article by Annalies Winny via theguardian.com
The Cowgirls of Color are frustrated. It’s the final stop of Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and the only all-female team has had a difficult first ride, making their chances at a victory very unlikely. “The whole point was to win, not just to be in [the event] because we’re girls,” says KB, a 39-year-old legal administrator who has been riding with the team for a year and a half.
In a sport dominated by white men, the all-female, all-black team is a rarity. At the Bill Pickett rodeo, the only black rodeo in the country, high-octane events such as bull riding and steer wrestling remain almost exclusively male. But every year brings more female contestants than the last.
Since the team formed two years ago, they have set out to prove that they’re more than just a novelty team – that they can beat their male-dominated competition in the most intense events and go on to win thousands of dollars in prize money.
When they first started riding as a team just two years ago, “we were terrible!” says KB. “But I wanted to master it. I wanted to compete on a larger scale where I [could] make money.”
Selina “Pennie” Brown, Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey, Kisha “KB” Bowles and Brittaney Logan met through a veteran horseman, Dr. Ray Charles Lockamy, at a riding event in Maryland. Despite being relatively new to the sport, they decided to form a women’s team to compete in the Bill Pickett rodeo, with Lockamy as their coach. Only Pinky had competed in rodeo events as a teenager. “I was the only black person there,” she says.
Like most equestrian sports, rodeo has always been mostly white. Black cowboys competed in rodeos from the 1940s, but tales of corrupt scoring and judges literally turning their backs on black contestants proliferated for decades thereafter, stalling the growth of the sport among black riders. Black cowboys who entered rodeos “would be discriminated against in ways that were supposed to be subtle”, says Carolyn Carter, the general manager of the Bill Pickett rodeo. In 1968, the legendary bull rider Myrtis Dightman was advised to “turn white” if he wanted to claim the top prizes.
There was $46m in prize money handed out last year in the PRCA circuit, the most ever. While several black cowboys have competed in the world’s biggest rodeo, the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, no African American woman has yet qualified.
Though a few pro cowgirls, including Kanesha Jackson, are inching closer to that milestone, there is still a perception problem outside the rodeo community, says Pennie, 44. She runs a not-for-profit youth organization in Washington DC that’s become increasingly focused on educating children about horses. “In my community, so many people don’t believe that women ride. Not just women, but black women.”