ON A FARM outside Tillatoba, Mississippi, Joe Wrenn is barefoot and shoeing a horse. Sweating in the summer heat, the 59-year-old cowboy uses a pick to remove dirt and manure from a hoof. “My grandfather taught me everything I know about horses,” says Wrenn, who’s sporting a belt buckle that bears the words “All-Around Cowboy.” “My mama said he picked me up and carried me around on a horse when I was just a few days old.”
In the nearly six decades since, Wrenn has become something of a legend here in the Delta for his affinity for the animals. From 1860 to 1880, a quarter of all cowboys were black—though you wouldn’t know it from watching spaghetti Westerns. For decades, Wrenn has worked to correct this misconception. An informal leader of a network of black cowboys called the Delta Hill Riders, he has trained some 600 horses for other black riders, in exchange for minimal pay. In doing so, he has played a critical role in reviving the region’s black cowboy culture. In the ’80s, he and his friends organized the first trail rides for local black cowboys, and their outings now draw scores of riders from across Mississippi and beyond.
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