Compton Cowboys on their unorthodox family

Four men standing with rope in front of white colorama

A Californian ranch like no other teaches inner-city kids how to reshape their future

By Charlotte Steinway    Saturday 1 February, 2020

From Lil Nas X to Orville Peck, 2019 was the year of the cowboy. And the global fascination with that culture shows no signs of slowing down; this April, reporter for The New York Times, Walter Thompson-Hernández, releases his book, The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation Of Cowboys In America’s Urban Heartland. This close-knit group, who first met more than 20 years ago, gives back to the local community by teaching inner-city kids how to ride horses.

Here, we speak to five members of the Compton Cowboys about how a childhood pastime turned into a career, beginning with founder Randy Savvy, whose aunt bought the Richland Farms land (now the group’s ranch) back in the 1980s. 

Randy Savvy (Randall Hook)  
‘Rather than flee a neighbourhood troubled with drugs, crime and corruption, my aunt Mayisha decided to make a change, establishing the Compton Junior Posse in her own backyard. Today’s Compton Cowboys were the kids in that equestrian programme. Once we grew up, we wondered how we could help the next generation. What really brought us together was when we were asked to be in a Rihanna and Drake video in 2016. A year later, Guinness asked to film a commercial. Maybe it’s because we represent all ages, dynamics and backgrounds. Our modern family is “unorthodox”; it isn’t necessarily a blood family, but a collective of folks who share a common mission, interest and
love for one another.’
horse staring at camera with man in background
seated man staring at group of horses
Ceejay (Charles Harris Jr.) 
‘My mom moved us from Watts to Compton when we were kids. One day, my brother and I rode our bikes around the new neighbourhood to check it out when we saw this guy washing two horses as if they were his pet dogs. It blew me away; you can’t see something like that and not ask any questions. He told us there was a facility nearby that teaches kids to ride horses called the Compton Junior Posse. So, we signed up and the rest was history.’

Lay (Layton Bereal)
‘Everyone who’s a Compton Cowboy member started out with us from childhood. Randy is my best friend and we’ve been riding together since we were seven years old. The most rewarding part about coming to work every day is that I get to be with my best friends. It’s so dope. All my homies are here. We drink beer, ride and just have fun. We know each other really well, so we all know how to push each other’s buttons, but also how to get the job done. Working with horses is the best job you can have; it’s the definition of getting paid to do what you love.’
group of men standing with horses by screen with one riding a horse
Keiara Wade
‘The horse community is pretty small around here, so growing up, I met Randy and the Compton Junior Posse when I was competing against them in shows. In 2011, I started volunteering with them and within weeks was on staff. I love being around horses. This environment is very peaceful and your thoughts become clear when you’re on the ranch. I love kids and I love horses, so it’s the best of both worlds. They each teach you something different, but at the same time are connected. Although my daughter is only three, I see so much of myself in her and her love for horses; she can’t wait to ride with the big kids.’
horse galloping around ranch
man with horse on ranch
Kee (Keenan Abercrombia)
‘My sister had a horse in Oakland, so every summer I’d visit her. Somewhere along the line my grandmother got sick, so my sister and her horse moved down to LA, where she found the Compton Junior Posse and decided to keep her horse there. I wasn’t the type of kid who made friends easily, but she suggested I get involved with them to be closer to our horse. I remember the moment I met Randy and CeeJay: I was hanging out at the ranch, and they asked me who I was and if I could ride. Ever since that day, they’ve been my best friends. We argue, lift each other up and scold each other when we’re wrong. We’re the definition of a modern family. I love being around the horses and children. The programme was built around mentoring kids who have two options in life: to do good or do bad. We want to teach them that you can do the former and still be a tough guy.’

‘The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation Of Cowboys In America’s Urban Heartland’ will be on sale through Harper Collins from 28 April. You can pre order the book here.

Lead image by Taylor Rainbolt; body images captured by the Compton Cowboys on disposable cameras provided by Soho House

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