Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

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The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to inner-city horsemanship in north Philadelphia.

Part of a century-long tradition of black urban cowboys and horsemanship in Philadelphia, local horsemen maintain and care for horses, and teach neighborhood youth to do so, while encouraging academic excellence and providing positive ways to spend their leisure time outdoors. The nonprofit organization has struggled to find funding and a place to operate. In 2015, it acquired federal nonprofit status and the title deeds for a small lot.[1]

The horses used in the program are usually purchased at a livestock auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, giving a second chance to animals that would likely otherwise be killed.[2]

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 and in Cobbs Creek Park, on private and abandoned city land.[3] 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.[4]

The experienced horsemen often ride these horses past the recreational field on 15th street known as 'The Oval'. It is here that the horses catch the attention of many Temple University Diamond Band members.

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."[2] Another formal horsemanship program for local teenagers is Work to Ride, based at Chamounix Equestrian Stables in Fairmount Park.


In the late 2000s, the city government razed some of the stables and the club house, ostensibly to redevelop the land. At the time, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals publicly investigated allegations by city officials that the horses were being mistreated. The allegations proved baseless.[5] However, with the land razed and redevelopment progressing, many horses had to be moved. In the subsequent decade, a few dozen horses have remained.[6]

In 2009, the club planned to bring more formal mentoring and tutoring elements into its programs,[7] although tight budgets made this difficult. On Halloween of that year, the program held a benefit event 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 2016, the club is led by Ellis Ferrill and supported by other local horsemen and community members.[9] For years, the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has been a registered nonprofit in Pennsylvania.[9] Friends of Fletcher Street, a supporting organization, was also under the fiscal sponsorship of MAP Holistic Community Development, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.

As of 2015, the Club was a recognized federal nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, enabling it to accept tax-deductible donations, including its first title deed to a small piece of land.[10] [11]

In popular media and literature[edit]

The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has been mentioned in NPR's This American Life (television version) and in regional equestrian magazines.[12][13] It has also attracted photographers and filmmakers, local and global, amateur and professional. Martha Camarillo published a book of photographs, "Fletcher Street."[14] City residents, surprised to see horses passing through the city, regularly snap and post images on personal webpages. The song "Feel the Love" by Rudimental featured the Fletcher Street horses, men, and boys in its music video,[15] which has been viewed more than 40 million times. G. Neri's 2011 young adult novel Ghetto Cowboy is based in Fletcher Street and urban horsemanship culture.[16]

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.[17][18][19] They were also the subject of a feature film by Ghost Robot film company, produced by Zachary Mortensen.[20]

Internationally, the best-known related program is based in Dublin, Ireland. 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. They face many of the same challenges as their American counterparts.[21][22][23][24] 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."[25] An anthropological study of the Dublin program examined the community development program in the context of anti-poverty efforts.[26] A television series documented the story of five pony kids selected to ride and tour the fancier equine world.[27]



  1. ^ Dana DiFilippo, "New life for an old 'ghetto cowboys' club." Philadelphia Daily News, May 19, 2015. http://articles.philly.com/2015-05-19/news/62328642_1_vacant-lot-big-cleanup-club#disqus_thread
  2. ^ a b Tim Whitaker, "Urban Cowboys." Philadelphia Weekly, August 11, 2004. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/urban_cowboys-38386494.html
  3. ^ Sanjiv Bhattacharya, "Red riding hood." Telegraph. 17 Feb 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3663231/Red-riding-hood.html
  4. ^ "Urban Cowboys Come to Devon." Main Line Times, May 21, 2008.
  5. ^ James Nye, "The Wire meets the Wild West: Urban cowboys tackle gang violence and drugs of inner-city America." Daily Mail, 28 July 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2180474/Philadelphias-Fletcher-Street-Urban-cowboys-tackle-gang-violence-drugs-inner-city-America.html
  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. ^ Suzanne Bush, "Struggling to Keep Hope Alive in an Urban Stable." Pennsylvania Equestrian, 2009. http://www.pennsylvaniaequestrian.com/news/urban-stable.php
  8. ^ "First Annual Horseman & Fisherman Youth Benefit." PlanPhilly website, run by PennPraxis. http://planphilly.com/event/first-annual-horseman-fisherman-youth-benefit
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "IRS 501(c)(3) search." http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/pub78Search.do?ein1=46-3515556&names=&city=&state=All...&country=US&deductibility=all&dispatchMethod=searchCharities&submitName=Search
  11. ^ "Locals Rally to Save Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club." http://6abc.com/pets/locals-rally-to-save-fletcher-street-urban-riding-club/1102605/
  12. ^ "Escape." This American Life (television version of NPR show), May 4, 2008. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/TV_Season.aspx?season=2
  13. ^ Suzanne Bush, "Struggling to Keep Hope Alive in an Urban Stable." Pennsylvania Equestrian, 2009. http://www.pennsylvaniaequestrian.com/news/urban-stable.php
  14. ^ Camarillo, Martha. Fletcher Street, powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2006. http://www.powerhousebooks.com/book/158 and http://www.amazon.com/dp/1576873285
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ http://candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763649228&browse=title
  17. ^ "The Federation of Black Cowboys" official website, accessed December 16, 2009. http://www.federationofblackcowboysnyc.com/
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Horses in the Hood website, accessed December 15, 2009. http://horsesinthehood.org/
  20. ^ The Federation Of Black Cowboys film, accessed December 16, 2009. http://ghostrobot.com/work/films/the-federation-of-black-cowboy.html
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ Dave Walsh, "Urban cowboys at Smithfield Horse Market, Dublin." http://www.flickr.com/photos/deadlyphoto/2551111985/
  23. ^ Perry Ogdan "Pony Kids." http://www.amazon.com/dp/0893818593
  24. ^ James Horan, "My Lovely Horse." http://www.blurb.com/books/298848
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ "Pony Kids." http://www.rte.ie/tv/ponykids/