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Cowgirls of Color 1
From left: Crystal wears layered shearling coat Y/Project, hat her own, boots Philipp Plein. Kisha wears trenchcoat Proenza Schouler, hat and earrings her own, boots Philipp PleinPhotography Fumi Nagasaka, Styling Roxane Danset

Cowgirls of Color: hard ride

Cowgirls of Color 1

Meet Cowgirls of Color, the all-female riding team bringing the legacy of black cowgirls to the Bill Pickett Rodeo

Long before culture fell (back) in love with the yeehaw agenda, Cowgirls of Color had been living it. The group met on the black cowboy scene, where they had watched men ride together for years, when in 2014, one of the cowboys’ fathers decided to start an all female team. Just five month later, they landed an invitation to the historic Bill Pickett Rodeo, the prestigious all-black, invitational touring event. Now they ride together while also trainign the next gen of rodeo stars. 

Beyond blazing a trail for black cowgirl representation and sporting achievement, Cowgirls of Colour is space for community, support and good old fashioned fun. “We would train cookout, line-dance, sit-around, and have a good time,” says fouding member, Selina ‘Pennie’ Brown. “When I started riding, I saw all the therapeutic benefits of horse culture, (introducing) them to kids who are dealing with trauma. I’m not looking to be a rodeo champion; I am looking to create them.”

SELINA ‘PENNIE’ BROWN

Taken from the autumn 2019 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here

The Cowgirls of Color came together through fate. It all began when Selina ‘Pennie’ Brown, pictured second from left, met a few black cowboys at a Maryland club. “We partied for years!” she says with a laugh. Then, in 2014, one of the cowboys’ fathers said he wanted to start an all-black, all-female relay team.

An athlete at heart with a deep love of cowgirl chic, Brown began training the following April. “Those were the best Sundays ever. We would train cookout, line-dance, sit-around, and have a good time,” she says fondly, recalling some of the group’s extracurricular pastimes. Five months later, the Cowgirls of Color debuted at the legendary Bill Pickett Rodeo, and left a mark that would transform both the traditionally white male-dominated US sport and Brown’s life.

In 2015, Brown launched The Stand Foundation in her hometown of Washington, DC. “When I started riding, I saw all the therapeutic benefits of horse culture, (introducing) them to kids who are dealing with trauma,” she explains. “I’m not looking to be a rodeo champion; I am looking to create them. We can save so many people just by using these horses!”

CRYSTAL ‘CRISSY’ ORR

An honorary fifth member of Cowgirls of Color, Crystal ‘Crissy’ Orr started out as manager before taking up riding for herself. “At first, I was learning about the culture and the history – but now it’s like, ‘I can do this! I’m going to win!’” she says.

Orr is thrilled that the Yeehaw Agenda has brought black cowboys and cowgirls into the spotlight, with artists like Megan Thee Stallion leading the way. “It’s coming out in a way that is genuine,” she says.“It’s not a story that’s being fabricated or put together. Everything coming to the forefront is positive.”

While the Cowgirls of Color have done advertising campaigns for Ford, Pyer Moss AW18 and Walmart, they also regularly appear at local events, parades and block parties, inspiring girls and women of all agesto ride. “Most parents think riding is expensive and you have to be rich to be involved in anything horse-related. Then we come along and they see we are regular people,” says Orr. “I manage a girl in junior high school and she is number one on her circuit. She is riding a horse that cost $500 and outrunning people with $10,000 horses. We can do this!”

KISHA ‘KB’ BOWLES

Kisha ‘KB’ Bowles met Selina ‘Pennie’ Brown playing kickball, and joined her on the black cowboy party circuit before becoming a founding member of the Cowgirls of Color. Her late mother loved the Bill Pickett Rodeo, and went every year. Bowles finally joined her, and recalls seeing just a few women compete. “I remember thinking I would love to do that one day. I never told anyone,” she says.

Four years later, Bowles made her rodeo debut. “Isn’t that something?” she says in awe. “When I ride, it’s like my mom’s with me. Her spirit is alive and well.” On Mother’s Day, Bowles bought her second horse and named her Tissy in honor of her mum. “Tissy reminds me of myself. She can be calm or really hyper. She is teaching me patience.”

Bowles connects the mastery of riding with the mastery of self. “When I first started, I was considered the weakest rider and almost didn’t make the team,”she reveals. “It didn’t happen naturally. I had to work, but as time went on, I went from the bottom to the top. I am providing hope and inspiration for little brown girls that look like me.”

BRITTANEY ‘BRITT BRAT’ LOGAN

Although Brittaney ‘Britt Brat’ Logan always loved to camp and fish, she never thought of riding until she met her first cowboy while working at the American telecoms company Verizon. “He used to wear the big cowboy hats, belt-buckles and boots – and he was black!” says Logan, pictured above with her son, Kyon. 

Logan was hooked. “Growing up, every girl wanted a unicorn. I got mine in my late twenties,” she says with a laugh. Logan met Brown and Bowles playing adult kickball, entering her first rodeo just six weeks later. “I love the spotlight! When people are screaming and cheering – that’s the best part for me.”

“We are defeating the stereotypical image of black women,” Logan continues. “We have a sisterhood. There aren’t a lot of us out here so I’m boosted that Cardi B and (her collaborator) Lil Nas X are bringing exposure to something that’s been out here so long. (There are) a lot of black women who paved the way for us. I’m wowed to be a part of it! I can get on a horse and burn with the best of them.”

DAWN KING

Now in her 50s, Dawn King joined the Cowgirls of Color as part of the management team. “Then, one day, the girls told me they wanted me to learn how to ride, and I was totally against it,” she says. After praying on it and talking to the cowboys at the ranch, King decided to give it a try.

“Initially, it was a matter of getting the nerve to walk through a herd of horses and bring one back on my own, so that’s what I did,” says King, pictured here with Peyton, a young member of the community. “After they put me up on a horse, I just fell for it – and now I can’t stop. There’s a feeling of comfort, of being natural and free. You feel invincible, almost, just enjoying the moment and enjoying life.”

King also leads a group called the Classic Cowgirls, where she teaches riding to women over the age of 50. “I said I would tell other women my age to never say no, and try things out. when asked what name I would call myself or women over 50,  it would be Classic Cowgirl...Nowhere would the word ‘senior’ be used.”

Make-up Mia Herring, Jeanette Dozier, photography assistants Rahim Fortune, Bradley Ahlstrom, styling assistant Karolina Frechowicz, production Home Agency, special thanks Ahesahmahk Dahn at City Ranch, special thanks Ahesahmahk Dahn at City Ranch, Kyon Frye, Peyton Watts