How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
More than anything I would describe myself as blessed! I’m blessed that I had parents who not only supported my love for horses but did all they could to encourage actual horse ownership.
Though I have spent a great deal of my life around horses, I still consider myself somewhat of an amateur when it comes to technical riding skills. But I am a seasoned vet when it comes to the other side of the coin. Being around such wonderful and caring creatures starting at a young age taught me so much: how to love without expectations, and how to fall and fail but never give up, how to chase a dream no matter how impossible it seemed. These are all lessons I still value and apply to my everyday life now.
How wonderful it is to share my life with such amazing animals, wild hearts that allow me to connect with them and share a bond. Being an equestrian to me is more about the emotional connection with my horse than what discipline we participate in.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I love that it is usually unexpected. In many of my day-to-day conversations, people are surprised that I am a horse person. I think most people have an image in their head of what an equestrian looks like and that is definitely not me. It gives me the opportunity to have conversations with other POC about a sport and a lifestyle that they may have never encountered or considered for themselves.
Owning my own horses has also allowed me to introduce riding to people who may not have been able to ride due to the financial aspects. POC can have a hard time just accessing a horse to ride. I saw a young man post in several local horse groups on Facebook seeking out an opportunity to work in exchange for lessons. It’s something we see often in the equestrian world but this young man happened to be black and he was getting nowhere. No one was willing to do it. So I did! No work necessary; just come ride whenever you want. As a result, he now has an active role at our local barn!
Being an equestrian of color has also afforded me the opportunity to have challenging discussions with non-POC in the equestrian world and give them a first-hand account of my experiences and offer perspective. Hearing directly from a black voice on how lack of diversity in the sport personally affects me and those who look like me is hard for someone to argue with. It’s a bit more difficult to dismiss someone who is telling you first-hand their experiences versus hearing about something four times removed from the person talking about it. Don’t get me wrong, often my feelings and perceptions are still dismissed, but sometimes you reach someone and get them to understand. I love when that happens. Having a common ground helps a lot.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I don’t even know how to begin discussing the challenges I face; there seem to be so many. I think the hardest for me is walking into the barn and being the only black face. The stares, the whispers, the assumption that you have NO clue what you’re doing, and having to prove that you do. It’s mentally exhausting. Being the black voice, the default black people delegate, like you speak on behalf of an entire group of people. I get a lot of “Why do black people …” questions.
Another thing that is hard for me is walking into a tack store and staff assuming I’m lost or just ignoring me completely. It’s the small, frequent, micro-aggressions. I have a hard time finding helmets or hats that can accommodate my beautiful braids. There is a lack of riding clothes that fit a larger, curvy frame. It’s being asked why I’m in the “boarders only” section of the barn because I couldn’t possibly have a horse.
It can be really heavy sometimes. There have been days that I have just sat in my car and cried because of the frustration. I don’t even want to discuss the blatant discrimination. You would be surprised at just how disgusting and vile some humans can be.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
To them I say – stay the course! Times are changing, conversations are taking place, inclusion is on the horizon. POC have ALWAYS been a part of this culture/industry so don’t let people make you feel like you don’t belong here. We will continue to make great strides and contribute amazing accomplishments as riders, trainers, farriers, equine vets, stable owners, and just happy horse owners.
Visit a barn. Take a chance. And if you feel less than welcomed, visit another until you find the ONE. You don’t have to be white and affluent to share your life with a horse. You don’t need an expensive, imported warmblood with a $5000 custom saddle to be a part of this lifestyle. The $20 swayback you rescued from the auction doesn’t care about fancy tack and A1 boarding facilities. Chase your dreams and hold your head high, you belong here. You are supported and you are welcomed and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.
Lindsey Long provides Southern California equestrians with beautiful images of their beloved horses, capturing the human-equine bond. She believes that encouraging diversity is vital to the survival of equestrian sport.