Liamonte Marbury was horseback riding on a rugged trail in Clinton recently when he toppled off, crashing onto the rocky terrain.
Though he was scuffed and bloodied, no tears fell. He stood up, spit the gravel out of his mouth and, eventually, got back on the horse.
The Rough Riders, a black cowboy club, lauded his bravery and awarded him a Rough Rider T-shirt.
Liamonte is 4 years old.
To be a Rough Rider, you don't need to be a grown-up, but you've got to have heart. The club (motto: "Ride or Die") is based at R&R Stables in Clinton and will ride in the parade at this weekend's Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo at the Prince George's Equestrian Center.
The Denver-based touring rodeo is named after the Texas-born son of former slaves who burst onto the rodeo scene during the 1880s and invented the maneuver known as "bulldogging." In the popular rodeo event, cowboys outrun a steer and wrestle it with their hands--a feat Pickett was known to accomplish by biting the animal's upper lip and forcing it to the ground.
Pickett died in 1932 at age 61 after being kicked in the head by a horse he was breaking. Today, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo tours the United States and raises money for a scholarship fund for students who compete in rodeos or study animal science in college.
According to the Rough Riders, there are several black cowboy clubs in the Washington area that honor Pickett's legacy. They say historians were slow to recognize Pickett's accomplishments, noting that he wasn't inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame until 1971. They see part of their mission as avenging history's neglect of Pickett and other black cowboys.
If you've ever seen a posse on horseback ordering fries and Big Macs from the McDonald's drive-through in Brandywine, that's probably the Rough Riders. Or if you notice a group of horses tied outside the Rib Pit on Indian Head Highway, that's probably them, too.
On a recent Friday evening, the Rough Riders gathered at Wilmer's Park in Brandywine. They had taken a quick ride on the bumpy trails in the 80-acre park and were munching on fried chicken and corn on the cob, guzzling beers and sucking on cigarettes. The group raucously cheered Liamonte as the miniature cowboy did a celebratory dance.
Wearing a black tank top and bluejeans, he held his left arm out to clutch an imaginary saddle. His other hand swung an invisible lasso around his off-white cowboy hat. He rocked his hips and shifted from one steel-toed cowboy boot to the other.
His dance never fails to tickle his mother, Charlette Marbury, who clapped and laughed at the spectacle. The 23-year-old Temple Hills receptionist--along with her mother, Linda Earl, and friend Evelyn Savage--make up the Rough Ridettes, the Rough Riders' female counterparts.
Seeing her baby fall on his unexpected initiation day was a frightening experience for Charlette Marbury. But as a rider who has admittedly shed her share of blood on the trails, she understands her son's passion and tries to indulge him when she can.
"We had to buy him his own TV because he won't watch anything but rodeos and western shows," she said. And Charlette Marbury long ago gave up trying to get her son to ride a smaller pony instead of a grown horse that he has to be helped onto.
"Ponies are for babies," Liamonte declares.
If you think their kindergartner is tough, just wait until you meet the rest of the Rough Riders.
Tyrone Hopkins's most recent riding mishap earned him 15 stitches in his scalp and six on his lip. After the fall, as the 49-year-old Upper Marlboro electrician lay sprawled in the woods near Indian Head Highway, he asked his fellow Rough Riders to fetch an ambulance. The group, which included both a firefighter and paramedic, disappeared and brought back cameras instead.
"He didn't need no stitches," someone called out as he recounted the story. "For the record," added Vic Fenwick, a 37-year-old medical technician from Washington, "he never got thrown. He just gave up and fell off. He got tired."
Presiding over such heroics is Mr. Morris, the Rough Riders' leader. Everyone around here calls him Morris, and if you ask his first name, he'll snap, "Mister," as if your hearing weren't so good.
The Rough Riders boast that Morris, a 38-year-old window installer from Lanham, has skills the Horse Whisperer would envy. He's been known to break horses that were deemed unbreakable and to ride even the most rebellious denizens of R&R Stables.
Melvin Woodland credits Morris's ability to his peculiar kinship with horses. "I've seen him tangle with a 12-year-old wild mustang," says Woodland, a 35-year-old video producer. "He walked right up to it. He has no fear. They've got that understanding."
A reverence for horses characterizes the Rough Riders, who train the animals to withstand their rides. Linda Earl, whose grandson Liamonte is the Rough Riders' youngest member, says she can't get horses off her brain. Sometimes, at work at the National Archives, she thinks she smells that distinct odor. "It stinks, but it smells good," she says.
Though the group's hobby is occasionally hazardous, most of the Rough Riders wouldn't want it any other way.
"Saturdays we cook out, have a long ride. And we hope somebody falls so we can have something to talk about," said Leon Rodgers, the 29-year-old owner of a clothing store in downtown Washington.
"We'll have a few drinks, tell some lies like anyone else and get ready for Sunday so we can do it again."
The Bill Pickett Rodeo will be at 1:30 and 8 p.m. Friday and at 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at Prince George's Equestrian Center, 14900 Pennsylvania Ave., Upper Marlboro. Admission is $15. For information, call 301-952-7999.