In Pictures: The teen rodeo riders of the deep south

In Pictures: The teen rodeo riders of the deep south

Coral Brown: Rodeo — Florida's rodeo kings are young men determined to keep old traditions alive in the US. New photo story from Coral Brown.

The old ways of the world are fading out fast. But lots of them aren’t going without a fight. Take rodeo, the buckin’ bronco tradition of the deep south, which remains popular among adventurous youth.

London photographer Coral Brown recently travelled to Florida to witness the gladiatorial showdown firsthand. This is her story.

What was your first experience of rodeo?
This was my first Rodeo experience and it is definitely an event I will never forget. Entering into the Arena I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, my first memory was walking into the floodlit ground and seeing women canter around the dusty field carrying the star-spangled banner. There were a few hundred spectators stood in the stands, the regulars all hooked to the fences trying to get as close to the action as possible, and a few of the older men wearing denim dungarees sat in the back of their pickup trucks getting settled in for the night. Just as I managed to take a hold of my surroundings the american national anthem came screaming across the PA system, everyone gets to there feet pronouncing the words of their country hand on heart. The whole scenario was bewildering, I felt like I was in some sort of time capsule.

Coral Brown rodeo ridersCoral Brown rodeo riders

Did you see a lot of young people involved?
Yes, I was staggered at how young the contestants were, from the age of eight upwards. Their courage was astonishing, carrying the natural swagger of advanced riders. Many of these boys have been practising since they could remember. The most fascinating part was watching the young boys prepare and seeing their confidence play out the closer it got to being placed on the bull.

What does rodeo mean to the people who are involved?
It’s not just about the bullfight or competition, it’s a way of life for these people. The more engaged I became with individuals I realised that this is a ritual preserving their heritage, it gives the community an exaggerated identity, it really re-affirms their values and way of life.

Coral Brown rodeo ridersCoral Brown rodeo riders

It’s an old tradition why do you think it still flourishes in the south?
The rodeo is still popular within a number of states across the United States not just the south. It’s a patriotic tradition, to a lot of the people involved keeping these traditions alive is to them what it means to be an American. The rodeo originates from the old west and the great plains region, when local ranch owners would hold annual roundups for their cattle herds. They would display skills passed down from generation to generation, this then developed into what we know as the rodeo today. Some of the biggest tournaments in the states are held in Arizona, Wyoming and Idaho.

What was the crowd like?
A diverse mixture of locals, people who have come to compete and a few tourists. This was a family event as well as being a rodeo.

Is it cruel to the animals?
Yes, I don’t think any part of the bull riding is humane at all, there is no denying that. Sat watching these bulls getting tortured as people are cheering and yelling was a really intense and awkward situation for me to be in. I would never put this judgment on the people I met though, I wasn’t there to be an activist I was there to engage with a different culture and experience other people’s outlook on community, not to judge.


Were you surprised by what you saw?
In terms of the bull riding yes, seeing these young riders being thrown around on a bull, waging their lives for eight seconds of play was nerve-wracking to watch. I empathised with the young boys but this is what they live for. I sat in the stands for some time watching, after a while I found myself taking a backseat from the game itself and becoming more captivated by the personal rituals that played out around centre field. This is where I found my real story.

How do you hope people respond to your project?
I hope it can inspire people to step out of their comfort zones and explore their own environments and communities. The most important part of my practice is about engaging with people, hearing their stories and views, the camera comes second. I hope this comes across in my work.

Coral Brown rodeo ridersCoral Brown rodeo riders

You can see more of Coral’s work on her website.