How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as a horse person. I do it to bond and have a connection with the horses. There’s no recognition or title that I look for in being a horse person. The horses are honest without any pretension, and that allows me to be myself in a way that I typically can’t be around people.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
The vision most people have when they think about an equestrian is usually a white man or a white woman. The reality is, there are actually so many more of us than people think.
We have always been around. I personally feel so connected to my roots. I can feel my grandmother’s spirit within me. My great grandmother, a strong Apache woman, grew up always saying “I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am, I know who I am.” Her tribe (Lipan Apache) was not recognized in the state of Texas until 2009, 16 years after her passing.
So a big reason why I enjoy being an equestrian of color is because I get to be myself and challenge people’s preconceptions of who an equestrian is.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I’ve gotten a few people who see me out at the ranch and ask if I’m just there to clean. I love the look on their faces when I say that I’m also a riding instructor and the barn manager. Their demeanor totally changes.
People often see someone of color (especially a woman of color) and assume they are in a service position rather than a position of authority. As an equestrian of color, I will unfortunately have to deal with people’s unconscious biases.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming an equestrian?
If you love it, go for it! I finally found myself when I started riding again.
It’s definitely not for everyone but there is such a deep connection for me personally when I’m around horses. You learn to respect each other and you start to pick up on what they are feeling. It’s beautiful, really. I wouldn’t let people’s perception of who an equestrian is in their mind be the reason I stop doing what I love.
Jessica Lian Photography is an equine portrait photographer based in New Mexico. Using natural light to showcase the connections between horses and riders is paramount to JLP’s photography. When Jessica isn’t photographing equestrians (or playing with her son and working horses), she is writing her masters which focuses on equity in how POC are portrayed in informal science institutions.