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Laughter carries from the stands and into the mountains as four men and their horses take turns flying around blue barrels and over the pockmarked dirt. The Crows work as a team in a kind of horseback relay, training for the annual Arizona Black Rodeo. Wearing a beige cowboy hat, jean vest, bandanna and worn leather boots, Ricky Magee, who works as an IT technician by day, waits in the middle of the ring atop Cajun, his umber-colored horse, until it is their turn.
Just as his partner approaches the last barrel, the two burst out to receive the baton. But as Magee grabs the baton and Cajun catches her stride, the horse steps into one of the many craters in the well-worn dirt. Cajun tumbles to the ground and Magee lands inches away. The rodeo celebrates the accomplishments of men like Bill Pickett, a Black cowboy in the late 19th century who started off as a ranch hand in Texas and became a rodeo star famous for his steer-wrestling technique.
And Bass Reeves, a deputy U. Though these men are aware of their historical erasure, they are not on some grand crusade to right the wrongs of the past. Nijhel Motley, the youngest of the group, comes from a horseback-riding family: His mother rode while she was pregnant with him, and his father raced quarter horses in Philadelphia, their hometown. Motley rode before he even knew how to walk. Now, Motley studies sports communications at Arizona State University but spends most of his free time on ranches caring for and training horses.
Motley is well aware of the erasure of Black cowboys from history and the current barriers to their participation in rodeo. Growing up around rodeos, Walker never felt excluded from mainstream cowboy culture. Horses were just part of his life. Walker ed the Marines at After four years and two tours on the frontlines of Iraq, he left the military and eventually settled in Phoenix, seeking a change of pace.
The cowboys lacked a large practice space of their own, so Walker bought some land of his own. As a kid, Ricky Magee helped his uncle train horses. Magee and his uncle traveled from his hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana, to Mississippi to showcase the horses. Shaheed Muhammad is 6 foot 6, so he knew he needed a tall horse. He and Shaka, his lanky chestnut thoroughbred, tower over their teammates. Back then, however, he was drawn to more popular aspects of Black culture in South Central: hip-hop and basketball.
The gatekeepers that surrounded him in his early days of riding were white; he was often misled and misunderstood by arrogant riders. Jerrae recently purchased a property in Laveen, Arizona, where the team can now gather to ride. They found each other in Phoenix, Arizona. Daja E. Henry is a writer and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a graduate of Howard University and currently covers health disparities in underserved communities across the Southwest. High Country News at [ protected] or submit a letter to the editor. Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of a horse from Freckles to Little Bits.
Shaheed Muhammad gives his horse, Shaka, a run on a recent October afternoon. Jerrae Walker ties up his horse, Cinnamon. Hoofprints in the dirt. Republish Like Tweet Print.Lonely black cowboy
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