Philadelphia's Concrete Cowboys - PhMuseum

Philadelphia's Concrete Cowboys

Charles Mostoller

2014

Malik Divers runs a small stable in southwest Philadelphia where he recruits local teens to care for horses. In addition to cleaning the stables and grooming the animals, the teens get involved with the community by offering $5 pony rides in the park, pocketing half the proceeds with the other half financing the horses’ hay. And of course, the biggest perk: Mr. Divers lets the boys take the horses out to ride.

“What I like is the rush. I feel like a different person when I ride,” said rider Shahir Drayton, 17.

Another rider, Abdurrahman Early, 16, said that caring for the horses is a therapeutic escape from everyday stress: “Being around horses takes the trouble off my shoulders. Like when I’m having trouble around the house, this is where I come to think about things.”

About a quarter of Philadelphia’s population lives below the federal poverty line, and the city faces rampant violence that affects youths, particularly African-American children.Mr. Divers’s goal in recruiting the teens is to give them the type of experience he had growing up, while keeping them busy, out of trouble, and accountable for the horses’ well-being.

“[Horseback riding] is the best feeling in the world, cause you’re in control of everything,” said Abdurrahman. “Nothing else around you matters but you and your horse.”

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  • Shahir gallops across a small open field in the center of Clark Park in West Philadelphia. "What I like is the rush. I feel like a different person when I ride," he said.

  • Dominique Waugh, 18, sweeps away manure and barn lime in one of the stalls.

  • Shah rears back on Shadow during a ride in Southwest Philly. "[Horseback riding] is the best feeling in the world, cause you're in control of everything. Nothing else around you matters but you and your horse," said Man-Man.

  • Shahir Drayton, 17, rides Shadow back to the stables after a long ride through Southwest Philadelphia. Shahir is one of a group of teenagers that Malik Divers, the owner of the horses, recruits to care for them as a way of teaching the teens work ethic and responsibility.

  • Shahir closes Mustang back into a stall after grooming the horses and cleaning the stalls. About a quarter of Philadelphia's population lives below the federal poverty line, and many youths lack structured opportunities outside of school. "I'm trying to keep these guys out of trouble," Mr. Divers said.

  • Shahir pauses in front of a mural commemorating a victim of violence in West Philadelphia. The city faces rampant violence that affects youths, particularly African-American children.

  • Abdurrahman "Man-Man" Early, 16, washes Storm on a summer afternoon in an abandoned basketball court near the stables.

  • Abdurrahman "Man-Man" Early, 16, sits on top of his horse Shadow near the humble stable in a poor part of Southwest Philadelphia where he takes care of the horses. Man-Man loves the thrill of riding, but also the dedication and responsibility of caring for horses. “I grew up in a bad place and I’ve done some bad things in the past,” he says. “I took some time off to think about everything, like, I’ll be eighteen in two years, I got college right around the corner. I gotta sit down, do what I need, and achieve what I always wanted to. I guess the horses just kept me on the right track.”

  • Shahir and Dominique bathe the horses at an abandoned basketball court near the stables with water piped from a fire hydrant.

  • Man-Man and Shahir ride alongside local children on bicycles near a school. "You don't see a lot of young men riding horses. Everybody else is riding regular bikes and cars; I'm riding a horse. You don't see a lot of people doing that. When we are riding, we feel like we're just one big family," Shahir said.

  • Shadow rolls in the dirt at the stables to cool off after a long ride in the summer.

  • Shahir leans on Storm while waiting for children to offer pony rides to in Clark Park in West Philadelphia. The teens offer $5 pony rides, of which half the profits are shared between themselves and half goes to hay for the horses.


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