My stories do not usually begin anywhere East of the Mississippi, but this one does, oddly enough. This story begins in New York City, which is probably the last place I would expect to find a good horse story. But here we find a twenty-nine-year-old photographer, Brandon Stanton, doing what he does quite naturally; he was walking the streets of NYC looking for interesting subjects. You see, Stanton has an ongoing photo project called Humans of New York. The project has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and on CBS. When Stanton began that project, he had the goal of taking 10,000 portraits. And, I would imagine he also had the goal of reassuring his mother that he wasn’t wasting his life. It’s incredibly interesting, but it’s still not something you would expect to find featured on a blog dedicated to the West. But. . .just stick with me; I’m getting to the point.
Recently Stanton was walking through Washington Square Park when he noticed a young boy and his mother. He might have walked right past them if not for one thing. . . they were selling cowboy supplies. That’s right. On that day, you could have purchased everything you needed to be a cowboy right from a street vendor in a NYC park! Well, almost everything. The boy and his mother weren’t selling horses. Instead, the boy was hoping to raise enough money to buy a horse! And that, my friends, is what I think of as The Cowboy Way. It represents the sort of cowboy initiative that merits a blog post about a photographer and the boy who wanted a horse.
The Urban Cowboy and His Mother
The thing that separates Brandon Stanton from many photographers is that he cares deeply about the story behind each photograph. When Stanton happened upon the boy, whose name is Rumi, and his mother, he wanted to know the story behind the makeshift cowboy store, which looked a lot like a blanket spread with cowboy toys. He discovered that Rumi loves horses. I mean, he LOVES them! Apparently, young Rumi had done some research, crunched some numbers and determined that he could buy a horse for $1,000.00. His first day in the cowboy store business netted him $1. It seemed there weren’t enough horse lovers in Washington Square Park to make a go of it, but Rumi was committed to his goal of horse ownership.
Stanton went home and made a few calls to some horse experts. They confirmed what he already suspected. Horses are expensive. They are also expensive to maintain. In fact, boarding a horse is financially out of reach for most families living in a small NYC apartment and many NYC apartments don’t even allow pets. But, Rumi didn’t have to give up on his horse dreams. Not by a long shot! Stanton hatched a plan!
The Heart of the Matter
After getting the okay from Rumi’s parents, Stanton set out to send Rumi on a “Wild West Adventure”. He contacted Drowsy Water Ranch, a dude ranch in Granby, Colorado. It sounded great! Since he had reached the ripe ol’ age of six, Rumi would get to have his own horse for his entire stay at Drowsy Water Ranch. So, Stanton did some number crunching of his own. He calculated that it would take $7,000.00 to send Rumi and his parents to Drowsy Water Ranch for a week of Wild West fun. That includes airfare, lodging, meals and a week of rootin’ tootin’ activities!
Stanton asked about availability and discovered that Drowsy Water Ranch only had one room available for one week for the duration of the summer season. Thinking fast, Stanton said, “HOLD THAT ROOM!” Then he just needed to raise some funds. He knew for a fact that it was difficult to raise money by selling cowboy paraphernalia, so he decided to trust in the kindness of strangers.
The Kindness of Strangers
Stanton’s project, Humans of New York (HONY) has developed quite a Facebook following, so that seemed like an obvious place to start. Stanton posted a picture of Rumi and his mother at their cowboy store. He explained the dilemma. And, then, he made his appeal for funding. There wasn’t much time, but he had faith in humanity—faith that people would react like they had been personally called to action. Surely, no one could hear the story of Rumi and not want to help!
The fundraising campaign was set up to last for two days—July 31-August 1. Stanton set up perks for different levels of giving. A donation of just $5.00 qualified the giver to be a part of the “Top Secret Buckaroo Club.” Stanton, himself, became a member of the “John Wayne Super Elite Club” by donating the first $300.00 to the cause. But could they raise the needed $7,000.00?
Well, it took all of fifteen minutes to raise $7,000.00! Seriously! Fifteen minutes! The campaign ended up raising a grand total of $32,167.00. So, what is happening with the surplus funds? (Aw, shucks! Pass the Kleenex, please!) More than $20,000 will be donated to Equestria, a New York therapeutic riding center.
Horses and the Big Apple
Like other therapeutic riding centers, Equestria provides horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities. Of course, lovers of horses already know the impact horses can have on a person’s well-being. And Rumi and his parents wholeheartedly support the idea of other New Yorkers getting the opportunity to ride the range. They know that horses in the Big Apple are not something to take for granted. And neither are photographers with big hearts.
You can follow the story of Rumi and Stanton here, on Facebook!