CITY OF INDUSTRY — As they came “blazing into Los Angeles,” the cowboys and cowgirls who participated in the 35th annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo kept true to the event’s theme by “kickin’ in the dirt.”
There was steer wrestling, bull riding, barrel racing, relay races, music, food, clothing and jewelry vendors and it all took place July 20-21 at the Industry Hills Expo Center where 8,000 attendees converged over the weekend.
Launched in 1984 by Lu Vason, a producer, music promoter and marketing consultant who died in 2015, the Bill Pickett Rodeo’s mission is to continue and support the legacy of black cowboys and cowgirls.
The opening day started out with a flag-bearing grand entrance that featured actors Reginald T. Dorsey (“5th Ward”), Jim Pickens (“Grey’s Anatomy”), and Obba Babatunde (“The Bold and the Beautiful”) as the celebrity grand marshals, and Jamie Foxx as an honorary grand marshal followed by the day’s competitors. Because of their commitment to the rodeo, Valeria Howard-Cunningham, the CEO/president and promoter of BPIR presented Dorsey, Pickens, Babatunde and Jo-An Turman, who stood in for her husband, actor Glynn Turman, with official 35th-anniversary belt buckles engraved with their names.
It was then time to kick up the dust.
As the cowboys and cowgirls strapped on their chaps, tipped their hats, kicked the dirt off their boots, and prepared for battle in the ring between man and beast, they were met with occasional “Yee-Haws,” applause and approval from an appreciative crowd. There was bareback riding, ladies steer undecorating, relay racing, bull riding, ladies barrel racing, junior barrel racing, junior breakaway roping and bulldogging.
In one contest after another the cowboys and cowgirls conquered and got conquered as they went up against worthy four-legged opponents who didn’t always cooperate thereby sending their passenger plummeting to the dirt.
Throughout the Greatest Show On Dirt, as the rodeo is known, the crowd cheered and/or groaned as one by one cowboys and cowgirls tried their best to stay on the back of a steer the longest, wrestle a two-ton animal to the dirt, lasso an animal the fastest or ride their horse through sharp turns around three barrels tactically placed within the ring — before riding full gallop for the win.
Suitably entertained, it was nonstop action in the arena to the delight of rodeo fans young and old, first timers and old timers, black and white, male and female, cowpokes and commoners.
The venue was filled with families.
“We have created a business where the community can come together and learn,” Howard-Cunningham said. “We have sell-out crowds all across the U.S. We sell out because people have pride. It provides great family fun and they can claim it as theirs.”
One of the families in attendance was the Hortons of Los Angeles. Jenoyne and Dennis Horton brought 6-year-old Dennis and 15-year-old Jahseh and their 8-year-old neighbor, Nevaeh to the rodeo.
Jahseh, who was attending a rodeo for the first time, said his favorite part was the bulls and watching the women ride. His brother, Dennis, and Nevaeh both said the rodeo was “fun.”
“This is a wonderful, cultural experience,” said Jenoyne Horton. “ I remember reading about the Buffalo Soldiers in school. They had a rich heritage.”
“We are a very conscious family,” said Dennis Horton Sr. “Our history is rich. I want them to know that our history is more than rappers and basketball. The black cowboy lived and worked in the plains. That’s our history. The Buffalo Soldiers – that’s our history. This rodeo is our history. That’s what I want them to see. When you say cowboy, it’s not about John Wayne. It’s about our people. It’s about our people having values.”
Chico Thomas, 70, has been coming to the rodeo for the 35 years it has been in existence. About 10 years ago, the Victorville native rode in the grand entrance.
“Coming to the Bill Pickett Rodeo is like coming to a big anniversary,” said Thomas, who has been riding since he was 7. “You see everyone you know. It’s a big reunion. I like everything about the rodeo but I really like bull-riding.”
Kmarie Dixon is only 5, but she already knows she would like to ride a horse someday.
“I want to ride and be a cowgirl,” she said. “The bulls don’t scare me. I want to be in a rodeo when I grow up.”
KK Brinson, a 16-year-old cowgirl from Oakland, has been riding since she was 9 and barrel racing since she was 13. She likes to ride because she says it’s “therapeutic.”
“I don’t mean this is a negative way, but riding and being with the rodeo is like a drug you can’t get off of,” she said.
Sacora Anderson, 29, is in her second year “doing barrels” with the Bill Pickett Rodeo. The Stockton native has been riding for seven years.
“I love seeing African Americans come together doing a sport like this,” Anderson said. “It’s like the Olympics with horses. This rodeo is so exciting.”
Wynter Floyd, a Compton native, had just finished competing in the barrel races and was trying to catch her breath. She said before she goes into the ring she likes to focus, take deep breaths and get her “head together.”
“You have to get out of your head,” said Floyd, who at 16, has been competing since she was 12 and riding since she was 3. “You wonder if you’re going to do what you need to do. I like to warm up my horse. You really have to concentrate.”
Avery “Spanky” Ford is a “rodeo funnyman” who has been with the Bill Pickett Rodeo for four years.
Although he’s been injured several times, including when a bull hit him, bruising his entire left side, Ford says he continues to do it because he loves seeing the smiles on kids’ faces.
“This rodeo is special,” said Ford. “I get a chance to bring joy to kids. I get to enjoy the camaraderie with the audience. There is something special about a black cowboy.”