For These Black Women in Texas, Rodeo Is a Way of Life

Raising youngsters, protecting a job and driving horses for a cheering crowd — life on the all-black skilled rodeo circuit.

Walter Thompson-Hernández

Azja Bryant is a pharmacy technician. Jazmine Bennett works for UPS. Krishaun Adair works for state of Texas as an agriculture inspector. But additionally they name themselves cowgirls.

They first met competing towards each other in a rodeo in Houston greater than a decade in the past. The associates have competed all through the South and traveled as far west as Oakland and Los Angeles to experience.

Last month, the three ready for the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Atlanta, the biggest black skilled rodeo in the United States. Competitors win money prizes and, of course, the bragging rights.

“I love the adrenaline rush and riding and the scene that we have. I love the thrill of competing in rodeo,” she said. “It feels like a big family event. You can bring your kids, and your kids can learn how to ride. Everyone roots for each other. We are all just chasing the dream. Everyone is just trying to make it.”

Adair, 38, was born and raised in Houston, and comes from a family of horse riders. “My grandparents on both sides were friends, and they did trail riding. My parents were the first ones to rodeo — that makes me a third-generation rider and second-generation rodeo competitor,” Adair said. She’s now helping her own daughter get started on horseback.

“I can call my mom or send her a video of a competition and she will know exactly what to say. She will ask me ‘did you do this?’ or ‘did you do that?’ And I do the same thing with my sister.” Adair said. “I wouldn’t be in rodeo if it wasn’t for my family, they always push me to compete because they see that in me.”

Bryant, 29, also comes from a riding family. “I was a baby when I first started,” she said — Adair calls her “the little sister that I never had.”

In August, the three friends loaded their horses and saddles into an oversized trailer for the drive to Atlanta. On a trip like this, they’ll take turns driving through the night and make periodic stops; the horses have to be walked every six hours.

“We try to give them a day off if they’re going to be on the road,” Adair said. “I also pray right before a competition. I try to get in a good head space. I pray for everybody, not just myself, because it puts a layer of stress when you travel across the country with three ladies and four horses.”

Bryant has her own preparation rituals. “I exercise and practice the horses days before the rodeo. I have to make sure they are ready to perform. It’s kind of like doing my homework during the week, so that we’re ready for the weekend.”

She also gets all her clothes cleaned the week before the competition. “I like to look nice at the rodeo,” Bryant said.

After 14 hours, they finally arrive in Atlanta.

The women were among dozens of riders set to compete at the invitational. According to the event organizers, approximately 1,500 spectators came to watch. In between rides the fans danced to the sounds of hip-hop and zydeco.

The three women all competed in lady steer undecorating, an event that requires competitors to chase down a steer to remove a ribbon from its body. The rider with the fastest time wins. Bryant won first place, with a time of 2 minutes, 14 seconds. Adair came in fifth and Bennett in sixth.

“Cowboy and cowgirl culture is really popular right now,” Bryant said, after black riders having gone unnoticed for so long. “We’re all getting more recognition now.”

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