Rodeo Rider

Photographer Mickey Strider shot the rodeo in Brawley, California.

Mickey Strider shot this series of images at the annual Brawley Cattle Call rodeo. The city is a desert community in the Imperial Valley in southern California and has hosted this event since the 1950s. He has always been drawn to the rodeo and the mythology surrounding the cowboy, and as a 10-year-old growing up in Baltimore, his grandfather had a horse which he taught Mickey how to ride. The die was cast and as Mickey grew into adulthood, he moved from the Eastern seaboard and spent 10 years living on the West coast of the United States, where he says, “it felt more pioneering – open spaces, freedom, the ability to find yourself.” The East coast now feels almost claustrophobic to him in comparison. To Mickey, the rodeo embodies this sense of freedom, this yearning to chafe against the boundaries of modern society and escape into a traditional way of life.

The rodeo itself is steeped in Americana, the pageantry and spectacle with flags waving and the sense of a community coming together, to celebrate the competition between man and beast. The rodeo riders themselves are professional athletes who put themselves at great personal risk, but Mickey feels that you can see the love and appreciation between horse and rider, and the inherent danger brings out the artistry in this relationship.

Despite his love of the rodeo, Mickey feels conflicted because of the animal rights issues surrounding the rodeo, he says “I am vegetarian, my wife is vegan, and we are both animal lovers, and there are elements of rodeo that can seem cruel, which does sometimes sit uneasily with me.” That said, safety and animal welfare is taken very seriously but the debate about culture or cruelty surrounding the rodeo is never far away. Whether traditional ranch work has been perverted into a spectacle of animal abuse disguised as ‘western tradition’ or rodeo represents the last vestiges of a dying way of life, the lone cowboy remains a potent figure in American culture and lore.

As a photographer, Mickey came to the rodeo for the opportunity to capture the sights and sounds but it is the skill, bravery, commitment, and emotion of the participants that brings him back, again and again. He says,” I am struck by how the riders caress their horses, talk to them, communicate with them non-verbally. When the gate opens, for those 8 seconds of violent, kinetic energy – limbs thrashing, hearts beating, hooves trampling – time stands still. For me, it’s an opportunity to see life in a raw state, man v beast, and to use my camera to see up close what happens when people put their skills and lives on the line – it can be humbling.”


The photographer

Mickey Strider

Mickey shoots commercial photography but his fine art photography is regularly exhibited in galleries across the US, and lives in the homes of many collectors, as well as being featured in several publications.

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