The Riding Club From ‘Concrete Cowboy’ Is Real — and It Is in Danger

Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy is a fictional film, but the riding club that inspired it is very real— and currently struggling.

The film, which stars Idris Elba and Stranger Things‘ Caleb McLaughlin is an adaptation of Greg Neri’s 2011 novel Ghetto Cowboy, and explores the story of a 12-year-old boy named Cole (McLaughlin) who is sent to live with his estranged father Harp (Elba) in Philadelphia after getting into trouble at school. Cole comes to learn that his dad is a member of a Black riding community that works to help at-risk youth stay away from the dangers of drugs and street gangs by giving them purpose through equine care.

The club that inspired the book, and in turn the film, is called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club which was founded by Ellis Ferrell in 2004 — although the tradition itself has been around for about a century.

One of the aims of the club is to give Black youth a sense of freedom, confidence and direction with Ferrell explaining on the official FSURC website, “Horse riding is not only therapeutic and instills discipline, but it enables a sense of empowerment to the disenfranchised and those living in communities of hopelessness.”

In fact, just as the Golden Globe-winning picture Nomadland features real-life Grey Nomads, Concrete Cowboy features real-life members of the riding club who have benefitted from the programs it offers.

And the club — which operates as a non-profit — is not just beneficial to young adults who are at risk of going down an undesirable path in life, but also to the horses themselves as it protects and rescues ones that have been abused or are in danger of being put down.

You would hope that an organisation such as the FSURC would be appreciated for its service to underrepresented youth and to the community at large, and therefore able to operate in peace, but sadly that is not the case.

Despite being considered a safe haven for people who seek refuge from a neighbourhood racked with poverty and violence, the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is currently facing an uncertain future as The Philadelphia Housing Authority wants to turn Fletcher Field, which has been used for grazing and riding, into an affordable housing development.

It’s not the first time the club has had to fight to remain operational — in 2008 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received an anonymous tip-off surrounding claims of animal abuse (which were vehemently denied by the club) with the city of Philadelphia eventually bulldozing the club’s corrals and petting zoo. A search for a permanent home then ensued and was finally resolved when a former landowner gave the organisation the deed to the Fletcher Street lots they currently inhabit.

It is that same lot that is now in danger of being gentrified, despite the organisation’s battle to convince the city of Philadelphia to preserve their storied heritage.

That the Fletcher Street stables are in peril due to gentrification is somewhat ironic, given that the representation of Cowboys in media has suffered a similar fate. Although historians argue that 1 in 4 American cowboys was Black, the genre has been thoroughly whitewashed — dominated by Hollywood studio films that almost exclusively cast white actors as the leads and Black actors as the villains, if at all.

It is a sad reflection of the way the Black community is constantly overlooked, underserved or pushed aside that the city of Philadelphia would rather erect more apartments (ostensibly not even ones that the people who benefit from FSURC most could conceivably reside in) to turn a profit than to recognise the intrinsic value of a not-for-profit organisation that works tirelessly to help the community’s youth break an unbearable cycle.

To that end, the club has instigated a GoFundMe page in order to raise the necessary funds to keep the club afloat, and the organisation’s important cultural impact going. You can read more about the fundraising effort and make a donation to it, here.

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.