For Wellington residents, the equestrian world seems like a way of life. Even if you are not a rider yourself, it is interlaced as a part of the community — seeing riders cross the road or gallop along a canal can be a daily occurrence. Where you would not expect to see a horse riding along the roads would be a busy city like Philadelphia. However, Netflix’s new film, Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin, has showcased a part of Philadelphia that few people knew existed, telling the story of the Black urban cowboys in the city.
The urban Black cowboy has been living throughout neighborhoods in Philadelphia for more than 100 years. From the early 1900s through the late 1950s, horse-drawn wagons delivered ice, milk and other produce to city residents. Horses were no stranger to Philadelphia streets. Eventually, modern vehicles replaced those delivery routes, but the urban Black cowboy still remained.
Fletcher Street Stable was one of the first urban stables and was one of the last standing homes of the urban Black cowboy. Like others preceding it, Fletcher Street held those similar values: family, friends and horsemanship. Over the years, generations of urban youth wandered into the barn, learning how to responsibly care for horses and how to ride. They became a part of an environment that gave them refuge from the more troublesome areas of the city.
Due to gentrification, many of the stables that once made up the community of Black cowboys in Philadelphia are now gone.
In 2019, the producers and directors of Concrete Cowboy partnered with the late Eric Miller and the riders of Fletcher Street to form the Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy (PURA) and preserve the life, legacy and culture of Black urban cowboys in Philadelphia.
Recently, PURA found an ally from Wellington’s own community — Missy Clark of North Run. One of the leading show jumping and equitation trainers in the country, Clark has been a longtime resident of Wellington, competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival most of her life. In June 2020, Clark learned about PURA’s executive director, the “Concrete Cowgirl” Erin Brown, through Instagram and wanted to support PURA’s mission.
“I sent Erin an e-mail and we connected with a phone call,” Clark recalled. “We probably talked for an hour and a half during that initial phone call. She was someone I really connected with, and I think she connected with me, and then it went on from there. I told her my idea about ‘Concrete to Show Jumping,’ hoping to encourage other professionals in our sport of show jumping to reach out and form alliances with organizations of their own.”
With a mission to open doors to diversified worlds within the horse industry, Concrete to Show Jumping aims to open the eyes, minds and hearts of equestrians by participating in new experiences, forming new alliances and building friendships with equestrians from diverse backgrounds.
The first initiative for Concrete to Show Jumping is to find a permanent home for PURA and all of the programs it includes. Together, they have launched the “Fresh Start for Philly Youth” fundraising campaign through GoFundMe. The campaign’s goal is to raise money for its new facility in the Cobbs Creek section of Philadelphia that will provide a unique, safe space for children, teens and adults to experience horses up close and personal.
“When I looked at the property, I fell in love,” Brown said. “I knew in my heart that this was the place. It’s perfect because although it’s backed into Cobbs Creek Park, it is also right across the street from a residential location. So, you are in the city, and then you cross the street, and you are in the park. It’s a gorgeous place. Once it is a barn, it is going to be absolutely amazing.”
The “Fresh Start for Philly Youth” fundraiser has the goal of raising $2,000,000 for PURA’s new permanent facility. This home will provide stabling for 20 to 25 horses, paddocks and a covered arena, as well as recreational space for other youth and veteran programs. With the help of the entire equestrian community, PURA and Concrete to Show Jumping believe that this goal is attainable. Every dollar raised will be put toward the facility, and the horses and students that will call it home. PURA currently supports multiple programs, including a 4-H Club, Cowboys Against Crime and the Junior Concrete to Cowboy and Cowgirls, which includes horsemanship and riding lessons for the urban youth of Philadelphia.
“If your child wants to learn how to ride but you can’t afford it, there will be a program for that,” Brown explained. “There will be recreational programs for those who just want to be around horses. This new facility will provide a safe environment for everyone in the community to be able to enjoy.”
Clark hopes that her fellow equestrians here in Wellington chip in their support.
“Horses are something that touched all of our lives in such a special way,” she said. “It’s important to continue that legacy and bring it to people who would not otherwise have the access to horses in their community.”
As a nonprofit organization, PURA is now collecting donations for the “Fresh Start for Philly Youth” initiative, creating a new facility that will provide a space unlike any other for children, teens and adults to experience horses up close and personal.
For more information, or to become a part of Fresh Start for Philly Youth, visit www.thepura.org.