In his series The Ride of Their Lives, photographer Jonno Rattman documents the best young cowboys and cowgirls who gather in Abilene, Texas for the Youth Bull Riding World Finals. They range in age from 8 to 18 years old, where the youngest ride sheep in a sport called Mutton Bustin’ and the oldest ride bulls.
Rattman further explains: "The rodeo was an incongruous mix of sounds, with the howling of cows and boys, the bleats of sheep, and pep talks and one-upsmanships. Bulls snorted and slammed hard against the metal gates separating chutes as riders rosined their gloves, sounding sticky slaps of leather. Dust rose into the air and men spat soupy tobacco to the dirt floor. There was an eternity of preparation for an 8-second–or often much shorter–ride. In the stands, devotees kept careful 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 beautiful black and white series, you can sense the noise and energy that Rattman describes. He added: "Before the big event, kids practice on oil-barrel bulls, mechanical 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."
Via direct submission