New, diverse faces of professional bull riding
January 12, 2020 9:01 PM   Subscribe

When you think of professional bull riding, you probably think of young, white men on furiously bucking bulls, but the best-paying pro bull riding organization, Professional Bull Riders, boasts of international membership (Wikipedia). Look at the list of past champions (Wikipedia), and you'll see it's guys from the U.S., and Brazil who reach the top. Brazil's impact and dominance in professional bull riding (The Culture Trip) has been noted before, as seen in Men's Journal back in 2013. But now Vogue invites you to meet Meet Najiah Knight, the 13-Year-Old Girl Upending the World of Professional Bull Riding.

Women are rare in the sport, with no women members of PBR. But Knight is not just one of the few women in the sport, she's excelling compared to other youth in the Mini Bull Riders (ages 8 to 13).
I asked Najiah if it was funny being the only girl on the MBR tour. “Yeah,” she said, with an ear-to-ear grin. “But I kind of earned the boys’ respect the first year I competed, because I ended up on some of the rankest bulls—I was one of the first ones who came close to riding some of them.”
She was the first in MBR to get sponsorship, from Ariat boots, Cooper Tires and Chad Berger bucking bulls (Pro Sports Extra). And being from the Paiute/Klamath Tribes (FB video from Native American Athletes), she is one of a growing number of Native or First Nation riders in MBR or PBR. She learned bull riding from her dad and older brother, and Vogue briefly mentions Keyshawn Whitehorse (PRB profile; Instagram account) a Diné rider who was PRB's 2018 rookie of the year (Wrangler Network). From Navajo Nation to Rookie of the Year -- Professional bull rider Keyshawn Whitehorse’s journey to the pinnacle of PBR, embracing his Native culture along the way (The Undefeated)
Whitehorse and his father, Norbert, learned the sport together by watching PBR events on TV and practicing on a makeshift barrel behind the house. Norbert still travels to competitions and pulls Whitehorse’s rope as he enters the chute.

While there aren’t many Native American bull riders, there are citizens of Shoshone-Bannock, Navajo, Cherokee, Chippewa-Sioux, Potawatomi and Blackfoot nations who compete. Six of the top 30 riders are Native, including Cody Jesus, Stetson Lawrence and Ryan Dirteater, who are ranked in the top 15.

Before competing, Whitehorse methodically prepares, which includes a prayer ritual that is a blend of Navajo tradition and Christianity. Before he straps on his bright fringed chaps and the protective vest with the logo of his sponsor, the U.S. Border Patrol, Whitehorse anoints his body with burnt cedar and asks for protection and for communion with the bull he is riding. Instead of dominating the animal, he prays for a partnership. Both of their lives depend on an exceptional performance on the dirt.

He proudly embraces his culture, and that’s one reason fans love him.
The Vogue article briefly highlighted another up-and-coming rider, Ezekiel "Blue" Mitchell (Instagram), the only Black bull rider at elite level (The Grio), whose bull-riding education mirrors Whitehorse's, to a degree.
“I didn’t come from a rodeo family,” the 21-year-old Texan tells the New York Post. “My dad took me to them and I was always interested, but I didn’t have anyone to show me how. We didn’t have money to send me to rodeo school.”

So at age 14, he went online and studied tutorials by former Professional Bull Riders (PBR) star Dustin Elliott. The New York Post reports that Mitchell hung a makeshift bucking barrel from a tree to use for practice. A neighbor later helped him weld a metal bull together using a car suspension. At age 16, he finally rode the real deal and was immediately hooked. So much so that he decided to quit football.

“My parents said I was just going to throw it all away,” says Mitchell, who’s one of 11 children. “I said, ‘I am pretty sure this is what I want to do.’ ”
When Mitchell recently met Elliott, his online tutor, at a college riding event, he didn’t hesitate to tell him: “You pretty much taught me how to ride bulls,” and Elliot replied: “You taught yourself.’ ”
Black cowboys may be rare now, but as noted in another article for Men's Journal --
From 1860 to 1880, a quarter of all cowboys were black—though you wouldn’t know it from watching spaghetti Westerns. For decades, [Joe] Wrenn has worked to correct this misconception. An informal leader of a network of black cowboys called the Delta Hill Riders, he has trained some 600 horses for other black riders, in exchange for minimal pay. In doing so, he has played a critical role in reviving the region’s black cowboy culture. In the ’80s, he and friends organized the first trail rides for local black cowboys, and their outings now draw scores of riders from across Mississippi and beyond.
The Mississippi Horse Trainer Reviving Black Cowboy Culture.
posted by filthy light thief (5 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A whole constellation of culture I didn't know about, this is neat. Still working my way through links.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:20 AM on January 13, 2020

I'm immediately reminded of The Best Bull Rider of All Time: J.B. Mauney. He says that he doesn't spend any time working out to gain muscle like other riders do, because there's no way you're going to out-muscle a 1,600 pound bull. Instead, he spends most of his time working on his balance. And if there's anything that watching the occasional gymnastics clip on Youtube has taught me, the ability of 13-year-old girls to achieve amazing feats of balance-based athleticism is not in question.
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 AM on January 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Netflix series Fearless Is great. It follows Mauney and several Brazilian riders during the 2015(?) season.

One of the interesting facts I learned was that when the first Brazilian riders showed up in the PBR, the rope grip they used was totally unfamiliar to the American rodeo cowboys, and more than once people wondered if holding the rope that way would allow the rider to actually release and get off the bull. (NARRATOR: “It did.”)

It also goes into the cultural frictions around a sport paid for by an American beer corporation, playing mostly to American audiences... with Brazilian after Brazilian walking away with the championship buckles.

It also takes a look at the Festa de Peão de Barretos, which is part of the PBR tour, and is THE CHAMPIONSHIP THAT MATTERS to the Brazilians... and how many fewer American cowboys make the journey to Brazil to ride.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Shoutout to the Oakland Black Cowboy Association.

Also... J.B. Mauney is 5’10”, 120 lbs. Don’t tell me that there isn’t a woman who is capable of going 8 seconds on one of those monsters out there somewhere.

That’s gonna be a hellava day when that buzzer rings.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:09 AM on January 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

Don’t tell me that there isn’t a woman who is capable of going 8 seconds on one of those monsters out there somewhere.

Here's an informative answer on where to find professional women bull riders from Yahoo Answers, back in 2008:
1. Some women bull riders belong to the Women's Professional Rodeo Association. The WPRA currently co-sanctions some rodeos with other associations so in effect there are WPRA rodeos in which these women who are members can do ride.

2, Not all of the women riding professionally belong to WPRA. They do not belong to any association. They ride in independent rodeos and bull rides.

3. A woman may earn a permit card from the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association (PRCA) to ride bulls in PRCA sanctioned rodeos. None currently have done this (as of 2008). You would have to contact the PRCA to learn the specific rules.

4. I do not know what the Professional Bullriders Association rules are about women competing. You would have to contact them.
Meet The Women Breaking Into The Boys Club Of Bronc Riding (Megyn Kelly TODAY, July 2018)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:30 PM on January 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

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