How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
As an equestrian, I’m a backyard rider who loves to jump and trail ride. I’m a little rough, always ready, and love every moment I’m in the saddle. I’m passionate about doing what I can to soak up as much as I can when it comes to learning new things and getting better.
I have always been hesitant to compete; I simply didn’t like it. However, now in my 40s, I’ve been considering what it would be like to compete in a hunter derby with my mare, Misty. I am so grateful that she and I have developed a tight bond over the last two years. I think that we would do well and have the best time!
How did you get involved with horses?
My family used to book guided trail rides for us in the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico. I was around 3 years old when I took my first ride and it was love at first sight.
Even at that young age, I remember how incredible it felt to sit on an animal, how powerful they felt to me. I saw them as magical creatures and I actually think I still do. I don’t take their willingness for granted. I really believe that most horses – that aren’t actively trying to kill us – give us permission. Ha!
I eventually began taking Western riding lessons at age seven. Somewhere around that age, I was also introduced to stadium jumping while watching the Olympics on TV with my mom. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but my parents were able to find a Western barn that offered jumping lessons on Quarter Horses and that’s how my English riding journey began at age 11.
We didn’t have money to own a horse or to buy riding clothes and tall boots. I rode in a t-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. But it didn’t matter, I was having the best time!
As a teenager, I began exercising other people’s horses to gain more time in the saddle and learning a bit about training and starting young horses. My trainers said that I had soft hands and was a gentle rider so they, and other owners, trusted me with their green and sensitive horses. It was a humbling experience and I learned so much during that time.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
My grandfather loved to ride horses in Mexico when he was a child. He always told me that I inherited his passion for horses. Though I never got to see him ride, I know that I definitely inherited his love for animals in general.
He encouraged me by gifting me items that he used to use for riding, whether they were big Western spurs or large leather chaps. It was a really sweet gesture. He didn’t have much and these items were special mementos from him.
His son, my dad, always encouraged me to ride too. After school, he would take me to ride ponies at a local barn, and would personally lead the horse from the ground for an hour. My dad never rode but he understood how important it was to me.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Access to English riding and jumping in my region has always been difficult. My family was very grateful to find an affordable, family-friendly Western barn that had really safe Quarter Horses who could go over small jumps. I will forever be grateful for that experience!
When I moved to San Francisco, CA for college, I had access but no money. I saved up as much as I could and once I graduated, began paying for jumping lessons from Bay Area barns who had lesson horses. I encountered a lot of classism and discrimination (especially towards Latiné workers) at the first few barns I took lessons at. As a Latiné rider, I felt strange, caught between two worlds. I still do.
Throughout my time at barns and at shows, I was asked to translate English to Spanish and Spanish to English between hired grooms and stablehands, and trainers and riders to help them communicate. Throughout these translations, I became aware of certain abuses and prejudices many of these riders and trainers had toward their Latinx employees.
I read several contracts and helped translate them to these workers. Many of these contracts weren’t fair, which these workers knew, but given that some didn’t have immigration documents, they kept quiet and accepted what they received. It made me question several times, the role, directly or indirectly, that I played by being a fellow rider at these kinds of barns. It’s something I still grapple with.
I eventually found a wonderful barn with a trainer who didn’t care what my income level was, whether or not I owned my own horse, or what my competition interests were. She saw my passion and she fed it. She was generous and tough and I was pushed harder than I’ve ever been. She was and still remains my biggest jumping champion and I will forever be grateful to her.
I now have a wonderful jumping Quarter Horse of my own and a dressage-for-jumping trainer who visits my region every month or so and has also dramatically improved my riding. I’ve been very very fortunate.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Always prioritize safe spaces. Safety always comes first for both you and your horse.
When you enter a space, ask yourself how well the horses are cared for, how the workers are being treated, how barn mates treat each other, and most especially, how an instructor trains both horses and humans.
There is a big difference between feeling properly challenged by your instructor and feeling bullied by one. Never settle.
Kristina is an internationally published photographer based out of El Paso, Texas. She captures sun-soaked photographs of equestrians doing what they do best – loving on their four-legged best friend.