Concrete Cowboys and Cowgirls
Concrete Cowboys and Cowgirls
By Holly Clanahan
Black urban cowboys have been a part of the Philadelphia landscape for more than a hundred years, with stables tucked into mostly hidden corners of the city and a community that has used horses as both teaching tools and a balm against the stresses of life in a large city with a high violent crime rate.
Though they’ve existed largely under the radar, the cowboys and their horses had a spotlight shone on them this spring with the rollout of the Netflix movie “Concrete Cowboy.” And now, there’s one special American Quarter Horse who is helping them perpetuate that existence.
“Concrete Cowboy” illuminates north Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street stables, and many of the real-life riders there are also actors in the movie, alongside Idris Elba, who co-produced the movie. The fictional storyline is based on the book “Ghetto Cowboy”; Elba, who can now be seen in theaters in “The Suicide Squad,” plays a father trying to reconnect with his troubled teenage son. Drugs and poverty are ever-present, but so, too, are the familiar daily tasks with horses and the camaraderie that comes with being part of a group of horse people. Watch this behind-the-scenes video to learn more about the making of the movie.
Erin Brown was deeply involved in the movie as a consultant, an extra and a stunt rider for actress Lorraine Toussaint, who played the next-door horsewoman, Nessie. But Erin has been involved in the community for much longer than that, having started riding at a Fletcher Street barn when she was 6 years old.
She went on to an agricultural high school where she was able to study equine science, and she competed in hunter-jumper shows on the Mid-Atlantic circuit before managing one of the Fletcher Street barns for a dozen years. Her friend, Eric Miller, was an integral part of the community, working with the “Concrete Cowboy” filmmakers for four years and helping establish the Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy, which became a nonprofit in 2019. The filmmakers are also part of the nonprofit organization, which aims to give urban Philadelphia horsemen and -women a home that won’t be subject to the threats of gentrification and development, as Fletcher Street increasingly is.
When Eric was killed in a shooting in 2019, Erin was asked to take the helm of PURA. Today, this AQHA member known as “the Concrete Cowgirl” is focused on raising enough money to convert a facility in a city-owned park, offered to PURA in a long-term lease, into a proper barn. As that comes together, she is developing programs like Junior Concrete Cowboys & Cowgirls, which allows kids from the community to learn about horsemanship, barn management and equine first aid and also get help with homework, college prep and more. Though the Netflix movie’s storyline was fictional, Erin says that the mentorship depicted in it was 100 percent accurate, and that’s what this program strives to perpetuate.
Even without a facility of its own, PURA owns several horses, including Eric’s horse “Chuck,” a Quarter Horse who was featured in “Concrete Cowboy,” and FG My Tee Cool, a halter horse who was purchased after the movie had been filmed and was donated to the program by PURA executive board member Missy Clark, a hunter-jumper trainer. “Pretty Boy” was bred by Gary and Linda Gordon’s Fossil Gate Farms and is now allowing PURA kids to enter the show ring. Nine-year-old Javon Brown is pictured at right with Erin and Pretty Boy at his first show this summer (Dark Horse Images photo). “He is so focused when he’s around the horse. He wants to learn; he has a million questions,” Erin says of the young showman. And that passion motivates him to try hard at school, so he can keep coming to the barn.
Just as depicted in the movie – and like so many of us know from our own lives – horses are amazingly therapeutic to people of any age. “You see these tough kids – I saw them when I was growing up,” Erin says, “and really, I swear by Winston Churchilll’s quote that the outside of a horse does something good for the inside of men. You know, it humbles these kids. It gives them a sense of responsibility and leadership and partnership.”
Learn more about PURA.