Scenes from the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the nation’s only touring Black rodeo

A cowboy competes in the bull riding competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Las Vegas
Jay Miller of Liberty, S.C., rides Hulk during the bull riding competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Las Vegas.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Share

The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas hosted a large crowd of spectators last weekend eager to see Black cowboys and cowgirls participating in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the nation’s only touring Black rodeo competition.

Long before Lil Nas X took his horse down the “Old Town Road,” the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo showcased Black cowboy culture across the country. For 37 years, billed as the “greatest show on dirt,” the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo has provided a stage for Black cowboys and cowgirls.

Lu Vason, founder of the rodeo, created it to, “challenge the false perception of an absentee presence of Blacks in the development of the West,” he said.

On Saturday — Juneteenth — the rodeo will be the first all-Black rodeo televised nationally (tape-delayed), on CBS.

Tre Hosley of Compton adjusts his hat before entering the MGM Garden Arena for introductions
Tre Hosley of Compton adjusts his hat before entering the MGM Garden Arena for introductions.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

Cowboys walk single file into the arena at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Cowboys walk single file into the arena at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on June 13.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A young cowboy sits on his horse
Harrel “Junebug” Williams Jr. of Hempstead, Texas, awaits his turn to compete in the junior breakaway competition.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Bull rider Justin Willis holds on as his mount erupts from the chute at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy falls to the dirt after being thrown by a bull
Seconds later, Justin Willis is thrown to the dirt during the bull riding competition.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A woman stands up and claps amid other seated spectators
A woman gives a competitor at standing ovation at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on Sunday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Avery Ford, a rodeo clown who performs as Spanky, entertains the crowd at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo
Avery Ford, a rodeo clown who performs as Spanky, entertains the crowd at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

Cowboys gather around the stock holding pens at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A rider seated on a bull in the chute reaches up to shake hands with a member of the crew
Bull rider Ouncie Mitchell of Houston gets a good-luck handshake seated on his mount before the gate opened.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Jamelle Knight rides a bucking bull
Jamelle Knight rides a bucking bull at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy jumps off his horse and runs after a lassoed calf in the calf roping competition.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy takes a calf by the horns during the bulldogging competition
Jeremy Burkhalter of Houston grabs a calf by the horns in the bulldogging competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy tries to wrestle a calf to the ground in the bulldogging competition
Jeremy Burkhalter of Houston tries to wrestle a calf to the ground in the bulldogging competition.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy prepares a horse to be loaded into a trailer at the end of the rodeo.
A cowboy prepares a horse to be loaded into a trailer at the end of the rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Bull riders kneel and embrace while saying say a quick prayer before entering the MGM Garden Arena.
Bull riders take a knee to say a quick prayer before entering the MGM Garden Arena.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A man sits on a horse in a mostly darkened arena
Actor Glynn Turnman, one of the grand marshals at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, waits to enter the arena.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Contestants relax on their horses waiting for the final of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Contestants wait for the final of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

A cowboy stands in the corner of the locker room at the MGM Grand Arena
Bull rider Ouncie Mitchell of Houston in the locker room at the MGM Grand Arena before competing at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Horses are hosed down for relief from the heat in the street outside the arena
With temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees, horses are sprayed down before being loaded into transport fans after the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A view over the shoulders of cowboys perched on a bull-riding chute watching a competitor
Fellow cowboys cheer on Ouncie Mitchell, winner of the bull riding competition, at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on Sunday in Las Vegas.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A bull and rider exit the bucking chute at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A cowboy leans back with his free arm outstretched in the finals of the bareback riding competition
Tre Hosley of Compton participates in the finals of the bareback riding competition at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Cowboys watch and wait their turns
Cowboys watch and wait their turns at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)