LOS ANGELES — Gun violence is on the rise across the country, and one group is using horses to keep kids off the street and away from gangs and guns.
In Los Angeles, those who grew up in the city say life can go one of two ways.
“Your friends and who you grow up with could be a tricky situation,” said William ‘Fatpack’ Bias, a cowboy with Urban Saddles. “Those friends can put you in tough spots, it could be gang or no gang, which one are you going to choose?”
Those who were born and raised in L.A. and decided to stay dedicated themselves to making sure life goes the right way for younger generations.
“I grew up in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s,” said Ghuan Featherstone, the co-founder of Urban Saddles.
“I remember when the first guy got shot, I was thirteen years old. His name was Mousey, and they killed him. I remember seeing that and was all torn up, we were all just tore up and it was like that’s where everything started changing.”
Just outside downtown L.A., you will find Urban Saddles.
It’s a place where young men and women all across Los Angeles can come to learn about riding horses.
“Two of my uncles both rode horses on the hill,” Fatpack said. "When I become old enough to get my own and pay for my own, that’s what I’m going to do and that’s what’s happening. So, I’ve been riding since I was a little kid."
Urban Saddles and those who started it, like Featherstone, is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching young people about the ‘cowboy code.’
“The Black cowboy isn’t something that is new,” Featherstone said.
“It was just kept away. Why didn’t want Hollywood to show this image of the Black man on this horse? Because it’s too powerful. For me to ride a horse, it feels like freedom.”
Featherstone started Urban Saddles to give people like him the ability to feel free, but it also turned into a way to keep kids away from gangs and off the streets.
“This place is so important because kids have the opportunity to dream,” Featherstone said.
“They have the opportunity to hope, and they have the opportunity to experience nature in its fullest. One thing about horses is you have to bond with them to get them to act a certain way.”
According to The Gun Violence Archive, there were more than 1,200 teens killed by gun violence in America in 2021, a 58 percent increase from 2018.
According to research by Everytown, Black Americans make up 68% of homicide victims in large cities like L.A., which is why Urban Saddles are giving kids a way out from that.
“You got to take you machoness out of it, and you got to take your anxiety of it and calm yourself down and deal with these animals,” Featherstone said.
“Out here, they got defenses, they have to watch the hat that they wear, the shoestrings they wear, and the words they say and what logos are on their shirt. When they get here, they just get back to the basics and get back to nature and make those bonds. It’s a lot easier for them to translate that to human interaction."
Featherstone and the rest of the crew at Urban Saddles hope more communities across the country can provide kids with these types of outlets so they can reach their full potential.