How did you get into horses and what is your current relationship with them?
My first introduction to horses was when I was ten. A friend of my mother’s invited us to her farm to ride horses with her daughters. I also had additional opportunities to ride when attending summer camps.
Moving forward through time, in later years, my daughter was enrolled in an equine therapy program. She learned to ride and we both learned about horses. The equine program allowed my daughter to ride, understand farm life, and meet people that she wouldn’t meet in school.
Currently, I enjoy riding at least once a week and I also give back to the community by assisting with an equine therapy program. I have come to appreciate the equestrian lifestyle. I have learned about the past history of black trainers, groomers, and jockeys that made a living in the United States and Europe. I am inspired by how their teachings have contributed to equine history; their skills were remarkable.
How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I consider myself a lifelong learner. Each day that I’m at the ranch riding a horse, I learn something new.
I enjoy riding different types of horses; it makes me a better equestrian and I think riding various horses can be challenging yet interesting which makes me a better rider. I find that horses are like people: no two horses are alike.
Equestrian is not just a sport; it is a deeper commitment because you are continuously building a relationship between the rider and the horse.
What is your happiest/proudest moment of being an equestrian?
I see each stage of learning as a continuum.
It is often exciting, no matter if it is your first pair of riding boots or the first time you saddle a horse. Mounting a horse, trotting a horse, or bringing them in from being turned out without assistance.
Just when you think that is the perfect moment, there is another moment right around the corner.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Being part of the 1% can make one feel different. I am a firm believer that we are all equal and every person deserves respect. I have found that in the equine industry, people are ready to teach the skills and their first priority is your safety.
As for the few that don’t accept me, I can’t hide to make them happy. I, like everyone else, am at the stables because I love horses.
What else would you like to share with our readers?
There are three aspects to my journey of being an equestrian of color: learning to ride the horse, the past history of black jockeys, and the partaking of equine therapy.
First, improving my riding with horse lessons allows me to enjoy being a part of the equestrian world.
As I learn about the historical aspect of the first black jockeys, I am amazed to learn the obstacles they endured. Some of them were slaves and many were forced out as the industry became lucrative. There are books and museums that reveal their contributions.
Finally, equine therapy helps individuals improve the quality of their lives. This section of the equestrian world helps students with disabilities, veterans, and individuals seeking mental wellness.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Explore your desire to learn horse riding… I say, go for it! There will always be hurdles in life, don’t let that stop you.
In other words, continue with pride. Do your research and find locations that offer the quality that meets your expectations.
Horse breed: Thoroughbreds
Horse color: Grey
Place to ride: In a covered arena
Treats to give: Apples or Bananas
The photos above were taken at Freedom Ride Inc. located in Orlando, FL. To learn more about this Premier Accredited Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) facility in Central Florida, please visit https://www.freedomride.com/.
Erica Hills is an equestrian lifestyle photographer located in Florida. She is one of the founders of this project and is committed to fostering growth and development within the equestrian community through the inclusion of all riders and all disciplines.