How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I’d say that horses have been present for most of my life. But even with that presence, it took me over 5 years to actually come to love them and the sport. Growing up I didn’t have the best experiences or opportunities when it came to horses. Some of those experiences were so scarring and heartbreaking, I practically did quit. It was not until I was reunited with a horse that I was able to ride years back, a Palomino Quarter Horse named Jackie.
Now when I first met the horse many years ago, it was amazing but we had left that barn, and my family had decided to focus on Arabians and Dressage. So that is what we did, we were riding dressage on Arabs. Jackie had completely left the picture.
Years later, when Jackie was offered to us, it was almost like a click in me. This horse that I had not ridden since I was about 7 years old was back, and now I have had some of the best experiences with that horse. I went on with Jackie to win the ACTS championship two years in a row. (ACTS is a program for beginners to compete on any breed of horse, under the Utah Arabian Horse Association.)
I now enjoy western pleasure, reining, barrels, and other speed events. Even though the rest of my family enjoys English-style riding, western pleasure has always been my spark of joy or euphoria when it comes to horses.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I feel almost like a pioneer. There are not many in this sport that I see who are of color. In a way, we are making change.
My parents have always brought me up to be strong and opinionated with what I believe in. I welcome this change; in fact, I give a standing applause for the equestrians of color willing to put themselves out in a sport where there is much more need for representation.
Being an equestrian of color means I am helping blaze the pathway for the next group of colored riders. I want the youth of color to be able to see they are not the only ones. I get to be that example that one’s looks do not determine their skill, and the countless possibilities I and anyone else can achieve.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
It has definitely been hard at times being the only one within a show or barn who looks different. And sadly this is not just in the world of horses.
In the area where I live, sadly diversity is smaller. In the clubs I do in school, a lot of times I will be the only one with darker skin. It has raised a lot of problems with my own self-worth and confidence. It took me a while, and somedays I still struggle with it. Sometimes people even treat me differently and assume things about me when they first meet me.
It can all be challenging at times. I will not lie; there is racial inequality in the world. If I could just plead that everyone is treated the same. We are all humans and on the inside, we all bleed red.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Any of you reading this, especially the youth like me: know that you are valid and worthy of anything you can achieve. Each and every one of us is beautiful and unique, do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Wherever you or your parents are from, you have every right to call yourself an equestrian. Horses are companions and the bonds people share with them are not because they are white or black.
Horses know your emotions and heart. Whether or not this is scientific or a myth I truly believe horses can sense a person’s heart. So speak your mind, be bold with who you are. Be that trailblazer I talked about before, and if anyone ever tries to put you down for who you are, stand your ground. We are all tough and I know we don’t back down, that includes Asian, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latino, African American, Pacific Islanders, and anyone else.
No matter who you are, remember your worth. Be proud when you say you are an Equestrian of Color.
Rebecca Tolman is an equine photographer based in Oregon. Working with clients and their horses, capturing the relationship and bond they share is Rebecca’s passion and reason for pursuing her photography over 10 years ago.