Deep in the heart of Queens, the Federation of Black Cowboys keeps some 40 horses at Cedar Lane Stables. Viewing the stark contrast of the stables and rodeo ring with the Howard Beach tract development, it is hard to imagine finding a comparable situation anywhere else in New York City, but somehow it seems to make sense. And the cowboys are glad they have this space.
The Cedar Lane Stables utilize a portion of about 25 acres of city-owned land with a corral the size of a football field, a 50-year-old barn (held over from the land's farm days), as well as a portable holding office for the federation. Behind the office is Debbie's Reins and Things, a tiny store selling horse tackle and Western fashions. The stables and horse stalls are being upgraded, but for some years were dilapidated and structurally questionable. The horses held within are by contrast extremely well groomed, healthy, and, even in the middle of a January cold spell, happy.
While the federation owns the majority of the horses, a few are held over from the stables before the cowboys took them over in 1998, when they won an open-bid lease from the NYC Parks Department. The stables have what is known as "rough board," which means that the horses are given a place to stay but must be fed and groomed by their owners. This means that cowboys visit their horses once or twice daily.
The federation was formed in 1994 by a group of like-minded horse riders, most of whom were members of another (still extant) organization, the Black Cowboy Association of Brooklyn. While the Black Cowboys of Brooklyn had a primarily social and fraternal function, the federation lists community service and youth involvement as its primary goals. Application for membership is open to all, but each application is reviewed with an eye to character and a record of community service. With regard to cowboy activity, each applicant must at least have access to a horse and, as cowboy Lenard Herbert slyly adds, "You gotta have a cowboy hat." Although the federation's name is gender-specific, membership is open to women, who ride as the Cedar Lane Jewels.
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