, "Ireland's Range War: Urban Cowboys vs. the Law." The New York Times, November 13, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/13/world/ireland-s-range-war-urban-cowboys-vs-the-law.html?pagewanted=1
  15. ^ Dave Walsh, "Urban cowboys at Smithfield Horse Market, Dublin." http://www.flickr.com/photos/deadlyphoto/2551111985/
  16. ^ Perry Ogdan "Pony Kids." http://www.amazon.com/dp/0893818593
  17. ^ James Horan, "My Lovely Horse." http://www.blurb.com/books/298848
  18. ^ A. Jamie Saris et al, "Culture and the state: Institutionalizing ‘the underclass’ in the new Ireland." accessed December 21, 2009. http://www.esc.umn.edu/docs/Saris_CityArt02.pdf
  19. ^ "Pony Kids." http://www.rte.ie/tv/ponykids/
  20. ^ "Escape." This American Life (television version of NPR show), May 4, 2008. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/TV_Season.aspx?season=2
  21. ^ Suzanne Bush, "Struggling to Keep Hope Alive in an Urban Stable." Pennsylvania Equestrian, 2009. http://www.pennsylvaniaequestrian.com/news/urban-stable.php
  22. ^ Camarillo, Martha. Fletcher Street, powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2006. http://www.powerhousebooks.com/book/158 and http://www.amazon.com/dp/1576873285
  23. ^ http://candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763649228&browse=title