Contestants at the International Gay Rodeo in Arkansas, a Bible Belt state with a same-sex marriage ban on its books, competed in events from barrel racing to bull riding on the soft soil of a fairground that looked like just any small-scale rodeo held throughout the United States.
Arkansas has been one of the front-line states in the battle between cultural conservatives and those seeking expanded rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Wade Earp sighed on a clear spring afternoon after a day of horse riding and said, "I wish we didn’t have to have a gay rodeo. I wish we could just rodeo."
Earp was a contestant at the event in Arkansas, one of the 13 U.S. states where same-sex marriage is not recognised.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether to strike down bans on gay marriage nationwide.
"Everybody deserves equal treatment. Everybody deserves equal rights."
Earp, 45, a native of Benton, Arkansas, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian denomination. He competed in barrel racing, calf roping and steer riding events.
The 35th edition of the Diamond State Rodeo in Little Rock event drew 75 contestants, far outnumbering spectators, from a dozen states and Canada, all hoping to qualify for the International Gay Rodeo 2016 finals in Las Vegas.
Yet to Ashley Vickers, (left) an event volunteer at Little Rock, having to leave the state to marry her partner, Sara Strickland, "is almost insulting."
“I pay taxes here," said Vickers, 29, a mental health technician. “I feel bad that I have to even considering going elsewhere to get married.”