Oakland’s Protest Rider on Why She Took to Horseback for George Floyd

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.

But Friday, at an Oakland demonstration for George Floyd, protesters described a different feeling, if only for a short while — awe.

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.

Noble told KQED that was all part of the plan. Raised in the Bay Area and Oakland, a self-described horsewoman and owner of Mulatto Meadows ranch in Martinez, Noble talked to KQED's Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez about the experience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Brianna Noble said she's heard from people from around the world, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, who have seen photos of her riding her horse Dapper Dan.
Brianna Noble said she's heard from people from around the world, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, who have seen photos of her riding her horse Dapper Dan. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

But I did not realize that this was something that was going to go across the country, across the world. I have people reaching out to me from Australia, from Canada, from the UK.

Brianna Noble rode among demonstrators marching on Broadway in Oakland on May 29, 2020, during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Brianna Noble rode among demonstrators marching on Broadway in Oakland on May 29, 2020, during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Brianna Noble, owner of Mulatto Meadows ranch in Martinez, said she brought her horse Dapper Dan because she wanted to offer a "good, bright, positive image to focus on, as opposed to some of the destruction," during protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Brianna Noble, owner of Mulatto Meadows ranch in Martinez, said she brought her horse, Dapper Dan, because she wanted to offer a "good, bright, positive image to focus on, as opposed to some of the destruction," during protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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?

Brianna Noble and her horse Dapper Dan were among demonstrators marching on Broadway in Oakland on May 29, 2020, during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Brianna Noble and her horse Dapper Dan were among demonstrators marching on Broadway in Oakland on May 29, 2020, during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Sponsored