Urban Horsemen: Philadelphia
August 18, 2010 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Once as a youngin, I got mad lost trying to drive home in Philadelphia and thought I saw a horse looking at me from a knocked out window of what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. I wasn't hallucinating.

Long before Smarty Jones made horses "cool" in the city, urban cowboys in North Philadelphia have been buying horses at auction and keeping them in neighborhood stables, or sometimes backyards (which is legal in Philadelphia). City government has been trying to reclaim and repurpose parts of the "ghetto" area that most of the stables are in and the SPCA has raided stables in the past. A non profit, The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club uses the urban cowboy pastime to steer young boys away from street violence. They are working with photographer Martha Camarillo, whose photographs have been featured in a Life Magazine article about the riders, on a documentary that is scheduled for release this year. (She previously released a book of Fletcher Street photographs.
posted by WeekendJen (29 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post! You get urban horse ownership in Dublin too.
posted by Abiezer at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very interesting, thanks! The Fletcher Street book cover made me think of mashed-up version of Dizzee Rascal's Sirens video.

Also, this post has informed me of the existence of The Blood-Horse, which isn't metal musicians on warhorses or various incarnations of the four horsemen of the apocalypses, but a collection of publications and services about and catering to thoroughbred horses.

If you happen to drive around a sleepy little 'burb called Los Osos and you see a horse stuck in a fence, you weren't hallucinating, but it wasn't a real horse.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2010

Also: nice first post!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:31 AM on August 18, 2010

posted by WeekendJen at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2010

I totally followed a guy on a horse down a residential DC street last week. Damnedest thing--the guy wasn't in any kind of uniform or anything, just riding his horse south on 14th St., near the intersection with Constitution. Wonder what that was about.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2010

Nice post. Urban horses are also part of the Baltimore landscape, and I previously posted about it.
posted by OmieWise at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2010

In S. Jersey, I still notice "No pedestrians, bikes, horses" signs a tthe entrances to highways. I suppose the default law is that horse is valid transportation on streets where it is not expressly prohibited?
posted by WeekendJen at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2010

In Los Angeles, there's the Compton Junior Posse (website) (video).
posted by grounded at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2010

Wonderful post. (Such a great taster film at the first link too).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010

There are 2 or 3 horses stabled basically under the freeway in southeast DC. If you walk south on New Jersey from the Capitol toward Nationals Park, you'll see them. It's the weirdest thing.
posted by naoko at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010

If you're ever in Moscow, and you see some horses near a rowboat, you won't be hallucinating, but they won't be real horses, either.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2010

Philly has a peculiar horse history. I grew up in South Philly during the 50's. Philly's municipal vehicles were horse drawn until 1954. Milk delivery and other neighborhood services were horse-drawn. The milk men went on strike when they changed to trucks. The horses knew the route and would anticipate where the milkmen would need to refill their baskets and be waiting for them.

The horse barn was a few blocks from my house and us kids were always bugging the teamsters for a ride, they often gave in.
posted by shnarg at 12:22 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

This American Life: Horses In North Philadelphia
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2010

That's interesting, shnarg. My dad grew up in Gloucester City / Camden in the late 50's / early 60's and my grandmom has pictures of him riding on a horse drawn milk cart. I always assumed it was some novelty thing, but I suppose it could have actually be an in-service milk cart.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2010

You see urban horses in Sarajevo. Sometimes despite sighns prohibiting horse-drawn vehicles, you see them on what passes for freeways. Roma are the usual owners. Horses also pull fiacres in one of the parks.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2010

Hm. Oops!
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2010

I knew about the Dublin horses, but this was new to me. Love it! I wish I could ride my horse down the street in Los Angeles...
posted by OolooKitty at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2010

Terrific post!
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2010

I was playing softball at a park in North Philly recently, and a few of these gentlemen rode through the field. They were dressed as if they were gangsters, which prompted a round of jokes from my friends. Having seen the TAL segment, I just smiled and felt really happy for them. It was really neat.
posted by swellingitchingbrain at 12:45 PM on August 18, 2010

Don't forget the Federation of Black Cowboys, based in Jamaica, Queens.
posted by Polyhymnia at 12:46 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

And of course in Aberdeen...
posted by chavenet at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2010

The Strawberry Mansion stables were pretty horrifying, I was working out that way in 2007 when the big raids went down because I had client families on 30th and Huntingdon, Dover Street, 25th and Indiana, scattered all around there so I would drive past the clean up scene a couple times a week. The other set of stables over by 39th and Girard are a little better kept, I just saw a kid being lead down 42nd Street on a pony last week, it's a very commonplace sight around there in the summer.
posted by The Straightener at 1:31 PM on August 18, 2010

There was a photo essay about the Black Cowboys in Queens (I believe) several years back in Mass Appeal magazine (I believe). My google-fu is not strong enough to locate any evidence. It's a pretty interesting subculture, though!
posted by broadway bill at 1:38 PM on August 18, 2010

On the other end of the money spectrum, the Tokyo Riding Club is on the edge of Yoyogi Park, bumping right up on a busy city street.

The thing is, the horse world is everywhere, although most of the time non-horsepeople are unaware of it. It's a shadow economy that occasionally bleeds through to the non-horse world, like when you see a truck loaded with hay and shavings or hear the sound of hooves on pavement or when you realize the package under that guy's arm on the Metro is a saddle.

If you are a horseperson, all of these signs help you orient yourself to a new place. You ask that guy with the saddle where he rides, you follow that hay truck to the local barn, you run down the street barefoot to find out just where that horse is going -- all because a life without horses is simply not an option.
posted by grounded at 4:00 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Incongruousness makes for the best posts.
posted by steef at 4:44 PM on August 18, 2010

Swing by the Hole if you happen to go see the Black Cowboys stables. As of a decade ago some of the roads there were unpaved (yes, in NYC) - dunno about now.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 4:57 PM on August 18, 2010

On my first trip to Dublin I took the train to Howth for no apparent reason. I don't know if it was on the train, but as we pulled out of a suburban station, I saw someone leading a horse down the ramp from the platform.

Like in the movie The Commitments, where they're bringing a horse on the elevator and someone says, "You're not taking that horse on the elevator?"

To which the guy replies, "Well, you don't expect him to take the stairs do you?"
posted by sneebler at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2010

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