Character Study: Atlanta’s Urban Cowboy

Just who is that dude on the horse?

The preschoolers aren’t sure what to make of the beast that has invaded their East Point playground. Some shriek and giggle in fear. Others stare in silent awe. Only one, a four-year-old girl with beaded braids, has the courage to speak up.

“It’s a cow!” she says, pointing.

“A cow?” says Brannu Fulton, the lanky twenty-six-year-old holding the animal’s reins. “This is not a cow. It’s a horse. This is Spinderella.”

In the courtyard of this apartment complex, spitting sunflower seeds while wearing a Western rhinestoned button-down, Fulton looks every bit as out of place as his American paint. The juxtaposition has turned the duo into local celebrities—the urban cowboy and his trusty mount, often drawing double takes as they clop through the city leading paid horseback tours. The excursions allow Fulton to share his love for horses, but they also raise money for his lesser-known mission, Brannu Paint Academy, through which he hopes to expose urban and suburban kids to horses and teach them how to ride.

“Hold the reins like ice cream cones,” Fulton says, illustrating with his own fists. “Pulling the cones back means ‘stop.’ Pushing them forward means ‘go.’” He looks down the row of tiny fists and seems satisfied. “Now, who wants to go first?”

This crowded environment takes Fulton back to his childhood in Brooklyn housing projects. He remembers seeing cops on horseback in Manhattan. Remembers his grandfather, an Army vet, taking him to riding lessons until he could no longer afford it. As Fulton got older, he gravitated toward music and became a DJ, touring the country in his late teens. It was on a stop in Tijuana that Fulton ran into a man renting horse rides on the beach, and the DJ’s love of all things equine was rekindled. Eventually Fulton moved to Atlanta, where his grandparents owned rental property, and saved money from music gigs to buy a rundown McDonough horse farm. He slept in a straw-strewn stall while he assembled his stable, which now totals thirteen horses, each named after a musician or a genre of music.

At first, people were baffled by the man and his horse trotting alongside city traffic, and that led to a few uncomfortable brushes with local police. But as Fulton and his animals have gradually become part of the urban landscape, those run-ins have abated. Last August, he bought a couple of plats along Bowen Street; he’s building a stable so the kids will be able to come to him. But until he can finish the project, the urban cowboy is content to tow his two-horse trailer up from McDonough, collecting droppings with doggie bags and trying, like his grandfather, to expand kids’ worldviews—whether they’re ready or not.

Fulton points at a ponytailed girl he recognizes from previous visits.

“You going to cry?”

The girl shakes her head.

“You sure?”

Head shaking faster.

Fulton lifts the girl onto Spinderella and hands her the reins. As soon as the paint lurches forward, the girl’s lip starts to quiver. The horse burrs, releasing a flood of sobs and tears from atop the saddle. Fulton just laughs, shakes his head, pulls the girl off, and moves on to the next wide-eyed rider.

This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue.