How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
How would I describe myself as an Equestrian? Well first and foremost (and like all equestrians), I am an avid horse lover. I still remember the first time I laid eyes on a horse at 2 years old and the magic I felt when I touched their velvet nose. I truly enjoy the bond between horse and human. It’s a beautiful thing.
When it comes to discipline/style of equestrian; I’ve spent most of my career riding and showing all-around in the Pinto and Paint associations. Being a 3-sport athlete growing up, I’ve always been full of energy and competitiveness. Learning to ride and show so many different classes from western pleasure, to trail, to hunt seat equitation was exciting and made me a well-rounded equestrian. It made me work hard to create and maintain a genuine connection with my horse and become the best team possible.
I have recently switched to the Reined Cowhorse. Having 3 events, the Cowhorse enticed me to switch and has also matched my need for speed.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
There are a handful of reasons I enjoy being an equestrian of color, here are a few:
I am the only one in my Mexican family that rides horses. Growing up my cousins were always so enamored by me riding horses. When they came to visit, I would love to give them lessons and pony rides. Most of the pictures I have from their visits when we were young are of them riding my first horse Dawn. I cherish being able to introduce and share horses with them and the memories we made.
Being Mexican I’m very interested in the history my culture has with horses, especially now that I’ve started riding Cowhorses. Vaqueros were the original cowboys, who originated in Mexico. When Spain invaded Mexico in the 1500’s they brought over cows and horses. They taught the natives their way of riding and handling cattle. Vaqueros ranched cattle all over most of what is now the western US. They were known for their great horsemanship and ability to control large groups of chaotic cattle. Modern US cowboys are fairly new to the scene – as of the 1900s – and essentially adopted the vaquero lifestyle. The Reined Cowhorse discipline mimics the skills a cowboy/vaquero must have to work cattle on a ranch and puts it on display in a show arena.
I’m very proud to be Mexican and proud of the contributions Mexico has had on the western/cowboy/Cowhorse industry.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I am an extremely passing Latina. My challenges and experiences do not compare to those who cannot hide behind white skin and light features.
However, even as a passing Latina, I have experienced slights and felt the need for representation. I often catch myself getting overwhelmingly excited when I see another Latinx or someone ethnically ambiguous at horse shows or events. Because come on, most horse events (especially the top of each discipline) are so white. Seeing the representation of Latinx gives me this visceral feeling that I’m not alone.
I think part of that is I know how some of the horse world feels about Latinxs. Before Trump’s wall and Latinx child prisons, there was already hostility toward the Latinx community. I feel it, I hear it, and I see it.
When I start interacting with a new group in the horse world, I let them know early on that I am Mexican. Because I’m passing, I know some might feel comfortable to say things they wouldn’t with a Latinx present. I say it to protect my feelings and to allow them to make me feel welcome in this very white space.
Even though I do this, it hasn’t always protected me. I’ve had to create thick skin, pretend I haven’t heard a racist comment or conversation, unfollow certain horse people on social media, and find ways to soothe my aches.
I don’t think I’m going to change every racist’s mind, but I do think it’s worth trying, especially if they are people I otherwise love. Lately, I’ve been trying to educate by sharing articles, stories, and history of people of color and their experience in the horse world. I’ve been challenging those that I love who post things that are hurtful and having tough conversations when something racist has been said. Standing up and speaking out helps me feel like I’m doing something productive and I hope creates space in other’s mind for change.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
DO IT! Take the lesson, go to the horse camp, ride the horse! The more people of color become equestrians, the more representation we will all have. Horses and their amazing magic are worth it.
If you feel boundaries are crossed, say something. If you feel action is needed, do what protects you. If you need to share with someone who has similar experiences, reach out.
Do not let fear keep you from experiencing one of God’s greatest gifts.
Kirstie Marie Photography LLC is a fine art equine photographer located in Aubrey, Texas. Her style is characterized by revealing the most beautiful elements of each girl and her horse in sun-soaked, distinctive photos to be treasured for generations to come.