New book pays homage to contemporary Creole trail riders

Steady Steppin' Trail Ride, (Evangeline Parish) 2017 Photo Courtesy of Jeremiah Ariaz

Troy Rideaux has been trail riding longer than he has been breathing.

“My mom’s got pictures of her riding when she was pregnant with me,” says Rideaux, 42.

Now, a picture of the Carencro native’s profile — masked by a thin veil of smoke — graces the cover of photographer Jeremiah Ariaz’s debut monograph, Louisiana Trail Riders, released by University of Louisiana Press Tuesday.

Eighty-eight, black-and-white photographs reveal an intimate glimpse into South Louisiana’s vibrant trail riding associations. The book concludes with, “Louisiana’s Black Trail Riders: A Living History,” in which Alexandra Giancarlo writes:

These riders gather to honor the path-breaking journeys of their ancestors, many of whom count themselves as among the first cattlepeople in the nation, to experience the vibrancy of their present-day culture in all its complexity, and to “pass a good time”…

Louisiana Trail Riders

The deep-seeded tradition of riding not only spans generations in Rideaux’s family, but means “the world” to him. Rideaux says he hopes the book allows people to look beyond the revelry and gain a better understanding of the culture and the connections it fosters.

“We go there with good intentions,” says Rideaux, “to have a good time, barbecue, bring the black pot out, bring our horses, bring the children, listen to music, dance and enjoy our day.”

Ariaz, originally from Kansas, has spent his career exploring the mythology of the American West as a lens to view American culture. His art is also deeply personal.

“When I give talks, I show a slide of my mom as a little girl around the age of 10, dressed as a cowgirl, with boots and cap guns,” says Ariaz, a photography professor at Louisiana State University. “Then I show one of me at the same place, wearing roughly the same outfit.”

Ariaz unexpectedly intersected with Louisiana trail riders while driving his motorcycle on Highway 77 and spent the next five years seizing the “rare opportunity” to document something that, even for many local residents, remains unfamiliar.

Ride or Die Club Opelousas (Courtesy of Jeremiah Ariaz)

“It resembles a parade — but they happen without an audience,” explains Ariaz. “They happen for the riders themselves. Without an audience, they stay on the periphery.”

He says even though he knew the scene challenged pop culture’s image of a “cowboy,” he ultimately wanted the photographs to showcase something relatable.

Trail Ride, LA 77 (Courtesy of Jeremiah Ariaz)

“It’s important for me to show an authentic representation and to show it in Black America,” says Ariaz. “This depiction of family life that seemed to be lacking in the media: a father teaching his sons how to ride … Sunday afternoons spent generationally.”

Ariaz says he’s eager to showcase the images of contemporary Creole trail riders within the context of the larger history of Western art.

The book has already garnered attention from The Paris Review, Garden & Gun and the Oxford American, and recently premiered at Billy Reid’s Shindig No. 10 in Florence, Ala. The photographs are exhibiting nationally, beginning at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, with a finale scheduled at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in 2020.

The Center for Louisiana Studies will host a book signing with Ariaz on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 11:30 a.m. in Breaux Bridge at Buck & Johnny’s Zydeco breakfast.