Kesha Morse is the first female president of New York City’s Federation of Black Cowboys, which offers rodeos, school visits, and horsemanship training programs for New York City youth. Based in Queens, the groups aims to revive traditions of African-American cowboys in the Old West — and you even might spot them on an eight-hour trek from one end of Brooklyn to the other. Hoping to raise awareness about its mission, the FBC teamed up with the denim brand Wrangler to produce a short film about the organization’s history. The Cut asked Morse about leading the FBC for the past decade, and what it means to be a cowboy in bustling New York City. Watch the Wrangler video below.
Is there a reason why cowboys wear jeans?
Oh yeah! The material is thicker so that while riding the horse, you don’t get friction on your legs. And then it is just part of the culture. Thank goodness, Wrangler started making stretch jeans. It makes it that much easier when the jeans move with you.
How the heck do you even ride a horse in New York City?
Horses have the right away. They were here before the cars were! We do have to follow the rules of the road, like the red lights, but we ride in the street. The ability to do that is declining more and more, even in Central Park. They’ve reduced the number of horses and carriages there, so as far as being able to do that in New York City, I really don’t see that happening. I don’t see them trading off land to house horses in place of housing.
What was it like to be the first female member and president of FBC?
It’s been very interesting. For the most part, it’s been somewhat easy. because I’ve been with them for so long. They’ve viewed me as their big sister or little sister. Even though females were not in the organization, I had input prior to becoming a member, being the only woman that traveled with them for so many years. They valued my input, so that made it easy for me.
The difficulty is that the men are used to being “manly men.” So, I had to be kind of a “manly female,” too, which is okay because I’m a tomboy at heart. With some of the guys I would have to exert my ability to hold my own, but that didn’t last long, because after a while that died down. They got to understand that I’m not a pushover. But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
What attracted you to Western culture?
What drew me to Western culture was wanting to be around horses. My father is a horseman. While he was not in my life because he traveled a great deal, from time to time when he came through with his cowboy hat and boots and trailer with horses in it, and I got to be around it. As I got older, I would drive out to wherever he was in Long Island and be around him and horses. I knew that I wanted to do it. I always had something in me that pulled me in and made me interested in horses. In New York, it’s hard to kind of fill in that desire because horses are not everywhere.
This interview has been edited and condensed.