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Brett Nadal Breaks Stereotypes With His Imagery of Chicago's Equine Culture

“In a lot of ways, the purpose of my project is to tie together equestrians everywhere to celebrate the culture they share. I also examine the visual diversity.”

Brett Nadal

Growing up in a multicultural family, Brett Nadal learned about what it means to have a deep appreciation for unity. He recognizes that a person’s heritage, traditions, lifestyles, and customs make them unique, but that differences make for strong groups. Given his fascination with culture, Brett set out to work on a global collection celebrating the equine scene — exploring the people, places, and customs all over the world. Here is his latest imagery of the more extensive, in-progress collection.

You were born and raised in Chicago. Do you have a background in riding horses? Why did you choose to study horse culture? What about it interests you?

I have no background in horses, other than that I have Cuban American family who brought some of their own horse culture to Arizona — and I’ve learned a lot about horse culture from them.  I don’t feel the magic that some equestrians feel when they look at a horse. Still, I’ve grown fascinated by the human connection to horses and that this notion is a worldwide phenomenon — permeating every culture I’ve experienced. What entices me is how horse culture wears a different look from region to region. The love — and sometimes necessity — for a horse seems to be as old as our DNA and ties people together in a primal way. By which I mean, as far as I’ve seen, the experience of riding horseback can’t be enhanced or augmented in any way by modern technology, for example. It’s a very wholesome and natural experience for most people.

I have an older brother, who also grew up in Chicago, away from any horse culture, but has a very special way with horses — an almost supernatural way of communicating with them and is now an experienced rider. He has never even owned a horse, but I’ve seen him jump on horses he’s never met and have the horse maneuver in ways even the horse-owners have never seen.

It’s super bizarre to me to see what I consider to be a huge beast and a person silently and harmoniously communicating.

How did you happen upon professional bull rider Aaron Baxter on the South Side of Chicago? 

Covid-19 isolation was a catalyst for me to look more deeply at my local Chicago equestrian community.

Stereotypes exist, even in horse culture. Recognizing that this is a part of a larger project, can you give us a peek into who Aaron Baxter is and why you chose to document him?

I reached out to Aaron and explained what I was working on, and he was very responsive to it. He has an Instagram page, so I knew what he looked like and what he did, but I honestly didn’t know he was a pro bull rider until I met him in person. He’s a very kind gentleman, an experienced rider since he was 4. He’s deliberate with no bullshit, wears a western hat — in the Midwest, and dresses like a dude from Chicago in a Michael Jordan jersey. The way he dressed was quite appropriate in function for what he was doing that day, and was perfectly indicative of him and where he is from. 

You were lucky enough to witness a High Noon Ride of the Broken Arrow club as Aaron’s guest. Given this time of COVID coupled with the violence many major cities are experiencing in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, your imagery of Black equestrians on a ride through Washington Park is a scene out of an old Western, not that of inner-city Chicago. Can you share anything about your adventure with the Broken Arrow club?

In all honestly, I was only expecting to meet Aaron! He was kind enough to invite me along to a place and time. I had no idea that I was showing up to a function with the Broken Arrow Riding Club. I was familiar with the club, but I had thought it wasn’t in existence anymore. 

I had no idea what I would capture that day, but that is also what I love most about my job. I have no anxiety about that.

In a lot of ways, the purpose of my project is to tie together equestrians everywhere to celebrate the culture they share. I also examine the visual diversity. An equestrian is not always a white guy on horseback somewhere in Wyoming. As a Chicagoan, I think Aaron is a wonderful representation of a Chicago equestrian — but not the only representation. On that note, the Broken Arrow Riding club’s images are a beautiful example of what some Chicago-born equestrians resemble.

What can we expect to see next in your growing collection? What stories do you intend to tell?

I have a very wide vision of what I’d like to capture. For now, I am rolling with what is possible in my personal time. 

I’ll likely spend a little more time with Aaron Baxter before I have the opportunity to add to the collection. Next will probably be something ethically close to home! 

I’ll most likely always be building on this collection until I’m too old or too dead to go on.

Follow Brett on Instagram for more imagery depicting what it is like to see and be seen.