'Just Vote': Why These Riders Delivered Their Ballots on Horseback

(From left) Rachel Royce, Dale Johnson and Brianna Noble ride their horses down Oak Street towards the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland during a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

With just five days to go before Election Day, Brianna Noble mounted up, put her ballot in her saddle bag and rode out. She was joined by several dozen people and two other riders in a "Ride Out to Vote" event that traveled from Laney College to a designated ballot drop box in front of the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland.

“Voting is important,” Noble said simply, when asked why she organized the event. "Just vote."

Brianna Noble (front), Dale Johnson (L) and Rachel Royce (R) ride their horses to the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland to drop off their mail-in ballots as part of a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020.
Brianna Noble (front), Dale Johnson (L), and Rachel Royce (R) ride their horses to the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland to drop off their mail-in ballots as part of a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Noble, the founder of the nonprofit Humble, which mentors youth through horseback riding, said she especially wanted to get out the vote in her own community, among “people that look like me.”

“Any time you bring horses around to do anything, people pay attention,” Noble said. “I'm going to try to use that 'Look, a horse!' moment as much as I can, to influence my community.”

There were certainly plenty of people who said, “Look a horse!” when Noble rode through the streets of Oakland during a Black Lives Matter protest in June. As the nation was roiled with anger and anguish over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Noble’s image quickly became a beacon of strength. Photos of her astride her Appaloosa, Dapper Dan, with her fist raised in the air, went viral.

Elka Karl and her son Uli ride their bikes to the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland during a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“There was such power in that image for me, especially in the context of the protest and especially in the context of all these images of police officers with their knees on the necks of Black men,“ said Molly Gore, one of the coordinators of Thursday’s ride to the ballot box. “To see Brianna on her horse evoked such power and such hope and such courage at a time that felt so disempowering.”

Thursday’s ride included people strolling along on foot and pedaling bicycles.

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"It's very important in this day and age, if you want to have some change, you have to step up," said Rachel Royce, one of the equestrians at the march and the president of the Metropolitan Horsemen's Association. "That's why I'm here."

"I think everybody should just go out and exercise their right to vote," said Dale Johnson, who said his grandparents were born in the segregated South in the early 1900s. "No matter where you fall on the spectrum, I think it's important that everyone get their voice out."

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The riders didn’t need a permit for the day’s event, said Gore, because the city of Oakland considers horses similar to vehicles — as long as they ride responsibly and observe traffic rules.

The Oakland march was one of several similar events taking place around the country, including in Maryland and Pennsylvania, as part of “Fuck Talking. Go Vote,” a project of the Compton Cowboys.

With stables located in the heart of the city of Compton, the Cowboys’ mission is to “provide a positive influence on inner-city youth and to combat negative stereotypes about African-Americans.” When the Unstoppable Voters Project offered funding to support creative ways to get people to the polls, Compton Cowboys co-founder Randy Savvy had an idea.

Brianna Noble's horse, Dapper Dan, wears her 'I Voted' sticker after she dropped off her mail-in ballot at the Alameda County Courthouse during a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020.
Brianna Noble's horse Dapper Dan wears her 'I Voted' sticker after she dropped off her mail-in ballot at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse during a Ride Out to Vote event on Oct. 29, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“We wanted it to be loud and very different and something that will create shock value,” Savvy said, who is also known by the last name Hook. “It’s all about getting people out and community and civic engagement and participating in the democratic process.”

In their video, the Cowboys make a powerful pitch for voting: “The future of our country is at stake.”

“I always felt like the cowboy represents being a force for some type of change, like a trailblazer,” Savvy says in the video. “Somebody who, when there wasn’t a way, they made one.”

“People have a lot of reason to feel that their vote doesn’t matter right now and to be disillusioned by what we’re calling a democracy that isn’t actually serving the people,” said co-coordinator Gore. “It points to this idea that your vote is your voice and you can talk as much as you want ... but the way we effect change in the system is through voting.”

Noble’s nonprofit Humble also filmed a video, “Ride Out to Vote,” featuring riders galloping across the Bay Area, from Fort Funston in San Francisco to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond to Gilroy. The video plays on a Pony Express theme.

“Every vote counts. Get yours in by Nov. 3,” the video concludes.