Interviews on Louisiana Trail Rides: Exploring a State Tradition

Photo by Jeremiah Ariaz from Louisiana Trail Riders. Homer Decuir Jr. pictured center.


In 2018, Jeremiah Ariaz published his stunning photography collection, Louisiana Trail Riders, composed of images from African American Trail Riding Clubs. These clubs find their history in south Louisiana’s Creole culture, and Ariaz’s photos provide a look into this compelling, although too-often overlooked, tradition. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected their ability to gather, the people who are the heart of these celebrations have continued to keep their traditions alive. Recently, UL Press conducted interviews with Jeremiah Ariaz and Homer Decuir Jr. These interviews depict their experiences with the trail rides and provide greater context for the photos in Louisiana Trail Riders.

The exhibition Louisiana Trail Riders will be on view this summer at the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (June 18 – August 28) along with photographs and ephemera from some of Louisiana’s trail riding club members. The work will then travel to Portland, Oregon in 2022.

Additional information on the series is available at

Interview with Jeremiah Ariaz

How did you become involved with the trail rides? What made you interested in photographing them?

I became involved in the trails rides very much by chance. I was out for a Sunday motorcycle ride in the fall of 2014 and crossed paths with a trail ride on a winding country road near Grosse Tête. I pulled over for the riders to pass as I waited and watched I made a few pictures of the riders, who waved and nodded as they rode by. A gentleman at the end of the procession, Henry, invited me to join them, so I turned my bike around and rolled alongside. At the cookout after that ride, I was introduced to a number of riders and was given a Xeroxed flyer for the next weekend’s ride a few towns away. That led to the body of work, Louisiana Trail Riders

I was really taken with the people I met that day—the sense of tradition, family, food, and music—so much of it felt familiar to my upbringing in rural Kansas, but it was an event unlike anything I’d experienced or even heard about, even after living in Louisiana for eight years at that point. I began researching the Creole history and horse culture. It seemed there might be an intersection with my longstanding interest in the iconography of the American West, and who and what is made visible or valued in our culture. I learned that the equestrian traditions in southwest Louisiana predated the cattle drives that gave rise to the iconographic figure of the cowboy.

How much time have you spent with trail riding groups and which groups have you spent time with?

I spent over four years of riding with and photographing the clubs in southwest Louisiana.

A different club will host a ride each week that all clubs are invited to join. Therefore, I wasn’t spending time with any one club on a regular basis, but over time, there were riders I became very familiar with. I became a pretty regular fixture at the trail rides. One of the DJ’s that accompanies the rides to play music from a mobile sound system would occasionally announce, "the picture man from Baton Rouge is riding with us today!"


How do individual trail riding groups differ from each other?

I always hesitate to speak for the riders because I’m not an expert by any means—I may be familiar, but I’m still an outsider. What I know is that some clubs are comprised of community members, some are groups of friends, some are largely based on family. Sometimes clubs have large memberships, but in the case of Homer, one rider I met, he said his club was just himself and his horses, the Bad Weather Stables. There are certainly nuances between the groups, but I got to know them as they intermingled and came together to ride horses, reconnect, and have a good time.


Do you have a favorite photograph from Louisiana Trail Riders?

It’s hard for me to point to just one photograph as a favorite. Various images have resonated differently with me over time. There are several images of fathers and sons that strike an emotional chord and get to the heart of what the work was about for me—family, kinship, traditions being passed down from one generation to the next. 


What role do you want your photographs to play in drawing attention to these groups?

I’m deeply invested in the power of photography. It can preserve; it can persuade. It can create value and empathy as much as it can uphold or dismantle institutional hierarchies. I was very aware of the historic moment during which the photographs were being made—around the fiftieth anniversary of many of the achievements of the civil rights era, as well as in the wake of so many Black lives being taken by police, including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Alton Sterling right here in Baton Rouge. With the photographs I was seeking to create a counter-narrative to the limited depictions of Black life we see in popular culture. The people in the images exhibit strength and compassion, grace and joy. I’m honored to have been invited to be part of their world and to share it with others.


Do you find that participants in these groups are familiar with the history behind them? Is there any piece of that history you would like to share?

Numerous folks shared that they’d been on horseback for as long as they can remember and the tradition of riding had often been passed down generationally. At the time I began working on the project, I was surprised to find limited scholarship, in images or text, about the clubs and the culture. The rides are not "performed" for audiences like Mardi Gras parades, and therefore few photographs of the rides were out there. That’s one of the things I love abut them—they are Black people performing for each other rather than as a spectacle for a white audience. In addition, when I began the project in 2014, there was scarce material to be found and little attention paid to other Black equestrian traditions. In the years since the book was published (2018), there has been a cascade of stories about Black cowboys. Just yesterday the Washington Post ran a story, “The legacy of the Black cowboy has been overlooked”  (4-25-21) about a young bull rider competing on the rodeo circuit. In March, Netflix released Concrete Cowboys about a century-long history in Philadelphia. It’s important to diversify the narratives about who we are as a country and I’m grateful to contribute to that expansion. 

What is your favorite element of trail rides?

I grew up in rural Kansas and wasn’t a stranger to horses. I also love music, so having the worlds of horseback riding and zydeco come together felt like I’d stumbled onto a little piece of heaven. I so relished the joyful sprit of the riders and will forever be grateful for the generosity they showed me. One of the small things I tried to do was to make a print for everyone I photographed in the book. I took these with me to give away at the next rides and I loved that exchange—I still have a pretty large binder of photographs to hand out to people I’ve been unable to reach. If there is someone out there who appears in the book that hasn’t received a print, please contact me through my website, It’s been so much fun to do programming with the riders for exhibitions and have them present at book events and exhibition openings—especially when I showed the work at the ACA right there in southwest LA.      


Interview with Homer Decuir Jr.

How long have you been a part of trail rides? Which group/groups have you been a part of?

I have been among the trail ride scene from about the age of nine years old. That’s where I really started to take to and found my deep love and passion for these horses.

I was a part of a group from my hometown in Cade, Louisiana. The trail ride community changes with the time, so people may tend to go different directions with the groups or whichever way of business they desire to follow within the trail ride community. Some may be “die hard” for the group they start with, but the foundation and love for the culture that we share will always be there.


What role do trail rides play in preserving often overlooked cultures and traditions within the community?

Trail rides play a role of joy, entertainment—being able to see the great live zydeco music, eat the large variety of foods, and see friends and family from all over the country that will come together over yearly traditions that we all share. After working hard at work . . . the trail ride atmosphere is like a peace of mind away from the world.


What impact has COVID-19 had on the community? Have you found ways to engage with each other safely?

COVID has played a major part in slowing down the events and made it more difficult to find a big venue for one of the larger populated trail rides . . . but we will overcome this time, it’s just a matter of staying positive. [Having] the backyard, small gathering rides that come together to keep it going while we go through this time is super helpful for sure.


How do you feel like the trail riding gatherings have changed over time?

The trail ride gatherings have changed very much over time, I would say, because back when I was younger it would be more of an older crowd, the generations before me. Now it’s more of the younger generations who have taken a view on the great times and enjoyment and understanding of what this culture is all about.


What is your favorite memory from a trail ride?

My favorite memory of a trail ride is probably having all of my favorite zydeco bands playing together on my favorite trail ride. I have been attending since I was a nine-year-old kid and now I am twenty-six.


Do you find that participants in these groups are familiar with the history behind them? Is there any piece of that history you would like to share?

Yes, the members of the groups support each other, meet new people all over, and share the purpose of the lifestyle we live. They created something when they began the groups and organizations they are in and [have been] promoting them after many years, watching the development of a group and how far they have come, good and bad. It’s something you must make happen as a unit, to bless and motivate the trail ride community to continue to keep our culture going for our kids and on as time passes.


What is your favorite element of trail rides?

My favorite element of the trail rides is the atmosphere of being surrounded by so many people that view and love this culture the same way as I do: the zydeco music, all the different horses . . . Many of us are blessed to have started businesses, as I have myself with Decuir Stables, gaited horse training originally started in my hometown Cade, Louisiana, now located in Houston, Texas. Just to be able to run ideas for overall growth in life across others that have the same vision of being as successful as possible.


1 comment

  • Great story! This piece brought back memories of spending time with family, listening to zydeco music, and seeing all the guys and girls riding their horses.

    Dr. Manuel

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