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Black cowboys trail rides are an expression of family, tradition and Creole culture

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On many weekends in rural Louisiana, Black cowboys get together for trail rides. These rides are an expression of family, tradition and Creole culture. BBC reporter Anna Adams spent a day riding with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE WHINNYING)

DRAKE LEBLANC: My name is Drake LeBlanc. I'm from Lafayette, La., and today we're at a trail ride in Abbeville, La., hosted by the Sugar Shack trail ride club.

ANNA ADAMS: Clubs like this meet every week in Southwest Louisiana. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of Black cowboys gather to ride horses and to cook, eat, drink and dance.

LEBLANC: It's a huge Cajun influence in the culture out here and, of course, a huge Creole influence in the culture out here. And we're in the middle of, like, prairies, like, rice fields, sugarcane fields. This is like, you know, the Wild Wild West but with green grass and water and a little bit of swamp here and there, so it's a beautiful and unique place for sure.

ADAMS: Trail riding is a way of life here. Most towns have a club, and they meet almost every weekend. It's often a family affair and multigenerational, and you can spot the bigger clubs by their matching embroidered shirts.

CHRIS LEWIS: We all come from different areas, different places. We got young people, old people, you know, crazy people, fun people.

ADAMS: I meet Chris Lewis. He's getting his horse Jetson ready for the trail. He's been riding horses since he was 7 years old.

LEWIS: Everybody saddled up, getting ready. Some people's cooking, getting - making sure they have something to eat.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE WHINNYING)

ADAMS: Today's ride will last for three hours.

LEWIS: So we got about a five-, six-mile ride on it. We're going to drink. We're going to have fun. We're going to clown. We're going to talk a little junk. And then we're going to come back and eat some of that good food he cooking right now.

ADAMS: Let's go and see what he's cooking.

LEWIS: Let's see what he cooking. Jim (ph), what you cooking, Jim?

JIM: Fresh sausage...

LEWIS: Fresh sausage.

JIM: ...And pork ribs.

ADAMS: Lewis has 27 horses that he breeds, so it's not just a lifestyle for him. It's also a business.

LEWIS: I am an original cowboy, one of the good cowboys left. I do ride. I train my own horses. I do some horse showing, too.

ADAMS: Abbeville is one of the poorest towns in the country. More than 30% of the population live below the poverty line. But land here is relatively cheap, and it doesn't cost much to have a horse. And if you don't have a horse, you can join one of the trailers that drive alongside the riders.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Turning it up, turning it up. Slow to slam (ph) - riders turning it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ADAMS: So the ride has started, and I'm following along with some of the other spectators on a party bus. There's a convoy of us, and they've got benches on them, and this one even has a porta-potty. It's got a DJ on board, as you can probably hear. So we're in the middle of the sugarcane fields, surrounded by hundreds of riders on either side of me, and it's really the most incredible sight. Some of them are standing up. Some are racing, riding backwards. Some are carrying big bottles of whiskey, and some are riding with babies on their lap. And we're only two hours west of New Orleans, but it feels like a totally different world.

The ride finishes, and everyone comes back to a big, red barn to eat some of the best Creole food I've ever tasted. They've got red beans and rice, gumbo. There's even a huge crawfish boil happening on the back of someone's truck. And then there's the dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing, inaudible).

ADAMS: They do the Zydeco two-step here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ADAMS: Black horsemanship goes back to a time when the Louisiana prairies were like the Wild West. Horses were a big part of daily life for people of color who worked the land in antebellum times. And their descendants, like Drake LeBlanc, are still meeting in the same fields where their ancestors worked.

Halt. Halt. Halt. Halt (ph).

LEBLANC: Trying to work them as much in that circle as possible.

ADAMS: But despite this history, most people still think of cowboys as being white, something LeBlanc wants to challenge.

LEBLANC: I think what has happened today is that our culture, Black culture and Creole culture in America has redefined what it means to be a cowboy and associated a bunch of different elements, whether it's fashion, whether it's horsemanship, which is one of the bigger parts of it.

ADAMS: LeBlanc has made a film about Creole cowboys called "Footwork." He says trail riding is a living history.

LEBLANC: The traditions and culture that we are observing here today in Abbeville, La., is a part of American history, and that's why it can't die.

ADAMS: And judging by today, this is certainly one part of American history that isn't ready to disappear. For NPR News, I'm Anna Adams in Abbeville, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF KACEY MUSGRAVES SONG, "HIGH HORSE" ) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anna Adams
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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