PHOTO ESSAY: Flank Strap


Kadin Tooley

Reflection of the Winfield, WV Riding Arena is seen in this horse’s eye, digital photograph, 2019

A cow in holding stares past its pin’s bars, digital photograph

The triple-echo of a loud-speaker ripples off the mountains in the distance. A Toyota pickup truck rumbles through the mud to my right. The Winfield, West Virginia Riding Club is bustling with people. Food trucks line the gates of the east-most arena. Cows and horses are in transit, on lead, back and forth, splitting the crowds.

A wrangler holds a goat before release for hogtie, digital photograph

“It’s a good thing for the community and helps raise funds for the upkeep of the riding club,” says Maddy Martin, frequent rodeo attendant and horse rider. The cry of a goat is heard from the hog-tie contest in the arena up ahead. She speaks of the Stampede Rodeo that reoccurs every half year. Participation in normal rodeo events is limited to contestants who are registered members of a High School Rodeo Association. Spectators are invited to attend all three days of the March rodeo competition.

Bulls traverse the tunnels, digital photograph

As I spectated a lasso competition, the bulls are funneled via steel tunnels. Cowboys stand on the metal gate openings as the contestants rip through the dirt of the arena. Each female rider, the group in competition, had a unique horse, with patterned flank strap or gilded leather restraints. “I enjoy the personality of the animals. I like that you can tell how a riders relationship with a horse affects the outcome of the event they’re entered in. I love that horses and people can have such a unique partnership like that,” says Martin.


Contestant number 42 rides a pole bending relay, digital photograph
A flags-man calls, digital photograph
Reflection of the Winfield, WV Riding Arena is seen in this horse’s eye, digital photograph
A female rider urges her steed during a barrel racing relay, digital photograph
A flags-man calls intently during a final relay, digital photograph

The riders compete for ribbons. The award ceremony is an announcement via intercom. One girl in a pink leather riding jacket breaks into tears, hugging her mother. To my right, a family at a large metal booth lifted slightly above the arena, below them the bull tunnels. They control music playback and audio level. Their German Shepard barks at the clang of the gates while cowboys rustle the bulls back to their pin.

The bulls return to their holding pins, digital photograph

The events throughout the night include Barrel Racing, Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Bull Riding, Pole Bending, Goat Tying, Breakaway Roping. With each bull riding competition, the contestant is thrown off. The community, the audience, talks he or she back onto their feet. The announcer takes them to the exit as cowboys wrangle the bull back to the starting gate. The March events last until after nightfall. The chill in their air causing the breath of the cows to be visible clouds near the pins. As the last event reaches its end, the horse owners make their way to the fleet of aluminum transport trailers near the parking lot rear; the next day, to do it all again.

A cow’s attention caught by the shutter, digital photograph

Southern District 4-H Horse Camp in partnership with the West Virginia High School Rodeo Association will be hosting a High School Rodeo Competition the weekend of March 29-31, 2020 in Winfield, WV at the Winfield Riding Club. Information is available via their Facebook page.

*Editor’s Note: This is a creative work submitted by Kadin Tooley from a photojournalism class at Marshall University.