How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
Well, I’m not much of an equestrian anymore; I’ve switched gears to the photography side of horses. I used to compete in all disciplines in 4-H and WSCA shows, trail riding, ranch rodeos, team penning and sorting, breakaway roping, and started training for cowboy mounted shooting. I was always up for a challenge, learning everything I could about foundation training and how that works into every single aspect of any discipline of riding. Up until I started roping, I used the same horse for literally everything, because I thought, why can’t he learn speed control, why can’t he learn to sort cattle, why can’t I shoot a gun off his back? I guess I would say I was an all-around equestrian with a preference towards Western discipline.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
Honestly, the bewildered looks from people! It makes me laugh every time! Even now, as a rodeo photographer, if you don’t already know me and see my name as the photographer for an event, you’d think I’m Caucasian until I show up. I just think it’s funny that there’s no expectation of a Korean showing up in full-on Western attire to photograph a rodeo! I definitely stand out!
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
In the horse world, I can’t say that I’ve been faced with any, or many challenges due to my skin color – nothing that stands out in my mind, anyways. You can’t change your skin color, so embrace it. Things may be different on the “higher-end” of the horse world, but in rodeo and bulls & barrels events, I haven’t met, or interacted with anyone who thinks I’m incapable of something due to my ethnicity.
In my day-to-day life, I grew up in a predominantly caucasian community, I currently live in a caucasian city and work in a very caucasian/male-dominated environment. My parents were asked VERY dumb questions when I was little – will she speak English? Can she see? And I still get asked on a regular basis where I’m from, “No, not where you live, where are you frooomm?” I don’t get upset any more at those types of questions, it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Because if you get asked the same question, almost every week or month of your life, you’d be annoyed too. People are naturally curious, they’re not trying to be rude about it, they just don’t know any better.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
I like to laugh at everything – awkward situation, I laugh, embarrassed myself, I laugh, someone yelling at me for something beyond my control, I laugh! Learn to laugh at yourself! Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Everyone makes mistakes, you’re not alone in that, if you learn to laugh it off, you’ll move past it sooner rather than later.
If you’re wanting to become an equestrian and have the means to do it, DO IT! A little tough love: if you think your skin color has anything to do with how you can handle a horse, you’re wrong. If you’ve got a brain in your head and a passion for it, do it. If you’re trail riding with a group or friends, do you think they care? If you’re competing, your competitors are so engulfed with what they’re doing, they don’t have time to worry about you. If you’re running timed events, the only thing that matters to others is the lowest time on that clock. Your skin color is not a consideration, if you THINK it is – stop thinking about it.
If you are faced with rude or ignorant people, what does your trainer always yell at you for? Shoulders back! Head up! Keep your heels down and keep forward motion!
Shelley Paulson is an Equestrian Commercial & Portrait Photographer as well as Mentor and Educator, based in Minnesota. She is one of the founders of this project and has a passion to see more diversity in Equestrianism and Equine Media.