He won his first title in 2015 when he was a 19-year-old high school senior. Since then, Ezekiel Mitchell has won more than five titles as a professional bull rider. However, Michell has his eyes set on the big prize — to be the first Black cowboy to win a world title in bull riding in nearly four decades. The first Black person to win the world bull riding title was Charles Sampson in 1982.
Another big motivation for the aspiring champ is, he sees this career as a gateway to get his family out of poverty.
Mitchell has found a family in the community of bull riders and is the star of a limited Snapchat series, Life By the Horns, which chronicles the life of a rising Black bull rider, currently ranked 32nd on the Professional Bull Riders, the world’s premier bull riding circuit.
The 10-episode docuseries which premiered on February 20, according to Mitchell, is to “bring awareness to how much we love and care for our animals” and a full-on show of bravery on display as he encounters 1,500 lb. bulls.
There have been others who are still not accepting of the fact that a talented young Black athlete just wants to play a sport he loves. Mitchell does not let the negative remarks get to him.
“They’d ask me why I was wearing boots, and I’d tell them I was a cowboy,’’ he said. “And they’d be like, ‘There’s no such thing as a Black cowboy. You can’t be a Black cowboy.’ “
On the contrary, Mitchell has been a cowboy since he can remember. While all the kids would rush for the latest sneakers, the now 23-year-old preferred to rock his cowboy boots.
Growing up in a large family with 11 siblings in Baytown, Texas, things were hard especially after his parents got a divorce and he had to toggle between homes.
Determined to get into the rodeo, a predominantly white sport, Mitchell began asking his family members about the sport, but no one could help. “I didn’t have anybody in my immediate family that I could talk to or ask any questions about it,” he told PEOPLE.
His parents were also against him venturing into a dangerous sport but the passion to know more and explore the rodeo world was stronger than the fear many tried to put in him.
He eventually turned his attention to YouTube and taught himself the ins and outs of bull riding. His computer lab teacher at Bayton also pointed him to literature in the library on the dense history of Black rodeo riders sitting on dusty shelves. It was at that point that Mitchell knew he has a good shot at the sport regardless of his present circumstances.
He began training with a small bull and a homemade bucking barrel with a car suspension that simulates the actions of a bull. His cousin gifted him with his first horse, ‘Two Socks’, when he was 12. He steadily worked his way up through the rodeo. He aims to get the PBR world title and enough money to get his family out of poverty.
Mitchell is well on his way there thanks to Max Maxwell, a self-proclaimed North Carolina-based real estate mogul who took an interest in Mitchell after seeing him on a Vice show in 2018.
Unlike other athletes, professional rodeo riders do have huge endorsement deals and all their cross-country trips are mostly self-funded. Maxwell worked his way into becoming Mitchell’s agent and primary sponsor, according to GQ.
He later enlisted the services of Dave Harding, a filmmaker and photographer to help boost Mitchell’s brand and get him endorsements because his salary can take him so far. “I just don’t ever want to be broke again,” Michell said.
All Mitchell needs to do is break the almost 40-years jinx and win the PBR world title. With his brand growing, Mitchell may never be broke again and of course, he has dreams of retiring early knowing how dangerous the sport is.
“Imagine it: The black bull-rider who avoids major injuries, wins a title and millions of dollars, and then seamlessly transitions to something even grander. It’s the dream: the cowboy riding off into the sunset with nothing left to prove.”