This image shows cowgirls Hazel Walker and Babe Lee performing a riding trick at the Round-Up, Pendleton, Oregon, ca. 1914. One of the cowgirls is seen laying across the saddle while the other looks to be standing on top of the one laying down. [Photo: W. S. Bowman. University of Washington Libraries.]
Georgia Serapion-Imnadze during one of his performances. It’s a sport as old as rodeo, and it’s roots date back to the early 1800’s, back to the days of “the Cossacks,” men from the Eurasian country of Georgia, the first trick riders on record who rode horses to entertain.
These “Cossack” daredevils came to America, recruited for, and employed by, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. They often earned more in a day’s performance than they would earn in a year back in their country.
[Read more at http://horsetalk.co.nz/2015/06/30/wild-west-georgians-legacy-cowboy-culture/#ixzz3v02CEp5D.]
American women of the “Wild West” began appearing alongside these performers. For a brief time the sport was featured as a competition in rodeos across the country, but it didn’t last long as it was soon deemed “too dangerous” for competition.
The women of rodeo from those days who took up the sport, made names for themselves as bronc riders and trick riders, glorious entertainers for the vast crowds who paid to see their death-defying performances. Some of the best photos of these female pioneers of trick riding were shot by Doubleday photographers, giving future generations visible records of the courage and amazing skill possessed by the early trick riders.
33-year-old Ginger Duke of Weatherford, Texas has been performing as a professional trick rider for over a dozen years. Her brilliant smile, blond mane and electric personality, combined with real talent and steel nerves has honored the memory of the women pioneers in the rodeo industry; those women who rode broncs, bulls, roped calves, bulldogged steers and then, just for fun performed death-defying trick riding stunts in between rodeo competitions and their real jobs as working cowgirls.
Ginger rides her horses like the women of the old west did. The skill, grace, style, and courage needed to be a world-class trick rider is not easy to come by and it can be harder to hang onto than even the toughest cowboy could imagine, but Ginger Duke, lead performer for “The Dynamite Dames” has done it. Her heart-stopping performances remind and educate crowds that trick riding, even though billed as a “novelty act” has been a serious sport for over 100 years, and remains one of the most dangerous forms of rodeo entertainment ever performed.
Many of those early women trick riders have since been honored as inductees into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame for their courage and contributions in the development of rodeo and the growth of the western lifestyle for both genders. Trick riding as a sport, once deemed “too dangerous for competition” was the cornerstone for female rodeo athletes as they fought, over the years, for equal opportunities to prove their skills alongside their male counterparts.
In 2002, 20-year-old Ginger Duke, home from college and still dreaming of her first horse, decided to buy a neglected, emaciated black gelding. “Tee Jay” made a full recovery, and as Ginger has honed her craft over the years the big black horse has become a dedicated and trustworthy partner on their trick riding performance circuit.
Soon, she and Tee Jay joined a local Weatherford, Texas drill team and met J.W. Stoker, a legend in trick roping and riding. Along with being an astute teacher and acclaimed horseman, Stoker, known as “The King of the Cowboy Trick Ropers” is also the renowned coach for “The All American Cowgirl Chicks,” the first team with which Ginger performed. She worked together with the drill team until 2012 when she teamed up with fellow riders Josey Lynn and Leah Self, and the trio formed the trick riding touring group “The Dynamite Dames.”
Ginger and “The Dynamite Dames” have carried on the tradition of toughness, showmanship, horsemanship, and talent that brought so many cowgirls fame in the early days.
Together they have built a dedicated following with their strikingly beautiful horses consisting of Tee Jay plus 2 American Mustangs, “Dollar” and “Who,” and an eye-catching paint named “Splash.” The horses, trained for performance by the girls, have become seasoned travelers and experienced performers, handling all types of weather, travel conditions, and arenas. Whether they are “under the lights” performing after dark or working in the daylight hours, the group of horses have proven their trust and value by taking care of the team at every step.
Ginger’s work has taken her to just about every state in the continental United States and Alaska. Even overseas, as an ambassador to the equestrian games in Sweden. She has been proud to contribute to the fulfillment of wishes made by children in the Make-A-Wish foundation. Ginger has also presented teaching clinics and workshops in several states and Alaska, and has performed as a stunt double in the movies “Cowgirls and Angels” and “Cowgirls and Angels II.”
As the rodeo circuit continues for Ginger, The Dynamite Dames and their string of performance horses, she is beginning to look forward to and plan for the future. No longer 20 years old, she knows the rigors and demands of this highly physical and dangerous sport will continue to attract young female daredevils. Ginger’s future plan is to don a teacher’s hat and become a mentor to the next generation of young horsewomen who dream of seeing their name in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Following in the boot prints of Tad Lucas and so many other pioneering women trick riders.