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Celebrate Heritage: Backwards Ridin' Jesse Stahl

  • 2 min read

Howdy and welcome to the next edition of "Country Stories".

If you’ve been following along, you know we’re all about celebrating heritage. As we celebrate Black History month, we’re excited to tell you about one of the many legendary Black Cowboys that shaped western culture as we know it today – backwards ridin’ Jesse Stahl.

Jesse Stahl Cowboy

Jesse Stahl was a legendary rodeo cowboy known for his exceptional rodeo skills and daring stunts. Born in the late 1800s in Tennessee, Stahl was raised in a ranching family and grew up around horses. He moved to California and quickly became known for his rodeo skills, including bull riding, calf roping, and steer wrestling. However, Stahl faced adversity due to his race, as rodeo was predominantly a white-dominated sport at the time.

At the 1912 Salinas Rodeo, despite the fact that he had clearly won against his competitors, Stahl was still awarded second place. Perhaps to make a statement to – or even mock – the judges, he rode a second bronco while facing backward.

Riding Horse Backwards

A spectacular ride by black Stahl, on a previously un-ridden bucking horse called "Glass Eye," was one of the highlights of the show.

“He always placed at or near the top at all of the major rodeos – New York, Pendleton, Salinas – but was usually under-ranked because of his color. Stahl nevertheless earned the respect and admiration of other rodeo hands.”


Despite this discrimination, Stahl persevered and became a crowd-pleaser, known for his fearless approach to rodeo. He was the first cowboy to perform a backward somersault while riding a bull, which became one of his signature moves. He also made headlines for his rodeo trick riding, including riding a horse backwards, which showcased his exceptional horsemanship skills. He also invented “hoolihanding,” a technique where a bull was wrestled to the ground after jumping onto its back from a horse.


Perhaps due to the risks he took, Stahl was often injured while performing. It was not uncommon for him to be knocked unconscious by a bull or horse, but he always returned to the rodeo, driven by his love of the sport and his determination to be the best.

Stahl's impact on the rodeo world was profound. Even today, he is regarded as one of the greatest bronco riders of all time. He inspired a generation of rodeo cowboys, including cowboys of color, and helped to break down racial barriers in the sport. He was a true pioneer in his field, and his legacy continues to influence rodeo to this day.

Final 3 photos taken by Hardy Wilson at the Salinas Rodeo 2021