How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?

Having ridden for most of my life, I’ve worn a lot of hats as an equestrian. As a kid, most of my time was spent in the hunter/jumper ring, but after college, I got into eventing while retraining off the track thoroughbreds and have more or less stuck to that since. Though I do enjoy a nice long trail ride with a few good gallops every now and then, I’ve also on and off taught beginner lessons to kids and adults over the years and enjoy passing on the joy of learning to ride to others. I’m itching to be in a place where I can do more showing, but it will have to wait a little while longer while I get some more letters in front of my name.

How did you start riding horses?

Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses from a very young age. No one in my family knew anything about horses or horseback riding, but it was all I would talk about. Whenever my mom would come up with a sport or activity for me to try, my answer would always be, “No, I just can’t wait to turn 5 so I can ride a horse!” Finally, on my 5th birthday, I got my first set of riding lessons and have been riding ever since.

How do horses take part in your life today?

After some time working in the industry and living the farm life I realized it really wasn’t for me. I love horses and working with horses – even doing farm work is enjoyable to me. But I could no longer see myself doing it as a career. Despite this, I couldn’t give up horses entirely and still spend the bulk of my free time at the barn. As a PhD student, things can get a bit hectic, but I can’t see my life without horses. I see many of my colleagues working themselves to the bone, stressing over every little thing, anxious about what’s around every corner, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my barn time. Horses are my getaway and my stress relief. When I ride, that is all I’m thinking about. Not work, not the future, just what I’m trying to get the horse to do in the moment. No matter how bad things went in the lab that day or how bad I messed up, none of it matters once I’m at the barn.

What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?

As weird as this may sound, I’ve always liked being different. I like seeing the shock on non-horsey people’s faces when I tell them I have a horse. While there are certainly negatives to looking so different than everyone around you, for me it’s not all bad. There’s no blending in for equestrians of color. I’ve always felt like I have to be twice as good as everyone else because any mistake I make will be noticed. As hard as this has been – constantly feeling like no matter how good I am it won’t be good enough – it’s made me a better rider and given me a self-confidence I’m not sure I would have otherwise. Being able to walk into a situation where you’re the only one who looks like you and having the confidence to be able forget about that makes pursuing other ventures less daunting. My experience as an equestrian of color makes facing the demographics of academia in STEM much less of a deterrent.

What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?

I’ve been very privileged in my life. My parents worked hard to protect me from the racism many people of color experience. I grew up in a very diverse, middle class, and educated area of the country between DC and Baltimore. As a kid, I honestly can’t say I noticed racism in my everyday life, but, as an adult, I experience and remember things differently. Things I brushed off as a kid now stick out to me – my father very rarely coming to lessons or to shows with me, incorrect assumptions of my race based in prejudice, my ability to clean a stall questioned less than my ability to jump a course, and many more.

While I’ve always been able to find something to relate to in people that don’t look like me, it’s still sometimes discouraging to be the only one who looks like you in a crowd of hundreds of people. Being an equestrian of color can often be lonely, not just in being the only one that looks like you but having so few people to share your experiences with. Not just experiences in the ring and at the barn but experiences in life. I’ve made some amazing, lifetime friends at the barn but explaining race-based experiences to many of these people is difficult – even more difficult can be the political discussions.

There is certainly a demographic of “horse people,” that, at best, many people of color do not fall in, and, at worst, are actively excluded from. I’ve always been a person not afraid to share their opinion, but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized some opinions that are widely shared by people of color are often controversial in the horse world. Moving to a new barn or trying to make a new friend there is always the question of do these people/does this person believe Black Lives Matter.

What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?

I know it’s hard being the only one, feeling like you have to represent your entire race when you mount up, feeling like every mistake you make isn’t just yours – but keep going. Representation isn’t some token gesture or half-hearted background character with three lines. It’s people seeing they’re the only one and saying “Screw it I’ll be the first.” It’s hard imagining yourself being or doing something no one like you has done before, but it’s worth it. Horses don’t just have to be something rich white people do. We can change that but we have to show up.

Sometimes it sucks, you’ll leave the show without a ribbon even though you know you rode better than everyone else. You’ll be left out of things, see way too many confederate flags and hear way too many weird opinions on race, but you made it better just by showing up. Things don’t change if everyone sits on the sidelines and waits for someone else to do it.

Call people out, destroy their pre-conceived notions, and don’t stop just because someone else doesn’t understand or doesn’t think you belong there. Fighting prejudice and racism is just like falling off, you have to get back on and keep trying, no matter how much it hurts, or you may never see it get better.

What would you like people to know about your experiences as an equestrian of color?

I personally find writing about this kind of stuff difficult. Whether that is some internalized racism or somehow not feeling “authentic” enough, I’m not sure. I’m mixed race, though I absolutely cannot pass for white. I’m very well educated (BS, MS, and halfway through a PhD) and have experienced very little actual hardship. I cannot stress enough how privileged my upbringing was. My parents weren’t, and still aren’t, by any means rich but they afforded me a life of minimal struggle.

I don’t think this by any means invalidates my experiences but may help others understand that the barriers to increasing diversity in the equestrian world are not limited to the financial. I’ve seen far too often discussions in the equestrian community be shut down simply by saying, “well the sport is expensive and inaccessible in more urban areas,” without addressing the very real prejudices that perpetuate that reality.

It took me a long time to realize that, for many people, being the only one that looks like you is a deterrent in and of itself. I’ve always been able to look past this and not let it stop me from doing something I love, but understanding this reality has made me more aware of the impact representation has in our sport.