Everyone is welcomed at this black rodeo, regardless of the race

A sold-out crowd cheers at 2Pac’s “California Love” as dozens of horses and riders parade in the ring of the Industry Hills Expo Center. Bulls, calves and broncos await their events just out of sight.

This is the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the only national black rodeo circuit in the country. And it just came back to Los Angeles for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

As the events begin, a cowboy gallops around the ring holding the pan-African red, black and green flag while a singer in the center sings the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“A black rodeo is different because we put our culture and our soul into it,” said Margo Wade-Ladrew, the rodeo’s national development director. “You can go to another rodeo, [but] you don’t hear the kind of music you hear at our rodeo. You won’t hear the announcers doing what we do at our rodeo.”

A sold-out crowd of spectators takes part in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Los Angeles in July. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

As the match begins, a man in the ring swings open a gate and a bucking horse plows into the ring. A bareback rider uses all his strength to hold on with one hand—for eight full seconds.

Rodeo veteran Wayne Rogers stands ready, dressed in a sweater and cowboy hat, waiting for the next event. “I protect the bull riders from the bull. I let the bull come to me so they don’t get hurt,” he says. He shoots into the ring to dislodge a cow and lead him out of the ring before sharing more of his story.

Rogers says he used to be a bull rider but wasn’t very good at it. One day, a bullfighter broke his pelvis, giving Rogers a chance to become a bullfighter himself. That was 21 years ago.

Wayne Rogers gathers young spectators for the ‘Boot Race’. Rogers places their shoes in the center of the ring, and then the kids race to find their shoes, put them on and run to the finish. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

“It’s a blessing because African Americans rodeo riding has come a long way,” he says. “We all sit and cheer for each other, no matter the race.”

This idea of ​​a black rodeo was born in the 1970s, when a black marketer named Lu Vason went to a rodeo in Cheyenne.

“He saw that there were no black cowboys,” Wade-Ladrew says. ‘And he said, ‘Wow.’ Because it seemed like there should have been some black cowboys.”

Vason did some research and learned about a famous turn-of-the-century black cowboy named Bill Pickett, who invented ox wrestling, which involves chasing a cow on horseback and then jumping off the horse onto the cow and bringing it to the ground. struggles .

In 1984, Vason created the first-ever Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Denver with Pickett borrowing his name. Today it reaches more than 130,000 spectators across the country. It was broadcast nationally for the first time last year.

A cowgirl gallops around the first of three barrels in the Ladies’ Barrel Racing event. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

Tori Elliott and Leah Jackson bought tickets to their first Bill Pickett rodeo after hearing about it through social media. “It just feels so comfortable,” Jackson says. “I feel like we really belong here and fit in a little bit.” Photo by Caleigh Wells.

It’s the seventh or eighth time Robert Miller has come to this rodeo, and he says it’s busier than he ever remembers. Now he also takes his daughters, who hang out in a double-wide pram.

Robert Miller says he takes his daughters to the rodeo to pass on his love for horses. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

“I mean, it’s traveling black history. … It’s like travel culture. That’s what it means to me,” he says. Miller grew up in Compton and says it was his elderly neighbor’s horse that saved him.

“I wasn’t a model citizen standing up. And he noticed that I have more potential. So the responsibility he gave me was a young foal,” Miller says. “I raised it. I trained it. I had to feed it. I had to take care of it. And now I’m here to just pass on [my love of horses]pass it on to my babies.”

That story is known to Tre Hosley. He is also from Compton and earns a living on the rodeo circuit and competes in the bareback ride event. Hosley was Bill Pickett’s Rookie of the Year in 2013 and says he enjoys competing in this rodeo because he becomes a role model.

“I have the most space here to make the biggest impact because these kids look like me, they look up to me and a lot of them know me. I’m around them. They can come and touch me,” he says.” So I’m really trying to show them that you can do it, whatever you want to do, it’s possible.”

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