Originally created 05/30/99

Black rodeo, horse show attracts hundreds



After butting heads with a 500-pound bull two years ago, 13-year-old cowboy Noel Perry was asked by his mother to quit riding them.

He refused.

"I told her that I couldn't stop, even though I had a busted face," said Noel. "It takes a special kind of person to ride bulls. You have to have guts and you have to love it."

Noel, now 15, was the youngest competitor Saturday at Augusta's inaugural Black Rodeo and Horseshow at North Augusta Hippodrome. The event drew several hundred spectators.

More than 70 cowboys and cowgirls competed for a $7,000 jackpot in bareback riding, bulldogging, calf roping, women's barrel racing and bull-riding events.

The rodeo is designed to expose urban communities to rodeos and horse riding, said rodeo promoter Antoine Sewell.

"You hardly ever see black cowboys in movies, so unless you do your history, you're not going to know about their involvement in the American West," he said.

Marci Collier of Monroe, Ga., started going to rodeos with her boyfriend several years ago. Now she's hooked.

"It's fun, and it's a good way to keep kids off the streets," she said. "I think more black people should get involved."

For many of the onlookers, this was their first rodeo experience.

"I wanted to experience something different," Jesse Arnold said. "I've only seen rodeos on TV, so I wanted to come out and see one in real life."

When the rodeo opened with the women's barrel racing competition, the fans rose to their feet, cheering for the cowgirls.

"I've really been looking forward to this," Victoria Johnson said. "I've never been to a rodeo, so I got here two hours early because I was so excited."

Mrs. Johnson and her niece and nephew watched in awe as barrel racer Varian Davis shot out of the gate, quickly rounding the barrels. Mrs. Davis is a teacher for DeKalb County schools during the week and a cowgirl on the weekends.

"I've been doing running events for about two years," she said. "I love it."

For Gerri Martin, a professional barrel racer for three years, what she does is more than just a hobby.

"It's great when you can do something you love and make money at it," she said.

Although they compete against one another all the time, the participants are friends and support one another, said country and Western singer Syndi Jean.

"You see a lot of familiar faces on the black rodeo circuit," she said. "We like to camp out on the weekends and sing songs around the campfire, like real cowboys."

Most competitors on the circuit are black, but Saturday's rodeo was open to anyone.

"Cowboys are cowboys -- it doesn't matter what color you are," Ms. Jean said.

Katie Throne can be reached at (706) 823-3332 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.