Ellis Ferrell, founder of Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, recalls his bull riding days at his grandmothers’ farm in Tallahassee, Florida early on. There was no other sport comparable to the adrenaline rush of a wildly bucking bull in his impressionable mind; that is, until he began watching westerns at the local theatre. Ferrell marveled at the bold powerful stallions racing across sweeping landscapes as symbols of saviors.
By the late 1940s Ferrell was riding horses on the streets of Philadelphia, renting them in Fairmount Park. Mastering equestrian skills over the years, Ferrell envisioned the sport as a unique opportunity to broaden the horizon of urban youth; teach them horsemanship, improve mental fortitude, physical stamina and develop attributes that could be applied to real-world competition. “Horse riding is not only therapeutic and instills discipline,” says Ferrell, “but it enables a sense of empowerment to the disenfranchised and those living in communities of hopelessness.”
Ferrell’s dream was realized in 1980 on 31st and Master Street with a stable of five horses. He recalls those being the good times when members—both children and adults—strolled in a stately pace throughout the streets. On weekends there would be groups of them trotting off to equine camp grounds where children were responsible for maintaining and caring for the horses while building character, confidence and self-esteem in the process. In 2004, Ferrell moved his stable to Fletcher Street attracting numerous members to the riding community.
At 82 years young today—and still holding the reigns—Ferrell’s vision burns bright for the new generation. Proudly, Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has attracted world-wide attention from notable photographers, filmmakers, music artists and sports organizations like Nike with its gutsy resilience to remain a historical facet of Philadelphia’s community. And with new leadership expanding Ferrell’s efforts, his legacy is sure to live on.