How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I’m an adult amateur owner of a wonderful 18-year-old warmblood mare, who is retiring from her jumping career. I ride hunter/jumper and want to continue to grow in this discipline. I’m motivated to do what I can within the means that I have. After becoming a horse owner for the first time as an adult, I’ve learned how important it is to spend time with your horse and create that indescribable bond, which allows me to grow as an empathetic and compassionate human being.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I’m able to represent a person of color in an industry that is predominantly white. I started taking riding lessons as a child because I learned that my childhood friend, who is also a person of color, was riding. I want to pass it forward and encourage and foster interest for other people of color to dip their toes in the equestrian world. While I am eager to see more faces like mine in the world of horses, I know that I stand out and can potentially be a role model to a younger person of color who is interested in riding.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Unfortunately, due to the lack of diversity and understanding of diverse cultures, microaggressions are predominant, which is not specific to the equestrian world, but is something that I have noticed. It’s very common for someone to ask me if I am related to or know another Asian person who happens to be an equestrian and most of the time, I don’t know that other person. The common question, “Where are you from?”, with the follow-up question of, “No, where are you really from?” is asked inside and outside the equestrian world, and is very alienating. I cannot help but continue to feel like an outsider even though I have only lived in the States and consider myself an American.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
While significant racial disparity in socioeconomic status exists and the barrier to entry to the equestrian world comes down to cost, know that there are places to go that would fit in your budget or people who would be willing to work with you and your means. As more people of color join the equestrian community, the bigger that network will grow and the more opportunities there will be. When you’re faced with racist ideas like microaggressions, do not be afraid to speak up and educate others. We’re at a pivotal time in our society where we can make a difference by being resilient and strong. Let’s create a wholesome atmosphere of diversity and inclusion within the equestrian community.
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.