The lone cowgirl in the Compton Cowboys, and a competitive barrel racer with National Finals Rodeo dreams, Keiara Wade is in the arena.
Written by Jenn Thornton
“The first time I was on a horse I was 8 months old,” says Keiara Wade of the Compton Cowboys, an organization founded to provide a positive influence on inner-city youth while combatting negative stereotypes of African-Americans in Compton and bringing awareness to the rich history of Black equestrian culture in the American West. Wade first met her fellow riders—then members of the Compton Jr. Posse— years earlier at Richland Farms, a semirural agricultural community within greater Compton. She was an individual rider then, but would often see and compete with the future Cowboys at rodeos. Their common bond was horses.
“Streets raised us. Horses saved us” is the motto of the Compton Cowboys. For its first and only cowgirl, Keiara, it’s a summary of her story. Raised in a dysfunctional household, she suffered trauma as a child, and says her intellect wasn’t always appreciated or nurtured. She found emotional and instructive support in horses. “Horses have a certain energy,” she says. “As you grow with your horse, it’s like growing up with a sibling and that sibling becomes your parent because they’re protective.” Her first horse was older which helped enhance her horsemanship and taught her communication, understanding and respect. “I am so grateful for what she taught me,” Keiara says. “Horses are big but look to you to protect them. It gives you the confidence and self-awareness to grow.” At the same time, she emphasizes, it teaches responsibility that she needed. She was accountable to her horse—for feeding, grooming, cleaning the stall. And she competed a lot, barrel racing competitively from age 12 to 17.
Riding is one thing, but “I always knew that God had something bigger for me,” Keiara confesses. It started with attending Prairie View A&M University in Texas. It had everything—a top nursing program and a rodeo team. The experience widened her world. “If you’re exposed to something bigger then you,” she says, “you know there’s something bigger out there for you.” It’s a belief she shares with others through the Compton Cowboys and a mental health-focused nonprofit she is developing.
What’s it like being the only cowgirl in the Cowboys? “Actually, I love it,” says Keiara, who grew up with brothers and has a daughter of her own, Taylor Rahye, and another child on the way. “I want her to experience the beauty of horses but the responsibility too,” she says. “The patience, guidance, self-awareness, communication. She loves it honestly.” In Taylor’s excitement, Keiara sees herself. “Horses literally saved my life. It was my only positive outlet. Riding made me feel good, feel safe and feel comfort. That’s why I appreciate horses and want to give back all that I’ve learned.”
She’s learned the hard way—the hardest of ways. From trauma to heartbreaking loss, including that of her younger brother, who was tragically killed, and her beloved horse Skip. “I didn’t have a horse for a year after that,” Keiara says. “I was lost, literally. I got him when I was 15, we grew together.” And yet, when Keiara realized “it was still in my heart to compete,” along came Penny, her horse now. “I said, well, she’s going to take me to the National Finals Rodeo. That’s something I always wanted to do; there’s never been a Black woman to do it. It’s my dream.” And when the time comes, she says, “I’ll be ready.” comptoncowboys.com
Photos courtesy of Keiara Wade