Brianna Noble rode her horse Dapper Dan down Broadway in Oakland on May 29, 2020, during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has left much of the country reeling. Police have clashed with protesters nationwide, and many have publicly described feelings of despair and outrage.
A woman astride a large brown horse rode majestically through the crowd that evening, even as police and protesters prepared to square off in protests that would eventually descend into clouds of tear gas, flash grenades and open anger for justice.
Brianna Noble, 25, rode atop her gelding, Dapper Dan, fist held high, with a sign reading “Black Lives Matter” hanging next to her. Photos of Noble and Dapper Dan leading the crowd were described on social media as inspirational and led to a striking moment of hope during what's been a turbulent several days of protests.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez: What do you think of the reaction to you and Dapper Dan?
Brianna Noble: I decided to take my horse out to the protest to kind of change the narrative of what's going on. I wanted to give the media something positive. A good, bright, positive image to focus on, as opposed to some of the destruction.
What is the change you rode Dapper Dan to call attention to?
I think that this is bigger than just one specific issue and one death. People are angry about what's happened, and we need to change an entire criminal justice system.
What do you think it is about the image of someone atop a horse, and particularly in this moment, a black woman atop a horse, that can be so inspiring?
Their size, their size alone. My horse, Dapper Dan, is huge. He is a 17-hand horse. He weighs about 1,800 pounds. So he is actually much larger than most of the everyday horses that you'll see around. Couple that with the fact that you don't actually see too many black people — let alone black women — riding, at least not here in California. It's something that turns heads wherever I go.
It used to really bother me because it's dominated by white people riding horses in general, especially here in California, and I always felt like I stood out. Everywhere I go, it's like I'm the one yellow flower among the field of red roses, you know?
Tell us about Dapper Dan. How could he handle the crowd so well?
I get horses that are generally older. They've kind of fallen through the cracks. I do feral horses, I do wild horses, horses that have never been touched, and I train them. So we go out, we do parades, we go do different trail rides.
Dapper Dan is a horse that I picked up to do just that with. I picked him up for $500, which is really, really cheap because he was a very difficult-to-handle animal.
Then I got him and I was like, what did I get myself into? He was just so awful — and I cried. He was a very, very hard-to-handle horse.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that he would turn into the horse that he is today. He went from just kind of a horse that I got stuck with to, you know, really showing his true colors. And now he's my partner that has my back.