How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I describe myself as ambitious. I want to do everything and will work super hard for it.
I got into horses when my dad bet on riding lessons at a silent auction when I was in preschool. I have been riding ever since and I just turned 24 years old. My primary style is jumpers and dressage, but I’ve been spending the last three years learning about Paso Finos and everything they can do.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I actually overall enjoy that I stand out. I don’t look like every other person at the farm and in the show ring. I’ve been described as “the Asian one” at almost every single barn/show. An interesting thing to remember me by, but at least you know who I am.
I haven’t always felt this way though. It has taken me a long time to feel like that. I used to want to blend in with all of the white people. But now that I’ve become more confident over the years with my Chinese ethnicity, I want to be here, loud and proud as an ally and friend for other riders of color.
My happiest moment as an equestrian was the night I found out that my father had purchased my dream horse for me. Veronica’s Secret was my once in a lifetime heart horse. She was about to be sold overseas and I was thinking I’d never see my baby again, but he managed to secure the sale instead.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
The blatant racism or micro-aggressions of racism from people at farms, shows, clinics, etc. I’m not saying everyone is racist, but I’ve been in this world pretty much my whole life, and the higher I go in the levels, the more racism starts to play a factor in things.
There’s been a lot of disappointment as an equestrian of color, but the biggest one that comes to mind is when someone refused to lease a horse to me because, and I quote, “your people eat horses and I just don’t trust you”. Might I add that I was 13 years old at the time when an adult said this to me over the phone.
What would you like to see change in the equestrian world?
I want to see more inclusion and accessibility. I want people to be able to access riding and horses even if they don’t have a lot of money like the top riders. I want to see more equestrians and leaders in the industry outright support BIPOC riders and the LGBTQ+ community and make us feel more welcome.
I’d like to see scholarship opportunities for kids/students so they don’t have to choose between school and their passion for riding. I want there to be consequences for people who commit acts of racism or say racist things because they get shoved under the rug or ignored all too often.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Do it. It’ll be one of the best choices of your life. Whatever you want to do in this sport, do it with passion and integrity. Respect your horses, your teachers, and everyone you meet along your journey. Find your farm family and stick with them. Your horsey tribe is out there and those friendships will be with you forever. Don’t let the racism (because it will, unfortunately, be there) and judgement get to you. I know it’s easy to say that and hard to do, but as Michelle Obama says, when they go low, we go high.
What is your favorite?
Horse Breed: Westphalian
Horse Color: Chestnut
Discipline: Show Jumping
Treat to give: Those Stud Muffins that come in the shiny bag and smell good enough to actually eat myself.
Place to ride: The show ring.
Anna Smolens is a fine art and equine portrait photographer located in Maryland. She is one of the founders of this project and strongly believes that now is the time for more open conversation about race and equality. By using our collective voices, we can make the equestrian community stronger.