How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I am Casey Sorita. I am a Japanese/Irish American, and I also speak horse fluently. I am pretty sure if you cut me open you’d find horse blood in my veins. Horses are who I am.
For her whole pregnancy with me, my mother continued to ride horses, so I guess you could say I’ve been riding since before I was born. I could ride a horse before I could walk, which naturally morphed into competing. I earned myself a Top Ten in the nation for APHA Trail. I was nationally recognized and was a top competitor for my region. Competing came naturally to me and I love to achieve goals. But more than that, I just love to ride.
I am currently one of the top equine sports therapists on the west coast. I have one of the most elite clientele in various disciplines from hunter/jumpers to reiners. I have had the privilege to work on horses from Young Riders, FEI jumpers, WEG, and most recently the Run For A Million.
What would you like our readers to know about your history and/or culture?
I am half Irish and half Japanese/Hawaiian. My family history runs deep with some of the most tragic stories I have ever heard. My Grandmother from the Japanese side of the family was buried alive in World War II with the atomic bomb and survived. My mom was born in Compton and adopted by a Jewish family who only held the Handleman name because her great grandfather was short enough to miss the bullets in the Holocaust pits.
So who am I? I am a blend of two very different cultures of survivors. Never feeling completely white and never feeling completely accepted by my Asian culture.
There has been a lot of crying and feeling not connected to one side or the other. It’s one of the toughest struggles I have had with my identity. I have spoken with many halfies that feel the same way. And I also recall looking in the mirror at Asian events I would attend – seeing myself and remembering that I look like everyone else in the room, but never feeling it.
The real truth behind Casey Sorita… is that I have never felt more comfortable with myself than when in the presence of a horse. They see only my soul, who I am as a person, and I never feel judged.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
Being half Irish and half Japanese, I come from a very diverse heritage. My Japanese roots lead back to the Samurai. Horses were their special weapons: only samurai were allowed to ride horses in battle. The sword and the horse remain symbols of their power. I have felt that power from horses in my own life.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t face horses. I avoided them for almost seven years. As a victim of domestic violence, I was focused on survival. I struggled to know who I was and how to face my fears. It was an incredibly dark time for me.
Thankfully, a very special horse named Artie came into my life. Artie was also a victim of abuse, and I felt a unique connection to him because of the trials we had both experienced. Together, we helped each other heal from the demons of our past. Truly, Artie saved my life.
His job fulfilled, Artie is now enjoying well-deserved retirement in our field. He was the first of many other horses that have come into my life and helped shape me into the person that I am now. Just as my ancestors found special power from the horse, that tradition has been carried on and I too have found great power to overcome adversity through my connection to horses.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
Sitting in a stall after working on my 20th horse one night late at a horse show, covered in dirt & sweat, I didn’t look presentable in the least. But I remember a horse that was really hard to work on. He was super scared and you couldn’t touch him.
He changed my thought process with a simple touch from his nose to my cheek. I know he saw me sitting in his stall – dog tired, defeated, and on the verge of tears from my mom’s cancer battle. I know he sensed my pain and must have known the feeling because after that night he and I both changed forever. I believe both of us, two different species, found a commonality in how we had felt. We connected and allowed each of us to be vulnerable to each other.
After that day I had decided that I am who I am, and the only judgment that means anything to me is that of a horse.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
As a kid, the most common question my mother got was where I was adopted from. I always felt so weird and uncomfortable but she always laughed and said “Wait till you meet her father!”
I have always felt like I don’t belong on either side of my nationality tracks, and have felt that more in the last four years than ever. I’ve recently received comments along the lines of “Do you even know how to put on a halter?” to “Can you spell horse?” It was the first time in my life I had seen how big of a racial wall there still is in our equestrian industry. Granted it’s far and few between that I come across these comments but… do I really need to hear them at all?
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
The words of encouragement I have for other equestrians of color is DON’T HAVE ANY FEAR!! At the end of the day, the only thing that should matter to anyone (color or not) is the relationship you carry with the horse. Love comes in all shapes and sizes!
But it sure puts a big smile on my face to see other races riding more and more! Cowboys and Cowgirls were of everyone’s culture at some point. True horsemanship lies in how you choose to be with a horse.
Rebecca Tolman is an equine photographer based in Oregon. Working with clients and their horses, capturing the relationship and bond they share is Rebecca’s passion and reason for pursuing her photography over 10 years ago.