It seems strange to think about it now, but around 20 years ago the UK was gripped by line dancing fever. Up and down the country, the back rooms of pubs from Ilford to Ilfracombe found themselves full of stetson wearing square dancers, whooping and hollering along to old Hank Williams records. Seduced, possibly, by the unimaginably vast vistas of the great American west, it seemed like all we wanted to do was sack it all in and start a new life out on the range. Then the millennium arrived and the bolo ties went back in the cupboard and the Glen Campbell albums began filling the dusty shelves of every charity shop going. The cowboy dream was over.
Except, it wasn’t. Not for everyone. In 2017, photographer Maisie Marshall became aware of the British Rodeo Cowboy Association. Down in deepest Devon, the dream was alive and kicking. Having contacted the rodeo’s organiser, Brian Rowden, Maisie began contacting some of the riders with the intention of gathering interviews and taking portraits of the participants in a weird and wonderful transatlantic culture-swap.
“I found that most of the riders were from English farming backgrounds,” Maisie tells It’s Nice That. “Their ancestors had worked with horses on their farms in the early 1900’s. However, the western influence came from watching western films and trips to America to work as ranch hands.”
Maisie headed to her first rodeo with a head full of American-inspired ideas of what it’d look like, feel like, sound like. “What I found was a humble group of western style riders, who were incredibly emotional about it. They said it gave them freedom in their riding, and a lot of respect for their horses,” the photographer reports.
Her sensitive photos of this close community portray passionate people who look almost as out of time as they do out of place. “A lot of them live far apart which is why the British Rodeo Association was set up, to bring the riders together in the UK so that they share new skills and come together as a community,” Maisie says of the denim clad men, women, and children who congregate to celebrate the bond between man and horse that only the keenest of equestrians ever experience.
The work was inspired in part by fellow rodeo-fan Jane Hilton. “Her portraits show so many small details about the people she photographs. Her work made me think about looking around the environments of where my riders live and ride and to think about how I can integrate different aspects through their homes and landscapes that surround them.”
Maybe we wouldn’t mind dabbling in the world of British rodeo, either.
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