Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography 2016 Finalist Jeremiah Ariaz Trail Riding Clubs
While riding my motorcycle in rural South Louisiana, I encountered a large group of people riding horseback. They commanded the road, and I pulled over for them to pass. I retrieved my camera from the saddlebag of my bike and took a few photographs as they rode by. A gentleman near the end of the procession waved, encouraging me to join. So began my ride with the African American trail-riding clubs.
I grew up in Kansas and had a particular image of a cowboy shaped by popular culture. They were gruff, serious, white, and situated in the West. The trail riders in Louisiana are a stark contrast to most depictions of cowboys, offering a radically different vantage point to consider images of the West and acknowledging that black equestrian culture stems from a time when the American West was Louisiana Territory. In the unique region of prairie grasslands divided by water in Southwest Louisiana a population of Frenchmen, Native Americans, and free people of color took root becoming the Creole people of today. Horsemanship became a common way of life. According to folklorist Connie Castille, “for many of Louisiana’s black men, the horse is still associated with freedom, independence, work and respect.”
Some of Louisiana’s Trail Riding Clubs include, Crescent City Cowboys, Desperados, Buffalo Soldiers, and The Stepping In Style Riding Club. Since 2014, I’ve been photographing weekend trail rides across South Louisiana. I’m drawn to the cross-generations of people, the mix of rural and urban sensibilities, and the zydeco music that provides an-ongoing soundtrack to the weekends.