Trampled Under Hoof: Fletcher Street Urban Riders Seek to Ride Again in Strawberry Mansion
Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is only a few permits away from reestablishing itself as a place for the children of Strawberry Mansion to learn to ride and care for horses, said Ellis Ferrell.
“We have the stables, we’ve got the contractor to move them in,” he said. “All we need is the money to get the permits.”
Ferrell’s plan is to have prefabricated stables installed on the property at 2607-11 Fletcher St.
“It just made sense. There was so much trouble keeping the club together and getting people to help. The smart thing to do was make sure that we’d have the stables ready to go,” he said. “Once the land is settled they will get put on.”
“The city wants builders ID numbers,” he continued. “But we aren’t building anything so I don’t know what to tell them.”
Ferrell is the club’s riding instructor, benefactor and, in recent years, greatest champion. He has been working to ensure that the club can continue to serve kids in the community. Ferrell has been riding in Philadelphia since the 1970s and has been informally involved with riding clubs on and around Fletcher Street since 1980.
“Sometimes we were on Fletcher Street, sometimes we were at 32nd and Master,” he said. “But we were always out, we always had stables around Strawberry Mansion.”
Ferrell said that he had started with this iteration of Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club since 2004 and at its peak he had around 20 students.
The permanent location of the Fletcher Street Urban Riders Club has been in flux since 2011, when Ferrell and the club had to vacate the stables on Fletcher Street.
Originally, Ferrell said, he was told that they could remain in their home on Fletcher Field. One day, however, he said he was informed that the City of Philadelphia would not approve the Club to keep stables on the field.
After years of moving from stable to stable, Ferrell, with the assistance of Susan Jordan, another benefactor of the Club, was able to secure the deed to three lots of Fletcher Street in late 2014. Now, as Ferrell said, they are at a standstill and need to file for the proper permits to finally bring the horses to their new home.
Ferrell said that another obstacle right now is a series of miscommunications between himself and Jordan, who’s managing the club’s Rally.org fundraising page.
“She won’t give us the money until we get the permits,” he said. “But we don’t have the money for the permits right now.”
Ferrell is trying to figure out a way forward. He said he appreciates all the efforts to raise money for the club but he manages the day-to-day operations of the club on his own.
“I’ve gone three times and been told three different things: $100, $500 and more,” he said. “Until I can get someone to go with me and figure it out, I don’t think we’re gonna get it done.”
Ellis also alludes to unrelated conflicts with contractors who donated their services to clear the lot on Fletcher Street. He said that after a conflict with a neighbor the last contractor walked away in the interest of keeping peace between the club and the neighborhood.
Despite the struggles to reestablish Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club’s stables, Ferrell always keeps the kids in mind.
“I had two kids follow the horses back to the stables on bikes. This must’ve been 2007 or 2008. They helped me a lot around then,” he said. Unfortunately the turbulent years without a steady home have caused many of Ferrell’s students to lose interest in horses. Others have simply moved away.
“The kids tell me it [riding and caring for horses] teaches respect and responsibility,” Ferrell said. “I know I’ve kept some of them out of trouble.”
“You can’t fidget and act too excited around the horses,” he added. “The horses know when kids are too excited.”
Ferrell explained that many of the kids had never been around an animal as large as a horse before and needed to learn how to behave in order to stay safe and treat the horses properly.
“The kids get it pretty quick,” he said. “Usually it’s just nerves at first.”
“My dream would be to get the stalls down,” he said. “I’d like to use Fletcher Field as a place for riding lessons again.”
At 77 years old, Ferrell has decades of riding and teaching experience.
“I’m a Tallahassee boy and I got my start riding bulls on my grandmother’s farm,” he said. “As soon as I found somebody with a horse, I had to convince him to let me ride.”
A childhood spent riding bulls and looking for a horse to ride started a lifelong love of riding. After moving to Philadelphia, Ferrell started to rent horses to ride in Fairmount Park.
“I used to rent horses up near Simon Gratz [high school] until I had the money to buy my own,” he said. “That would’ve been around 1971. I got my first two horses at the beginning of that year: February or March.”
Ferrell and the Club help more than just neighborhood kids, they save horses.
“We used to take field trips to horse auctions and save them from the kill pen,” he said. “I used to be lucky enough to be able to let the kids pick the horses for me and if it looked like they’d work out, we’d save them.”
Ferrell said he occasionally would get thoroughbreds cast off by people only interested in horse racing.
“They were great. They loved to run, they were built to run. And our track wasn’t too big,” he said. “The kids could go pretty fast and the horses could stretch their legs.”
“Forever my dream was just to see the smile on kids’ faces,” Ferrell said. “That’s what I used to have and what I want back.” •