COMPTON, Calif. (KABC) -- When most people think of Compton, horses aren't usually what come to mind.
The Compton Jr. Posse helps more than 1,500 kids each year learn to ride horses and compete in equestrian competitions.
"We're a well kept secret, a gem in the middle of a war zone," Mayisha Akbar said.
Akbar grew up riding horses in Harbor City and founded the non-profit after moving to Compton in 1988.
"When we first started this program we were in competition with gangs," she said.
Akbar said she offers something that gangs do not: financial incentive. She sets up vendor booths at the horse shows. The kids sell art to make money.
"People would come up to us and say, 'What are you doing with all these young black boys, selling art, who are articulate and can speak?'" she said.
Akbar said her equestrian team is the first from the inner city to ever compete in many of the affluent communities they travel to.
"We break down those stereotypical images that people have of young people of color, but also it helps our kids to break down those stereotypical images they may have of other people," she said.
Akbar is featured in a new documentary series produced by the California Lottery, called "Project Believe."
Nathan Williams Bonner, 19, started the program when he was 13. He said it kept him from joining a gang.
"It made me focus in school, because if we didn't keep our grades up, we weren't able to ride," he said.
Bonner is training to become a professional rider and mentoring younger riders in Compton.
One of them is 10-year-old Gabrielle Lashley, who wants to ride horses professionally when she grows up.
"When you ride, it just feels like you're free," Lashley said.