How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?

As taboo as it may sound, I have never thought of myself as an equestrian even though I began working with horses at 9 years old.

When it comes to horses, I see my role as a steward to them while they are on their journey through life… and I’m always immensely grateful that the horse’s journey has intersected with my own. I often find myself in awe and reflecting on how much horses have to tell us, and what incredible teachers they are.

In my mind, being an equestrian requires partnership… although not always equal. Some days my horse brings more to our partnership than I do, and other days I can tell he just needs a safe place where he can rest.

Whether it’s – hanging out with him in the pasture, sitting on the ground next to him while he grazes, a long grooming session, going on a walk together, groundwork, desensitizing exercises, or riding – I would say I am a relational equestrian and prioritize quality time to enhance our bond.

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?

My culture has influenced my horsemanship/equestrian lifestyle in several ways. The first is that I believe horsemanship is very much a partnership and not an act of dominance. There must be a mutual respect and understanding between (wo)man and their equine, because these elements lay the foundation for trust.

The second is that we do not know “more” or “better” than our horses… horses are amazing communicators, and as stewards of their lives it is imperative that we become better listeners.

The third is that horses need a clearly defined role and are allowed to have a say in that role. Again, we are partnering with them and stewarding… not telling them what their future holds because they have a certain conformation or temperament.

And lastly, there is no singular right way to learn with your horse…. but there are “wrong” ways if they violate the fundamentals of partnership, respect, and communication with our equine partners.

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced as an equestrian of color is that my beliefs/lifestyles do not always match common conventions. Like people, I believe horses have personalities, as well as likes and dislikes. This is why I think they should get a say in how we spend our time together. 

For example, I grew up in the western world and often competed at playdays… my horse loved it, but as I got older, I realized that what my horse actually loved was spending time together.

My current horse is a Quarter Horse and a rescue. Working with him has been full of amazing moments and some pretty big challenges for both of us. In the beginning, many people have told me to stick to what I know because he “has the build” to be a great barrel horse. In reality, he HATES working in the arena and that is an area where we have had to learn mutual respect and understanding for each other. Where he shines and seems happiest is exploring a new trail and learning new things together, like obstacle challenges.

Because he is so happy on the trails, we tend to prioritize that for fun and that has even involved my switching to a lightweight English endurance saddle and bareback pad so that we both have extra comfort on longer rides. I would be lying if I said people didn’t judge a Quarter Horse in an English saddle, but at the end of the day, it’s about partnership and well-being to me, not maintaining an aesthetic.

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

What would you like people to know about your history or culture?

Honestly, there are so many things, but the biggest two are 1) that we (Indigenous peoples) are still here and 2) it cheapens our culture and identity when people ask, “how much Indian are you?”

The collective trauma faced by indigenous people is on-going, not a singular event that occurred a couple hundred years ago. Our culture and history are not a novelty to typecast in movies, television, or as Halloween costumes. And whether someone is a tribal member or tribal descendant doesn’t make their familial and cultural trauma “less.”

It can be overwhelming at times because I and other indigenous friends feel as though we are walking in two worlds. We are figuring out how to merge our history and culture with the present day… how to decolonize, yet function in “modern” western society.

I cannot possibly explain how bizarre it feels to be a descendant of the men who tried to eradicate indigenous peoples, but also be indigenous and realize that we survived against the odds. I am a mix of the oppressor and the oppressed.

At times I feel unworthy of being indigenous, and angry that we’ve lost so much of our culture due to removal, boarding schools, treaties, and laws. Other times I feel inspired and grateful to be part of a people that are so resilient, and when I am in nature I feel so incredibly grounded and connected to segmekwé (mother earth in potawatomi) and proud to be Indigenous.

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

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

For other equestrians of color, I would say everyone has an opinion, but your horse’s opinion and your ability to compromise with your equine partner is what matters most. It’s important for you both to be happy with the relationship you’re building, and what other people say or think about your approach is irrelevant.

For people of color considering becoming equestrians, it’s important to remember the horse is joining your life with their own personality, temperament, and baggage. Be patient and willing to learn from them. Show up calm and vulnerable… be someone they can learn from and feel safe with so that you can grow as a team!

For those unsure about making the leap due to lack of experience or cost, I cannot recommend volunteering at an equine rescue enough. Volunteer work also lets you be around horses and learn about the care they need without the immediate cost commitment. Although my first horse was not a rescue, both of my current horses are. I cannot thank Ride-A-Rescue and Winterfrost Farms in Radford Virginia enough for the work they do, the community they have built, and the opportunity to meet and later adopt my boys.

Learning their stories, figuring out their preferences, and discovering where they need healing, has been humbling and given me a perspective on horses I still don’t quite know how to put into words. All I know is that working with them has seemed to heal personal wounds I didn’t even know I had.

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project

Quick Favorites:

    1. Horse breed- Quarter Horses
    2. Horse color- sorrel or palomino
    3. Discipline- Western, and trail challenges 
    4. Treat to give- Apples! My boys especially like Granny Smiths.
    5. Place to ride- So far, nowhere has topped the Continental Divide Trail in Montana! 

Indigenous woman and horse in Arizona desert equestrians of color project