It’s 7 PM and pouring in thick sheets, but through the thick aroma of the damp air, I can still smell the horses—they’re wild, like the earth. The glow from Georgia’s horse park arena is warm, an orange, pulsing heartbeat glimmering through the grey. As I get closer, my camera strapped to my side, my pulse thunders in my ears. I’ve never done this before.
That is, I’ve never photographed a rodeo, let alone one for black cowboys and horsewomen.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, a competition for black riders that’s transformed into a 35-year-running annual tradition, opens the doors to many riders that often aren’t given the chance otherwise.
Talking to the competitors, it becomes clear that rodeoing and horse riding are traditions passed through generations; meaning, no, Lil Nas X didn’t start a trend, and also, no, black horse riders aren’t “stealing” anything—from anyone.
It’s a close-knit community, but widespread; there are more black horsemen than you think, and they’ve been there from the start. If anything, the rise of black cowboys in black pop culture and hip-hop is simply reclaiming an often overlooked aspect of our community.
The equestrian world has a lot of barriers to entry revolving around class and race. And when you think of equestrian culture, the impression of it is largely white, and largely upper middle class.
But that image does a disservice to the diverse black and brown people who have always existed there. The South is scattered with black horse clubs, and Metro Atlanta boasts a slew of urban riders, as well as a Black Rodeo Association.
It was a privilege to capture snapshots of their lives, and document moments within a community of truly talented, welcoming individuals. And I look forward to helping them say their piece.
By Erin Davis