Antonio James is as cowboy as they come. He ropes, rides, and starts horses at the Dixie's Cowboy Ranch in Brownsville, Texas. He lives his life by a code that requires hard work, respect, and integrity. As the Cowboys of Dixie podcast host, he's focused on breaking stereotypes in the western community.
Antonio grew up on 7 Mile and Van Dyke, a rougher part of Detroit, Michigan. The neighborhood was a tight-knit community of people taking care of each other. During the 2003 blackout, he recalls people coming together to make sure everybody had something to eat. "We didn't have electricity for days, so everybody moved the food out of their refrigerators and had a big cookout on the block. Whatever was leftover we took to Uncle Mike's because he had a generator."
He spent some summers on his family ranch in Prentice, Mississippi. It was literally a one-stoplight town with one store, a Piggly Wiggly. His Uncle Willie, the family's patriarch, was a cowboy who took care of a ranch. "We would ride around on four-wheelers and see the horses and cows on the ranch. I wouldn't do any cowboy stuff because I grew up scared of everything." But Willie had a significant impact on Antonio instilling western values into him and teaching him to take care of the family. "Whenever anybody needed anything, whether they were in trouble or needed money, Uncle Willie was the name I always heard. My family calls Uncle Willie for every little thing they need. The cowboy in the family was the one everybody looked up to."
Antonio married his wife Tania, and they both moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he attended dental assistant school. His grandmother, Dixie's health, was failing, so every chance he could, he would make the trip down to Prentice to see her and Uncle Willie. He overcame his fear of horses and learned to ride and care for them. To make ends meet during dental school, Antonio would photograph weddings. When he graduated, he worked for about 4 months at a dentist's office and decided to do photography full time, starting a successful business shooting weddings around the country.
He works on his horse ranch, training difficult and wild horses when he’s not shooting weddings. "My grandma Dixie passed away two years ago, and I decided I was going to start a ranch focused on training horses as a tribute to her." His specialty is working with problem horses, the ones no one else can break. "Once you get bucked off, and the horse knows he can buck you off, he'll keep doing it. I try to do the groundwork to make it so the horses aren't so unruly, but sometimes you just have to get on and hold on."
His Uncle Willie couldn't be any prouder to have another cowboy in the family. "He thought he had lost the battle to get somebody in the family to carry on the cowboy tradition. Now when we go down there, he's showing me photos of him at rodeos, and the whole family is swinging ropes and catching chairs." Now everyone in the family is looking to Antonio when they need a helping hand.
Words and Photos by Ivan McClellan - @eightsecs