Blacks made up a quarter of the cowboys responsible for grazing cattle in the American West after the Civil War (1861-1865), according to historian Kenneth Wiggins Porter.
Dressed in a cowgirl hat, and with intense focus, Maurissa Hall rides her horse “Lena” and makes her leap into the ring and zigzag between three barrels during a rodeo organized in the state of Maryland, USA.
The 16-year-old African-American is one of the rising local stars in the sport that is considered one of the symbols of the United States, and is traditionally dominated by whites and boys.
Thus, white contestants make up the bulk of the approximately 60 participants in the “barrel race”, as well as from the audience present.
“When I started, people were staring at me because I was one of the only cowboys of color. It made me feel uncomfortable,” the teen told AFP, wearing a sash that read “Queen of the Rodeo.”
Tempest Martin, who grew up in Washington, was also the target of these wary looks in her early days, when she and her cousin went to barrel racing events in the area.
“When we think of a cowboy, we think of the stereotype of a white man on a horse,” says the 23-year-old, who with three childhood friends founded Catch This Smoke, an African-American cowgirl group.
However, blacks made up a quarter of the cowboys responsible for grazing cattle in the American West after the Civil War (1861-1865), according to historian Kenneth Wiggins Porter.
“we are here”
“The saying that black women don’t ride horses is a common notion,” said Brittany Logan, who was wearing a “Catch This Smoke” T-shirt. “We are here. We have always been here,” she adds.
“We go to McDonald’s on our horses! I want black women to know they can,” the 36-year-old added.
The five women are training for the wildcard horseback riding competition in September as part of the Bill Picket Rodeo Festival, an African-American rodeo that attracts thousands each year.
Among the festival’s participants will be 12-year-old twins Reagan and Ryan Jackson, who have won numerous school rodeos in Maryland and neighboring Virginia.
The girls train regularly with Maurissa Hall at the family farm in small Upper Marlboro, Maryland, less than an hour southeast of the US capital.
They struggle to zig-zag between six poles, capture the lasso calves with the “separate pull” technique, or even jump from their horses to tie three goats’ legs as quickly as possible under the supervision of their coach, that is, their father.
$50,000 a year
“I’d like her to go pro and be the first woman of color in the final of a national rodeo,” Morissa Hall, Morissa’s father, said. “That would be a huge accomplishment.” But, he adds, “I may not necessarily be able to provide her with the kind of horse that would make her a champion. We’ll do our best.”
As for Corey Jackson, the father of Reagan and Ryan, whose two sons also participate in rodeos, he indicates that he pays $ 50,000 annually for this equestrian sport, from entry fees to competitions to sponsoring horses.
Not everyone may be able to cover these expenses, he explains, which may be “one of the reasons why there aren’t a lot of African-American families that participate in rodeos on the East Coast.”
Getting into a rodeo may be one of the hardest sports, Jackson notes, “if one wasn’t brought up in it.”
The price of a horse may range from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on its age and level of training.
“It’s no secret that a lot of our white brothers and sisters have taken the lead, but that doesn’t mean we can’t,” says Brittany Logan, who didn’t grow up on horses and didn’t compete in rodeo until she was 28.
She notes that many whites have experienced rodeos since childhood, and “they have a sponsor,” adding, “But we will make it happen. We will also have sponsors, and we are finally recognized.”
“I want to break records,” says Tempest Martin. “I think we can do it.”