In his latest series The Ride of Their Lives, photographer Jonno Rattman captures the best young cowboys and cowgirls who meet in Abilene, Texas for the Youth Bull Riding World Finals. They vary in age from 8 to 18 years old, where the youngest ride sheep in a sport named Mutton Busting and the oldest ride bulls.
Rattman further says: “The rodeo was a bizarre mix of sounds, with a load of cows and boys, the bleats of sheep, and pep talks and one-upmanship. Bulls snorted and slammed hard against the metal gates separating chutes as riders rosined their gloves, sounding hard slaps of leather. Dust rose into the air and men spat sweet tobacco to the dirt floor. There was an infinity of preparation for an 8-second–or often much shorter–ride. In the stands, devotees kept accurate track of scores as boys sprinted past with popcorn, oversized sodas, and hot dogs. On the arena floor below, bullfighters dressed like clowns with painted faces and oversized pants kept watch as riders leapt from the chutes on the backs of bulls.”
Looking at the stunning black and white series, you can sense the noise and energy that Rattman describes.
He continued: “Before the big event, kids practice on oil-barrel bulls, automatic bulls, and the livestock that grazes in nearby pastures. They learn to ride in homemade rodeo arenas, where older generations of riders impart wisdom to make rough rides a little less so. Before every go of it—a prayer. The signs of the region became familiar to me: crosses, John Wayne and cowboy-themed everything. At night, the serenade of cicadas.”