Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club: Heart and Soul

horse closeupMy friend Susan has poured her heart and soul into this project for close to two years.  It’s been difficult from the start, but she never gives up.  Here is her story:

Horses have been an integral part of Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood for over 100 years. Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has been at the center of this, saving kids from the streets and horses from the slaughterhouse by teaching responsibility and self-respect through horsemanship. Run by president Ellis Ferrell, Jr., the club has been featured in LIFE magazine, NPR’s film, This American Life, books (Fletcher Street by Martha Camarillo and Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri), music videos (Rudimental’s Feel the Love), and other publications. Many of its now-grown riders credit the club with saving them from the streets and prison. Yet the club has never received any funding from the City or Commonwealth, instead relying almost completely on the adult horse owners to foot the bill. (Fact: It costs at least $362 to incarcerate ONE juvenile PER DAY in Pennsylvania. Saving the club saves not only children from jail and horses from slaughter, but taxpayers $132,130 per youth, per year.)

For over 21 years, the club used a long-abandoned patch of land nicknamed “Fletcher Field” for corrals, outbuildings, and even a clubhouse for the kids. In March 2008, the City’s Redevelopment Authority ordered the club and its horses off the land, and bulldozed everything to the ground. Owners scrambled to find new stables, and some horses had to be sold off, as their owners could not afford new stall rents elsewhere. The City also had the SPCA take away two ponies that day, citing ‘neglect’, but the SPCA’s own vets pronounced the ponies ‘perfectly healthy’, and ordered them to be returned immediately.

Since that day in March 2008, the Club has been a shell of its former self, and now struggles just to exist. Ellis, retired and living on a pension, rents stall space in a nearby barn with money he barely has, just so he can keep what’s left of the club alive. But he can’t go it alone much longer, and his lifelong dream of helping kids and horses may fold very soon.

What would change everything for Ellis and the club is a parcel of land with either a stable on it or enough money left over to build one. We think we’ve found at least one, directly ON Fletcher Street. If we can raise the money for it and a new stable, we could ensure the club’s existence, and bring hope again to the neighborhood. The club has been saving kids and horses for years. Here is our chance to save the club. Together, we can help Ellis get his dream back – this time FOR GOOD.

I spoke with Ellis by phone late last year. He’s been, and continues to be, a remarkable role model for the boys in his community. Through riding, he helps young men see a better life for themselves.

If this story also touches your heart, here are a few ways you can help:

1. Donate, via Rally.org by following this link. Any amount will help.

2. Share this story with others via social media or email.

3. Let me know if you have any connections to folks who are passionate about horses or youth that might help rally the cause.

Thanks for reading, caring and hopefully sharing.


10 thoughts on “Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club: Heart and Soul

  1. What an amazingly awful situation – when the city fathers and an organisation such as the SPCA deliberately set out to negate and obliterate work that helps saves lives! I used to find stories like this hard to believe, but I now know enough about corruption in US politics to realise anything can happen! I’ve had Jackson Browne playing most of today and listening to some of his songs after so long makes me realise he has the measure of it all right on the button!

    I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth and can’t help but wonder what if this riding club serviced middle class white youth? Would the situation be the same?

    Your friend is fighting the good fight – but really shouldn’t have to. Thanks for sharing Alys!


    • I’m with you, Pauline. It defies reason, doesn’t it? This sort of story plays out every day. We need to do everything in our power to lift people up from the depths of poverty, through love, care, education and an investment in their future. Any program that does this should be funded. In fact, grass roots programs like this tend to be the most successful, because they are run by people living in the community who understand the need.

      I share your musings on the subject. I hope we can turn this around.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Pauline.


  2. That is a very powerful story, Alys. The video showed how desperately this programme must be needed in the city. Ellis must be an amazing man! I have shared this on FaceBook.


    • Anne, thank you so much for sharing. I shake my head at this sort of thing. Penny wise, pound foolish is what we used to say. We should invest heavily in the well being of all our youth. They’re the leaders of tomorrow, and the gentle souls of today, in need of love and nurturing.


  3. Isn’t it a shame that something that is working so well and cost less than other solutions is pushed aside by the city. It makes no sense. Similar things happen here at times. They can’t see the forest for the trees. I watched a story on 60 Minutes one Sunday about how many people are incarcerated in our countries and how much it costs tax payers. American prisons seemed to be private businesses in many states and I might be wrong, but the story made it seem like they had quota’s to meet which was very alarming.
    The sad thing is a fair number of inmates are minorities and many people with mental health issues. They are housing people in prisons that should be in a hospital situation and not with truly violent people.
    I wish Susan and those who rely on the program success. The benefits of caring and being with animals is well documented, although I’m certain the ‘for profit’ prison systems wouldn’t want to acknowledge it. Thanks for sharing their story Alys xoxo


    • You’re right: it makes no sense at all. Yet this sort of thing plays out time and again everywhere. If I were queen for a day, common sense would rule the land. Sadly, I’m not, so I do what I can, spreading the word, supporting the mission and hoping common sense will prevail.

      She’s raised about $5000 towards the goal of $50,000. Meanwhile, people are using crowd source funding to pay for their wedding. Unbelievable!

      You are dead on with the prisons, too. I don’t know about private ones, but we’ve got plenty of problems at the state and federal level. We’ve clogged our prisons with drug abusers, instead of getting them help. The same, as you say, for those who are mentally ill. It makes my heart sick.

      Thanks for reading, for commenting and for caring. xox


  4. Oh, I’m not familiar with ‘crowd source funding’. What is that Alys? I sometimes think, if more women were in politics, there’d be some common sense decisions. Yet, we had a female Premier in Alberta (equal to your Governor) for a short time and she was a disappointment and poor example all around. This morning on the news, there’s a story about a 22 year old who tried to steal a truck and when he couldn’t he stole a necklace in the truck that has sentimental value. He has a long record and looks like a little thug. I can’t help wonder if there was more intervention before his 18th birthday whether or not he could have been helped. Somehow, we need to switch to ‘preventative maintenance’ -vs- housing these guys in prison *after* they turn into full time criminals. That being said, Canadian penalties for repeat youth offenders is dismal, and there’s little incentive for these types to get a real job.


    • Crowd source funding is a fairly recent way to raise money from friends, colleagues and peers for a variety of projects, entrepreneurial endeavors or goodwill events. Kickstarter is one of the larger ones. The Retro Dome had a campaign to launch a new play. Usually an amount is specified and must be reached for the project to go forward. Some of the newer organizations don’t put that limit on the funds. I have a friend raising money for a vet bill for a dog they rescued from the woods who needs extensive cared. Susan is raising money for Fletcher Street. Zach Braff famously raised $2 million dollars in 24 hours to make his current movie. It sure helps to have a ‘name’ behind your project. I wish we could get the attention of just one celebrity to fund her project.

      I share your feelings about women in politics. I’m also stymied by some of the women that get a voice in this country like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. I can barely stand it when they open their mouths and spew unintelligent hatred. I am a fan of Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, both California Senators. Feinstein was also the mayor of San Francisco.

      I share your opinion, too, that if we could invest in children at the star of their lives, and catch them before they fall, then crime, drugs and gangs wouldn’t hold the same appeal. There is a slogan some where that says ‘educate, don’t incarcerate.’

      We need social change or we’ll continue as societies to repeat these scenarios.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sorry I missed this. Things like this make me angry. Someone is getting there pocket filled with kickback money so lots of human potential gets lost. Our prisons are a business these days. Even judges take money to send people to certain prisons. I get absolutely crazy when I read about this stuff. We have as much corruption here as anywhere, it’s just package prettier…for now. There are so many like your friend trying to do good work and paddling upstream. It may one day take another tea party uprising to bring things back into balance. I NEVER talk politics because it just breaks my heart. Graft is as old as man himself. I certainly hope they found some measure of success for a VERY worthy cause. In the trickle down theory, this affects us all at some point. Sorry for the rant that comes way too late and is useless.


    • Marlene, thank you for taking the time to read this and to share your thoughts. Seeing people make a profit from prisons or off the backs of the less fortunate is heart wrenching. It seems we should be centuries past all that business, but we’re not. I do have happier news to share though. After she launched a kickstarter and raised a bit of fund (no where near what they hoped for but enough) they were able to purchase a small lot back on Fletcher Street. He’ll save 400 a month in rent and the horses will be back where they belong and the boys will be riding them. You aren’t ranting and your words are never useless. It makes people think.

      Liked by 1 person

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