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The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland

The Compton Cowboys is a story about several young black men and women who grew up riding horses in Compton, California. Each person has an interesting, and usually harrowing tale, about growing up around gangs, drugs, alcohol, and violence. But each story is enlivened by the time spent on the ranch in the middle of Richland Farms, taking care of and riding horses.

The Compton Cowboys with a pair of kids cowboy boots

When most people think of Compton, the imagery of bareback cowboys on beautiful quarterhorses is probably far from the mind. But horsemanship (and farming too) has a deep and rich history in this high-crime area. The visual of horses riding alongside a busy street is startling to me still.

The author, Walter Thompson-Hernandez, sets the stage well, detailing street names and local eateries around the area. Many of these are fast food places that the cowboys would ride their horses to. On one such trip hilarity soon turns to near tragedy in a blood-pressure rising chapter. After cleaning up horse poop with his bare hands, Keenan has too close a call when his horse Sonny bolts.

The main part of the story revolves around the change of ownership and operation of the ranch. For many years Mayisha had run the ranch, teaching young kids to ride and providing them a safe place to be. Much of the ranch operated from the support of wealthy horse people in the area. But now that Mayisha was retiring, Randy Hook was taking over. Randy was going to change the riding style back to Western instead of English, despite the potential decline in donors.

Western riding is the traditional cowboy style and includes pleasure and trail riding and rodeo. English is the more “proper” riding style of outfit and includes things like dressage and jumping.

The Compton Cowboys is a really exciting and a fast-paced read. Each chapter brings new stories and many hardships. Each of the cowboys and cowgirls has an interesting story. Nearly all have suffered tragic loss. But all of them have benefited greatly because of horses.

Keeping horses is expensive so it is necessary for entire communities to support programs like the Compton Cowboys. Horses especially help kids and the younger they learn to ride, the better.

“Streets raised us. Horses saved us.”

Pair this excellent book with Bison Union’s Ranch Hand Coffee.