How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as results-oriented and a very disciplined rider. Every time I get on a horse, I think about what I can do to make myself a better rider, and what can I do in this lesson to improve my riding skills.
I am not a horse owner, so I never know which horse I will school on. This requires me to always be flexible and adaptable during schooling lessons. I feel that learning how to ride multiple horses improves my skills, making me a stronger rider.
I absolutely love everything about horses. They have taught me patience, self-confidence, and responsibility. They are great companions and I have learned the art of communicating with them. This has resulted in me becoming the equestrian I am today with hopes of becoming an Animal Scientist.
How did you get involved with horses?
When I was a little girl, I always knew I wanted to ride horses. I tried other sports and hobbies, but I always knew or felt something was missing.
One day while at mommy granny’s house, she turned to the Olympics on TV where I saw equestrians jumping and I knew that is what I wanted to do. My granny told me that I needed to talk to my mom to let her know I was interested. I did and of course, she initially said no because of the cost and not knowing what all was involved.
But I would not take no for an answer and kept asking my granny to talk to her. My mom told me if I was interested, I had to do all the research including finding a nearby stable and present it to her. I did exactly that, and started schooling lessons in September 2018.
I feel like I started later than most, but I am thankful to my granny for igniting the spark, and my mom for making my dream a reality. I know my granny is watching over me, and smiling down on me from heaven at every schooling lesson and every show.
How has culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
My culture has influenced my equestrian lifestyle in many ways. As an African American, I feel like I have to always ride my best and there is no room for mistakes. It feels like others are always watching and judging me.
I know that there are very few English riders that look like me, and are afforded the same opportunities in the schooling and show arena that I am. I am thankful that I am among the few that are breaking barriers, and paving the way for other POC – People of Color – in this elite sport.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
It is the look that people have when I tell them I ride horses, and that I am a Hunter/Jumper equestrian. They look at me like I am speaking a foreign language.
They also look shocked when they see me at horse shows. I have been told several times, “Oh you did an amazing job!” with a shocked look on their faces. I just turn and say, “Thank you.”
The majority of the time I am the only equestrian of color at a show, which is a challenge in itself to not see others that look like you. I am thankful to be at a stable that does have a few other equestrians of color, who also happen to be the same age as me.
What is your happiest and proudest moment as an equestrian?
I have had quite a few happy moments as an equestrian, however I would say my happiest moment was when I jumped my first jump without standards. It was the first thing I did that people would consider “scary or cool”.
I was actually shaking in my tall boots when my trainer told me to do it as if it was nothing. To be honest I was so scared that I closed my eyes, added leg, and hoped for the best. I was so proud of myself when I landed the jump. Yes, I did it!
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Just get over it! Yes, I am talking about both the jump and the fears surrounding becoming a rider in general. People are going to look at you funny when you express an interest in becoming a rider. But if this sport is truly in your heart, face your fears and give it your all.
People will doubt you, and talk to you about how expensive the sport is, putting a damper on your dreams. Yes, the sport is expensive, and a sacrifice for my parents. Do not try to keep up with what others are doing, just do what works for you and your family, even if it means starting small or seeking out sponsors.
There will be people that look at you funny, but this is something that you have to learn to get over and let your skills speak for themselves.
Horse breed: Shire, because I love seeing them in Disney movies
Horse color: Chestnut
Discipline: English Hunter/Jumper
Treats to give: Peppermints because I like when they lick my hand looking for more
Place to ride: Horse Shows
Jessica Lian Photography is an equine portrait photographer based in New Mexico. Using natural light to showcase the connections between horses and riders is paramount to JLP’s photography. When Jessica isn’t photographing equestrians (or playing with her son and working horses), she is writing her masters which focuses on equity in how POC are portrayed in informal science institutions.