During a recent visit to Canadian, Texas, photographer Ilona Szwarc was pleasantly surprised to see how many more girls were competing in rodeo competitions than she remembered.
Szwarc first encountered the rodeo as an exchange student in high school, but on a return visit years later, she was blown away by the young, female competitors. In watching them compete, Szwarc was struck by how the girls expressed their femininity in a stereotypically masculine sport while also adopting and adapting the masculine demeanor of rodeo competitors for themselves.
This sparked the idea for her new series "Rodeo Girls," which captures the spiritual connection the girls have with their horses.
"[The girls] love the feeling of being one with the horse," Szwarc says. "They would talk to me how much they loved adventure and the feeling of speed and risk taking."
Here are 10 of the incredible young rodeo riders featured in Szwarc's series:
1. Tierra, 9, on her family's ranch in Adrian, Texas.
2. Karlie, 10, of Bushland, Texas, stands by a horse walker.
3. Bayley, 16, sits behind the Cowboy Church building in Amarillo, Texas.
4. Camree, 7, practices goat tying just outside Canadian.
5. Kaylee, 10, relaxes after a full day of competing.
In the background is the truck she drove with her parents from New Mexico to Texas, where the rodeo finals were held.
6. Sam, 15, relaxes in her bedroom in Clarendon, Texas, which is decorated with portraits of John Wayne.
7. Rylee and Kenli ride horses on their family's ranch in Happy, Texas.
8. Tayln, 7, lays on her pony in Canadian.
9. Sisters Rylee, 11, and Kenli, 9, stand arm-in-arm on their farm in Happy, Texas.
10. Chaley, 10, poses with a donkey on her grandfather's ranch in Canadian.
There is a deep tradition of women in rodeo from Annie Oakley in the late 19th century and into the present day.
These girls are part of a new generation that have taken up that mantle and are proudly pushing the boundaries of the sport, carving out their own space in an area often dominated by men and clearing the way for more generations of girls and women to follow.