We are all familiar with the TV series and subsequent film the ‘Lone Ranger’ but the ‘original’ ranger is considered by some to have been a Black man by the name of Bass Reeves, a 19th Century slave from Arkansas who later became a famed deputy U.S. Marshall. Black horsemen such as Tom bass also broke the mold and went from slavery to being a famed trainer and dressage rider, socialising with presidents and the wealthy. His work in the late Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries exemplified the fact that working with horses, can make all equal.
But with history being inaccurately interpreted and very much viewed from a white, middle class perspective, there is a place to re-educate public perception and celebrate Black equestrian culture.
The publication of the online magazine ‘Black Reins’, founded in 2013, by Stanford Moore, sets out to record these long-forgotten tales, giving voice to black cultural icons and to re-educate a wider audience. Not only does the publication achieve this but also sets the scene for contemporary Black cowboys and their communities, reporting on a wide range of culture from music to sport and fashion.
Stanford’s early years had a massive influence on his love of horses. Growing up in North Carolina, he was immersed in a rural lifestyle, being surrounded by horses on his Grandfather’s farm. Sadly, the livestock was sold when his grandfather passed away but Stanford’s love of horses remained. Following military, aero science and electrical engineering careers Stanford re-kindled his interest in horses when his new wife introduced her Uncle, an owner of a 200-acre thoroughbred and quarter race horse breeding farm. By volunteering on the farm and buying his first horse, Stanford became engrossed in the world of the horseman and this journey led to the formations of the ideas behind ‘Black Reins’ magazine.
To launch a publication is no small undertaking, it takes thousands of hours of research and a dedicated team to pull stories and news together, especially in the fast-paced world of media where audiences’ expectations are high and attention spans are short. Stanford explained how his enthusiasm for sharing untold stories about Black cowboy culture to an existing and wider audience was key to developing the publication.
"In taking on Black Reins Magazine, from its very conception, I knew that we would be in a unique situation because the Black Cowboy community has been in many ways an underground phenomenon. Bringing the culture under a microscope, especially throughout the world, was not going to be an easy feat. But I've never been one to back away from a challenge. Knowing that young people would be positively impacted was a driving force for my pushing forward to what is today a print publication."
Glenn Jackson (roper) from Pawnee, Oklahoma grew up in Houston,Texas. He has been competing professionally since 1999. Photo taken at the International professional rodeo Association finals by Emily Gethke Photography
"We broach topics that reflect Cowboy tradition but make them relevant to contemporary society"
Researching black cowboy culture reveals a prominent message, that echoes across the equestrian world. Working with horses and riding can bring disparate communities together and provide enlightening experiences for young people, most notably to those who might not otherwise come into contact with horses. Social projects such as the JR Posse Ranch in Compton, California and the Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens, New York reveal the positive power that working with horses can have, utilising the uniqueness of horses to reach out and expose young adults and children to new experiences. By offering structure, discipline and commitment to a living animal these projects step beyond the norm of most social support projects. Providing educational opportunities for local youth to learn from the historic values and traditions of cowboy life. As Stanford explained, these themes are the lifeblood of Black Reins, giving them context in today’s world.
"What I love about these communities is that they use horses to reach and teach children. It's unconventional and it's noble. What they stand for reflects the very ethos of what I do in my own life and through Black Reins. We focus on the African-American communities and we broach topics that reflect Cowboy tradition but make them relevant to contemporary society."
Living in contemporary America, under the Trump administration and with fresh memories of the Charlottesville chaos last summer, Black culture in the US and UK has been prominently splashed and debated across the media. The recent release of the Marvel film ‘Black Panther’ has placed a massive cultural footprint on the way society views race. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in not only America and Africa, but across the world. It doesn’t sugar coat or blur themes about race and personal identity but deals with them head on. Through rose tinted glasses one might say that the world of the black cowboy could seem far removed from these political and cultural influences. We can all be captivated by images of campfires, rugged riders and galloping across open territories. But by publishing magazines such as Black Reins, and sharing historical and contemporary stories this publication does open doors to debate and education.
"Black Reins isn't just a run of the mill publication. It connects the dots. Being a gatekeeper and educating and teaching about Black culture - the fullness of it, not just one narrative - is what we're about. In doing so, we help to expand the knowledge base of what the Black narrative looks like and, hopefully, serve the community in doing so. Understanding the plight of the Black Cowboy and the power of that plight positively influences and changes the way we view ourselves, even in these uncertain political times."
"Women have shaped Cowboy culture just as much as men"
Camille Hankerson has goals to be a CPRA rookie champion. Photo taken of Camille and Sas at the Cowboys of Color Finals in Mesquite, Texas by Don Russell Photography
There are also wider reaching gender dialogues concerning the role of Black women within the world of the cowboy. The all women ‘Cowgirls of Color’ rodeo team is a beacon in a sport dominated by white men. Reported in the press as a niche group, instead of as part of the mainstream. Black Reins promotes the understanding of historical Black cowboy culture, but I asked Stanford how the publication approaches this apparent gender divide?
"There's a saying that goes, 'It's a man's world, but it ain't nothing without a woman in it.' And it's true. Women have shaped Cowboy culture just as much as men. We just don't hear about women as much in the industry. Black Reins aspires to change that so we feature women as well as men, and we should. We don't need a pat on the back for that - women have earned their narrative. I think of women like Donna Cheek (an equestrian), who in 1981, became the first black member of the U.S. Equestrian Team. Also, DeBoraha Akin-Townson (barrel racer), who became the first Black cowgirl to compete in the International Professional Rodeo Finals in 1990.
It's nothing new to now see African-American women taking to various rodeo and equestrian events. While we have a way to go in increasing the quantity of women in the industry, the ones representing are making their mark.
Gender equality is paramount not only in equine but in all walks of life. No girl should grow up thinking she has limits. So, we have a responsibility to shed light on women and gender issues for sure."
Above all the message echoed by Black Reins, via its magazine and social media coverage is a pure, and unadulterated understanding and love of horses and cowboy culture. In this sense Black Reins is more than a ‘niche’ publication but one that celebrates a lifestyle that is relevant to anyone involved in the equestrian scene. With cultural and political changes in the US maybe it’s as good a time as any to share these forgotten stories and move the dialogue forward in a positive way. It is clear that Stanford and his team have great ambition in continuing to share the legacy of Black cowboy culture,
"Black Reins will continue to educate our readers and provide relevant content for Black Cowboys and Equestrian enthusiasts and spark curiosity among novices. We honor a lifestyle that is often forgotten, sometimes dismissed and always underestimated."
With so many more fascinating stories to be told, Black Reins is not only relevant to the Black cowboy community but to the wider equestrian world. By sharing history, engaging younger audiences and challenging perceptions there are many positive outcomes to be had by all.
Learn more about Black Reins Magazine on their website:
Article published 1st March 2018