How did you get into horses and what is your current relationship with them?
From a young age, I’ve had a special love and interest in horses. I’m not sure how it all started, but to this day I still have my Horse Poster Books (that I was so excited to get from the Scholastic Book Fair) and remember reading all of the Pony Pals books. I spent a lot of time drawing horses in my notebooks and making up stories that I had my own pony.
I eventually convinced my mom to let me have my 10th birthday party at a barn. A little while after that, she agreed to sign me up for lessons but I was only able to ride for a few months because it was too expensive.
Years went by, but my love never went away. Whenever there was a special occasion or trip I would always try to convince my family and now fiancé to do a one-time trail ride with me. Every chance I had, I wanted to be on a horse!
After graduating from college and starting my career as a teacher, I realized I finally had the opportunity to live out my childhood dream. I reached out to a friend who recommended that I try taking lessons at Gambler’s Choice Equestrian Center, where I have now been riding for almost two years!
How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as a beginner. I am still learning the foundations and basics of riding. I’m working on getting more comfortable and consistent with cantering and jumping. Recently, I’ve begun showing locally in walk/trot classes.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
The thing I enjoy the most about being an equestrian of color is that I can help break the stereotype that equestrians of color don’t belong. I am half Bolivian and half African American.
My grandparents are from Bolivia and came to the U.S. where they eventually met, married, and had my mother and aunts. My family is very close and I spent most of my time growing up surrounded by them and my cousins. But no one in my family knew how to ride or even knew of anyone that rode horses.
This field should be about dedication and passion, and not race. I am far from being a top rider, but even as a beginner, I absolutely love every chance I get to ride and learn more about horses. Whether you’re one of the best or someone who just wants to learn, you belong and deserve the opportunity to ride.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
My happiest moment as an equestrian, so far, was the first time I cantered in and out of a jump. I was supposed to trot in, but we were already cantering and my trainer gave me the okay to keep going through the jump.
For that short period of time, it felt like we were floating in the air. Time seemed to stop and everything just felt so smooth. I know that is a feeling I definitely won’t forget. Going from a young child who always dreamed of riding, to having the opportunity to experience something like that was amazing.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
As an equestrian of color, I have been blessed to be surrounded by a great barn family that accepts me for who I am. Since day one, I have always felt like I was taken in with open arms and treated like I had been there for years. I know this may not be the situation everywhere, so I truly appreciate the opportunity I have.
On the other hand, when it comes to showing, I always feel an extra sense of pressure. The first thing I notice is how many other equestrians of color there are and if there are any other beginners similar in age. It is honestly a bit of an uncomfortable feeling knowing that I am only one of a handful of riders of color.
Subconsciously, I always have a feeling of needing to prove myself as being ‘worthy’ enough to be there and able to ride. Fortunately, I have never experienced a racist encounter while riding, but it is always something I try to prepare myself for whenever we are at another barn.
The most disappointed I’ve been was after my second show. I placed very low in my division but felt as though I had one of my best performances. It was hard to understand why when I could see a few riders had very little control of their horses. My trainer, family, and friends all agreed I should have at least placed within the top 3.
The majority of my classes are mixed with younger kids because I’m still a beginner, so it was hard to tell if the judging was not fair because they wanted to make sure all of the younger kids were happy or if my race had anything to do with it. I don’t like to think that my race did, but it is honestly something that always sits in the back of my mind…like if I fit the picture of what an equestrian looks like’, would it have been different?
What words of encouragement do you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
For anyone out there that is interested, I say to go for it! If you have that love or interest, then don’t let anything stop you. Find a barn where you feel comfortable and feel as though you can be yourself.
Horses are truly so special and can make such an impact in your life. If you are a young girl or boy who has always dreamed of riding but just don’t have the opportunity to yet, don’t give up! The perfect time and place will come.
I am now in my 20s, almost 2 years into taking lessons, and starting to look at the possibility of partially leasing my first horse! Your journey is special and unique to you so don’t let anyone ruin that or tell you that it is not good enough. It may not always feel easy, but know that you are not alone and that you may be providing others with the courage to start. Representation matters.
What is your favorite?
Horse Breed: Thoroughbred
Horse Color: Chestnut
Discipline: Showjumping (I haven’t done this yet but want to one day!)
Treat to give: Apples
Place to ride: Trail rides by the water
Anna Smolens is a fine art and equine portrait photographer located in Maryland. She is one of the founders of this project and strongly believes that now is the time for more open conversation about race and equality. By using our collective voices, we can make the equestrian community stronger.