The Black Rodeo Riders – An Interview with Sandra Dorsey
This article is written in partnership with Black American Outdoors, LLC
A recent article in Smithsonian Magazine estimated that just after the Civil War, one in four cowboys were Black. As America steadily settled the Western frontier, thousands of black cowboys led the way. Historical accounts, however, are quick to dismiss their presence and significant contributions.
During the Wild West, both black men and women made an indelible mark on this country as explorers, trappers, cowboys, ranchers, farmers, gold miners, outlaws, lawmen, schoolteachers, saloonkeepers, and every other occupation available at that time.
Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey has reclaimed part of that storied past as the proud leader of one of the country’s only all-black-woman rodeo teams, known as the Cowgirls of Color. This team competes primarily on the African American rodeo circuit, with hopes of breaking into larger scale competitions in the future.
Formed only a few years ago, the team competes in a variety of events, including barrel relays. Bill Pickett’s Invitational Rodeo has become a mainstay on the African American rodeo scene, and serves a proving ground for black riders. Although the number of women involved in rodeo is still relatively low in comparison to men, their numbers have grown steadily and Sandra Dorsey is at the forefront of this new era.
Earlier this year, Dorsey sustained an injury that has left her unable to participate at a competitive level. Upon her return to the team, she plans also compete in one additional event – steer undecorating. It is commonly known as the female version of steer wrestling. However, in this event rather than having to slide over the side of the galloping horse and stop the steer, the cowgirl has to catch up to the steer and remove the ribbon attached to its back. “I’ll be back soon and better than ever!” Dorsey proudly asserts.
Sandra Dorsey is a dynamic, thoughtful, and vibrant woman who possesses a deep reserve of empathy. It is this distinctive combination that gives her an uncanny ability to connect with both animals and people. She has been around horses since she was five years old. Her family has been riding and training horses for over four generations and her great uncle has the distinct honor of being the first African American to own and operate a fox-hunting club in Maryland. She currently resides in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Dorsey joyfully recalls her earliest riding memory. “My first pony was named Bo. We were inseparable and had a special bond from the moment we met. I was five at the time and out riding with my dad. He told me I could go off and do a full gallop with Bo if I wanted to. He didn’t have to tell me twice! Little Bo and I took off and when he found his stride at a full gallop, it felt like I was floating. The faster he ran, the harder I laughed. It was a magical experience and from that moment on, I was hooked on horses.”
Although she has decades of riding experience under her belt, she credits Ray Lockamy, the passionate and tough as nails trainer as the catalyst and driving force to bringing the Cowgirls of Color together.
Initially, Dorsey was the only rider with significant riding experience. As word traveled about Lockamy’s desire to create an all-female rodeo team, a team was eventually assembled. What they lacked in experience, they overcame with great coaching and an unwavering willingness to learn. This team quickly garnered attention from the day they started practicing and within five months, competed in their first rodeo.
Andre: What is your philosophy when it comes to horses?
Sandra: I want to make a connection with the horses I ride. They are highly sensitive animals that can feel a person’s energy. With enough time together, one can create bond and a level of trust. A horse will instinctively know your skill and comfort level. When you give your horse the right combination of love, leadership, support, and rewards, that horse will do anything you ask. Once the horse trusts you wholeheartedly, we get the delicate and invisible riding, which all riders aspire for.
Andre: I’ve seen you ride horses with incredible confidence and speed. What is your secret?
Sandra: It’s the magic of nonverbal communication. Although us as humans miss a lot of those little cues in our daily lives, horses pick up on everything. From the way your feet are resting to the tightness of the reins in your fingers – horses truly respond to body language and will make constant adjustments based on that. When you learn to actually communicate with a horse, you become one.
Andre: Which horses do you enjoy working with the most?
Sandra: I love all horses. The truth is that I feel like I have a connection with all animals. It just comes naturally to me. Throughout my life, I’ve been drawn to help the injured, troubled and unwanted animals. I once found an injured owl and helped to nurse him back to good health, owned pet chickens who’d follow me into the house, and a variety of cows, and pigs and difficult horses who were given u on by others, Sometimes I feel that the most difficult ones have the most love to give, which also helps to make me a better person.
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This was a refreshing read. It’s great to hear of people of color like Sandra Dorsey entering a foreign space and making a significant impact. There was an area in East New York, Brooklyn (NYC) where black cowboys performed. I never got to stop in to observe and would love to make it by one day to hear their stories.
Hello, how do you get in contact with Ms. Dorsey?