African American cowboy Gus Trent was an inner city kid

After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gus Trent found a  second career on the rodeo circuit. Photo: Gus Trent putting his horse through its paces Photo: Charles Van Sistine Photography

FLORIDA, April 23, 2013 — Gus Trent grew up in what he calls “the little city of Pittsburgh,” living in the inner city with his mom, dad and two siblings.  Family, football and hard work as a paperboy kept him active and on the right path.

From there, Gus Trent went on to serve 25 years in the Army Reserves, including deployment during Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, Trent is a cowboy. Yes, a real cowboy, and an African American cowboy at that.

He sat down to talk about his life as a modern, American cowboy at his ranch in Plant City, Fla.

Sheryl Kay: When and where did you first learn to ride?

Gus Trent: I purchased my first horse CoCo in June 2010, when I knew very little about horses and nothing about riding. I instantly gravitated towards it and spent a great deal of time reading books and watching videos as well as hanging around horse people.

SK: So what is the big deal about riding a horse? What is it about the activity that you like so much?

GT: After running and completing four marathons, serving in the Army for over 25 years, working for the military in over 10 countries, completing the Army Airborne school, and playing four  years of college football, I have never found anything that has fascinated me as much as horses do and being with other people near horses.  Watching the smiles on people’s faces when they are around horses is priceless.

Gus Trent at calf roping event Photo: Charles Van Sistine Photography

SK: What it’s like to love a sport in which there are very few black men or women?

GT: I tend not to pay too much attention to color when it comes to riding and being involved with horses. Surprisingly, there are a lot of blacks right here in Florida that have horses. You just don’t see them as much. I ride and take my horses a lot of places and obviously me being black, I stick out. I find it kind of funny when I’m out in public and if I’m dressed in my Western attire, people will say, “You’re that guy that rides out on the road all the time.”  

“Yes,” I tell them, “it’s me” after I’m done laughing. I have friends that I ride with from all backgrounds. We all get along great because it’s about the horses and doing what we love.
SK: I know you’re involved with the Bill Pickett Rodeo.  Please tell me a little bit about that.

GT: The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the world’s only all black traveling Rodeo dubbed “The Greatest Show on Dirt.”  It honors and celebrates the black cowboy Bill Pickett who invented the sport of Bull Dogging, which is wrestling a steer to the ground after jumping off your horse. It also celebrates the black cowboys and cowgirls who continue with the rodeo traditions of calf roping, bull riding, barrel racing, and bare back riding.

The rodeo appears in Denver, California, Memphis, Atlanta,  and the championship finals are held in Baltimore. I’m grateful to Mr. Lu Vason, who is the president and founder of the Bill Pickett Rodeo for allowing me to be part of it. My job is an arena assistant where I chase calves and steers back into the holding pen and serve as a flag bearer for the sponsors of the rodeo.

SK: Over the years, which of the horses you’ve owned has been your favorite?

GT:  Every horse is different than the other and each one has its own unique abilities and challenges. If I had to pick one I would have to say my 12-year-old paint mare Dakota. She is the horse I do a sport called Cowboy Mounted shooting off of. You run the horse thorough a series of patterns, shooting old school 45 caliber six shooters with blanks at balloons. I taught this horse how to do this and she has excelled and I can pretty much get her to do anything I need her to do. Plus she draws attention. She is very beautiful.

SK: Please tell us a little about some of the more important community events in which you’ve participated with your horses.

GT: I have done events with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity with their youth mentoring group and the Tampa chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers. These events were designed to expose and teach youth about working with horses. All participants get the chance to handle horses and learn how to care for them as well as ride. It teaches good discipline and responsibility and gives both the horse and the rider an opportunity to learn and grow.

SK: A lot of people may read this and say, yeah, sure I’d love to ride horses, but that is way too expensive for me.  What do you recommend to those kids?

GT: Most people I know are willing to give someone who is serious an opportunity to learn about horses. It’s not just about riding it’s about learning and growing. Find someone who has a horse and stick to them like glue.
SK: I hear all good riders fall off their horse at least once. Please share one of those times.

GT: Yes, it’s true everybody who rides, one day they will fall off. Everyone goes through this. No matter how experienced, you will come off. The best thing to do as long as you’re not seriously hurt is so to shake it off and get right back on.

The first time I fell off I was kind of clowning around and attempted to get on one of my horses bareback. The horse was not ready for it and I slid right off because the horse moved a little. I will say she was a big gal and the distance to the ground was significant. It hurt, but I got right back on her in a more controlled manner.

For more information on Gus Trent go to

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Sheryl Kay

Sheryl Kay is a twenty-year veteran print and photo journalist covering a plethora of subjects internationally, including medical/healthcare, politics, new business/technology, LGBT issues, travel, and religion. 


In my "spare" time, I'm actively involved with my two children, community volunteer hiking events, a spirited dalmatian, and cultivating my organic garden. I can be reached via email and on facebook

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