07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
Call it the Wild, Wild East: In a gritty section of Queens, residents are used to seeing young people trot by on horseback, in Stetsons and western gear. This patch of New York City is home to the Federation of Black Cowboys, a group of 40 men who teach horsemanship as a way to inspire kids. "Horsemanship has a lot to do with responsibility," says cowboy Lenard Hébert, 56. "It teaches discipline, patience and structure."
Free of charge, the cowboys share riding skills with about a dozen youngsters at a city-owned stable. Participants then show off their tricks at exhibitions for other kids. "It's better than being on the streets," says Michael Torres, 15, who says he might well be in jail if not for the program. "I get a nice feeling when I'm around horses." Simply that, says cowboy Clarence demons, 48, can help a young person glimpse a future as big as the outdoors. "It's not for everybody," he says. "But for the ones we reach, we're proud."