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.