How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I came to the horse world with a very modest background. I loved horses for as long as I could remember and never outgrew it. It started like most girls with toy horses and pony rides at every place we could find them. My love continued to grow through high school, with me going trail riding at local tourist locations every chance I got.
My senior year I finally went out and found a local boarding barn that happened to have a horse for sale. I was ecstatic that night as I came home a horse owner, much to my parents’ shock!
Since that first horse, I have learned everything I could and got into the world of driving and showing draft horses. I love the glamour and fast pace of the horse shows, but at the end of the day, my favorite thing is still the wonderful horses themselves. I’m an equestrian who loves the sport but loves the horses more! It’s my passion and that’s never going to change.
What role do horses currently play in your life?
Horses will always be a huge part of my life. In the last two years, I have gotten engaged and had my first child, and am currently pregnant with my second. Having a family now means having to work twice as hard to keep boarding my horses as well as manage my time to see them, but I wouldn’t change a thing. They mean the world to me and getting out of the hobby has never even crossed my mind. I can’t wait until my daughter and son are old enough to enjoy them with me.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
It’s probably harder for me than most equestrians of color to answer this question. I was adopted as an infant with my twin sister so she and I have had to discover our culture on our own. But probably the thing I can most relate to is the large sense of community.
I adore meeting new people in the horse world and especially helping out those that I can. I’m not a professional by any means but have now been a horse owner for 10+ years. There’s a lot of people in the horse world who aren’t like that. They see everyone as competition and are reluctant to help. I decided right away that was not the person I was going to be and in return, I have built a great horse community around myself.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
My happiest moments will always be when I’m showing at the fairs. Draft horse showing is very different, as the shows usually take place during a county or state fair. As part of the fair’s exhibition, you are usually camping out there for days at a time.
It’s hard and certainly not glamorous, from early mornings and spending the night in the stall, but there’s also something so surreal about it. It’s not about the show itself even, it’s about meeting and talking with the other exhibitors, cookouts, games, and late nights at the fair.
Of course, doing well at the show is always a bonus. My first year showing I went from being in reserve to my second year showing and placing second in a class of over ten amazing female drivers. There was so much work and dedication that went into making that difference.
At another show I was lucky enough to have my mare place first in her class, win Reserve Champion Junior mare, and Reserve Grand Champion mare. I don’t think I stopped smiling that entire fair.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I think the hardest part is the lack of representation and people who can relate to you on a cultural or racial level. This country is in a very challenging time dealing with issues of culture and race, and it’s very hard to have that aspect of your life and no one from this part of your life can understand.
I have found the horse world to be welcoming and accepting, but that doesn’t mean they can relate to issues of racism. In addition, I have run into the sideways glances and stares of “she doesn’t belong here, she must be lost”.
It’s also hard from the aspect of representation when you see the elites at the top of your sport and no one even remotely looks like you. I think this is especially hard for people who are interested but not in the sport yet. It can be a discouragement to even get started.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
The biggest thing is to not let anything stop you. It was so easy for me not to push myself at first or try my hardest because I looked at all the people doing well and thought that would never be me. But in so many other sports we are beginning to see great athletes from a bunch of different diverse backgrounds, I hope equestrian sports are not far behind.
We’re never going to see a change unless we start being that change.
Horse breed – Percheron
Horse color – Black
Discipline – Hitch Driving
Treat to give – Molasses cookie
Place to ride – Trails
Erin Beckett is a photographer and filmmaker located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She believes that by sharing stories of diversity, we can start much needed conversations about race, equality, and why representation matters.