Rodeo Trailblazers

Rodeo. When you see that word, what is the first thing that pops into your head? You probably thought about a man, wearing cowboy boots and hat, holding on to dear life on top of a bucking bull. Could you ever picture a woman riding that bull instead of a man? Most people would never associate a woman with rodeos because it is such a male-dominated sport. There is not a great deal of visibility of women in this sport, but believe it or not, women have been a part of this scene for quite some time. In this post, we will discuss women in rodeos, the lack of diversity within this sport, and analyze a cowgirl picture.

While conducting research for this blog, it was obvious that rodeos are mostly dominated by men, but women have been riding, bucking, roping, and competing in rodeos since the time this sport started. Women like Wanda Harper Bush, one of the most decorated women in rodeo, and Tad Lucas, founder of Girls Rodeo Association or (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association), have blazed away for cowgirls today. They have had to fight against the patriarchy and sexism associated with this sport. Despite the challenges these women excelled. They showed the world that women are just as tough, or tougher than men.

Not only is the rodeo mostly dominated by men, it is predominantly white men. Most people do not associate a black person with rodeos; it is rare to see a person of color participating in the sport. Contrary to popular belief, black people have been taking part in this sport since the days of cattle herding in the Wild West. A famous group of black cowboys were the Buffalo Soldiers who protected settlers, battled Indians, and captured thieves.

See black people have had deep roots in the cowboy culture.

Black Cowgirl
Member of Cowgirls of Color gallops alongside steer while competing for rodeo event.

You may ask yourself why a picture of a girl on a horse matters. This picture matters because it features a black woman participating in a typically white-washed sport. Although black cowboys could compete in rodeos, they were still subjugated to Jim Crow laws. According to authors Tracey Patton, a University of Wyoming professor, and Sally Schedlock, a black rodeo competitor, there were signs posted around rodeos saying “no dogs, no Negroes, and no Mexicans”. This prejudice was a part of rodeo culture until the late 60’s. Since discrimination prevented black cowboys and cowgirls from competing, they were forced to create their own rodeo to compete in.

Since the 60’s, times have changed. Black cowboys and cowgirls have gone from being oppressed to having the first and only all black female rodeo team. Selina “Pennie” Brown, Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey, Kisha “KB” Bowles and Brittaney Logan make up Cowgirls of Color rodeo team. These women are going against, not only the race stereotype but the gender stereotype. Brittaney Logan states in an interview, “I love [riding with the Cowgirls of Color], especially when you have people who are totally shocked that black people, let alone women, ride horses and compete in rodeos”. These women are bringing a much-needed awareness to black athletes in rodeo. They are also inspirations to young black girls who enjoy riding horses, but because of lack of visibility, give up the dream. I, personally, would have probably not given up on riding horses if I had seen more black people riding them.

Looking at the picture above we see one of the members of Cowgirl of Color riding alongside a steer. This picture captures the fearlessness of the girl. She is in total control of her mount and is determined to catch the elusive steer. It could be argued that she and the horse is one and the same. Everything seems to be in one motion. There is no disconnect between horse and rider. This idea of being one with the horse is an ongoing theme in the book Dark Horses and Black Beauties. Once you gain this oneness with horses, it seems nothing can trump the feeling.

Cowgirls have come a long way. From women not having competitive opportunities in the early days of rodeo to a whole team of black cowgirls competing in this sport. Women were not going to be the ones left behind while the men had all the fun. They made a path for themselves and have been pushing the norms ever since.


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