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Urban Cowboys

Eric Molinsky

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Doug Elder and his horse.
(Eric Molinsky)
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New York City and cowboys. They have nothing in common, right? Different landscapes, different characters, different values. Well, a group of New Yorkers have figured out a way to live the cowboy lifestyle in the most urban environment. And they're all African-American. Independent Producer Eric Molinsky paid a visit to The Federation of Black Cowboys. Their stable sits just feet from the noisy Belt Parkway near JFK airport.


"Jaack!! Jaaaack!"

Doug "Dirty Dog" Elder calls his horse, Little Jack, who's galloping in a fenced-in corral.

"He knows Daddy's coming," Elder says. "Come on, baby."

When he was a kid, Elder used to love cowboy movies. He thought cowboys were supposed to be white, until he saw a black cowboy riding through Prospect Park in 1960. But the Federation of Black Cowboys doesn't just ride through the parks. They ride through the neighborhoods - right in the street, along with the cars, fire engines, ice cream trucks and construction workers.

"It's about showing off, I'll be honest about it," Elder admits. "We're famous for riding to downtown Brooklyn to certain bars. Can you imagine sitting in a bar at three o' clock in the morning and three, four, five horses come riding up? It's something to see."

In many ways, the Black Cowboys are not typical cowboys. They don't reluctantly save the day and disappear into the sunset. They want people to look at them, take pictures and ask questions.

"Especially girls," says Paris "Rabbit" Parish. "You give them a ride on your horse, get their number and keep it moving."

The Black Cowboys all have nicknames, but they won't tell me what they mean. Parish is 19. He started coming here when he was about five.

"They taught me how to be a cowboy at a young age," he says, "and now I get to go out there and expand that knowledge to some other kids, which will hopefully keep them off the streets."

The kids are trained to do ranch work, and they learn cowboy values, like hard work and responsibility. "The hand shake to the cowboy is more than just a contract," Parish says. "We say something and we shake hands on it, you better keep your word or you just broke one of the cowboy rules."

Parish is saving up to buy his own horse. Having a horse in the city is like having the most awesome pet in the world. But it's a big investment, as Doug Elder knows. He pays to give his horse, Little Jack, a stall of his own - which is just 10 by 10 feet.

"This is where the famous little Jack lives," Elder proudly announces.

The stall is small, expensive and tidy -- like a New York City apartment. But here's the problem. In a normal sized stall, a horse would have room to sleep and find a spot to do his business.

Since a typical horse "may have 10 to 12 bowel movements in a 24 hour period," urban cowboys have to stay clean. "The Parks Department comes down here and sees a dirty stall," says Elder, "you're in trouble."

This may be the strangest part about being a Blue State cowboy. A cowboy in a Red State, like Texas, would be furious if a government agency made surprise visits to inspect every inch of his personal property, especially his horse.

"The Parks Department scrutinizes from the foot to the head," Elder says. If the horse isn't in good shape, "they'll snatch him from you in a minute."

The Black Cowboys take pride in the way they ace their exams. It proves how much they love their horses. And that's what this is all about for Elder: Having a relationship with a horse. It's true for all cowboys, but New York cowboys are a little more open with their feelings.

"At 17 years with one horse, that's a marriage," says Elder. "He's been the love of my life, other than my wife. I got to put that in there!"


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Brady Baylis

    From Windsor, ON, 03/15/2009

    At 55(fifty-six July 6;said to look be-
    tween 35 and 40),I'm said by a lot of Windsor ladies to resemble an older,
    bull-dogger-built(at 5'9'',214 lb.,my
    physique is like many practitioners of
    the rodeo event founded by pioneering
    African-American cowboy Bill Pickett),
    but still-handsome black cowboy,espe-
    cially when I'm wearing Wranglers and
    sneakers and even more so in the hat and boots.
    Can someone posting here direct me to TV
    or movie people who might take a chance
    on launching a series or in the case of the big screen,making an indie flick a-
    bout an older cowboy or cop stud actor?

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