Black Cowboys Turn Harlem Street Into a Rodeo

By Jeff Mays on July 15, 2011 6:00pm 

Frank McCall leads a child on a horse on 113th Street.
Frank McCall leads a child on a horse on 113th Street.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM —  A central Harlem street was transformed into a rodeo for a few hours Friday by a group of black cowboys wanting to expose city kids to something different and expand their horizons.

After hopping off of a horse for the first time, Briana Bell, 6, only had a few words for her mother.

"Pretty," said the girl. "I rode the horses."

Her mother, Tanya Bell, said she wanted her daughter to see something a little different.

"Kids need to be exposed to different things," said Bell, 47, who works as a porter. "I didn't know black cowboys existed."

The Hale House Supportive Transitional Housing Program and the Black Cowboy Federation organized the event at West 113th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue.

First, kids were given a lesson about the history of black cowboys. In the late 1860s, there were as many as 15,000 in the country. When it came to professional horse racing, some of the best jockeys were African American. Fifteen of the first 28 Kentucky Derbys were won by African American jockeys and five of the winners were trained by blacks.

"Most of the children have no clue, no idea," said Gloria McCall of "A Family Affair 5," a Queens stable she runs with her husband Frank, her daughter and her nephew.

"We want to explain the possibility of different careers. Some kids don't ever get to see animals" she added as she helped place children onto the horses for pony rides.

From husbandry to being a veterinarian to making saddles or running a stable, there are dozens of careers involving working with horses, she said.

"A lot of our money goes to the veterinarian and then we need horseshoes and there are people at the stable to care for the animals," she said.

Kids can also learn to be responsible by caring for another living thing.

Andrea Gibbs, director of residential services for Hale House, agreed.

"They don't know that we can be cowboys," she said. "This is a fun way of exposing kids to new things about their history."

Kids grinned as they were led up and down the block on a horse. Afterwards, some of the kids got to feed the horses carrots.

"They learn these are big animals but also gentle," McCall said. "This is also about putting a smile on their faces."

Shadore, 5, couldn't stop grinning after her horse ride.

"I like the horsey. When I was riding and it was walking, I wasn't scared," she said.

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