Though the streets of Compton are generally associated with racial violence, this group of cowboys is breaking stereotypes by getting at-risk youngsters off of the street and onto horses instead.

The Compton Cowboys is a band of African-American locals who find peace and community through riding horses through the California city.

The 10 original founders of the horse-collective first met each other as young boys at a nonprofit stable located in a semi-rural area of Compton. Since their relatives encouraged them to attend the organization’s activities as an alternative to gang violence, the stable provided the youngsters with a safe haven from the dangers of their environment.

“I was always around shootings and gangs, but none of that happens when I’m in the stables with the horses,” one of the Compton Cowboys told the New York Times in March. “There’s peace with the animals.”

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All of their equine steeds have been rescued from things like abuse and malnutrition, and each one has been given a new lease of life under the care of the cowboys. Their struggle mirrors that of their riders, having grown up in an underdeveloped and inhospitable landscape.

“The throwaway horses that we were given ended up being the best horses for us because they had a feisty spirit and a chip on their shoulder just like we did,” cowboy Randy Hook told the Times. “They were the underdogs just like we were.”

The group hopes that their efforts also helps to show the accomplishments of the African-American cowboys that have been omitted from popular history and media. Roughly 5,000 to 8,000 African American men and women become ranchers and herders after the Civil War – a tradition the Compton Cowboys upholds everyday.

Today, the future of the Compton Cowboys looks bright. In addition to being positive role models for their community, the members are competing in rodeos and polo events, with some setting their sights on the Olympics.

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In the meantime, they can rest assured that their efforts have not gone unnoticed, as they slowly but surely reshape the American notion of what makes a cowboy.

“At the end of the day, we want people to also think about us when they think about cowboys, not just a bunch of white guys in cowboy hats who smoke Marlboro cigarettes,” added Hook. “We’re trying to be the guys who make it cool to wear Stetson hats and Wrangler jeans in the ’hood.”

(WATCH the cowboys in action in the commercial video below) – Photo by Compton Cowboys

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