How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I am an equestrian of color of Dominican descent and am currently riding and competing in Wellington, Florida at Castlewood Farms. I compete in the 3’6″ equitation and the Low Children’s Jumpers, soon to move up to the High Children’s Jumpers. I have been nationally competing for only a year. I am qualified for both the NHS and Maclay finals 2020.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
Being an equestrian of color sets me apart from other riders in the ring, because I am one of the few equestrians of color competing at this level. I am proud to represent people of color in the equestrian world. I love bringing diversity to an elite competitive sport that normally is not available to those with a diverse ethnic background.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
The biggest challenge I face is being judged based on the color of my skin and not solely on my riding abilities. When I enter the ring and I pass the judge, I have sadly noticed on more than one occasion, that once they see the color of my skin, they will put their head down the whole ride and not judge my performance fairly. No matter how good my ride has been, I have often not placed to the surprise of my trainer, other trainers and spectators.
Another challenge I have is a higher stress level entering the ring because I’m not sure if I’m going to be judged fairly. In the entire year of nationally competing, I have yet to see a judge of color. I am proud of my diversity, but it can be a mental challenge to not be surrounded by anyone that looks like me.
My trainer says I must have a good equitation base to be a better rider, but it is challenging for me on multiple levels because it is a subjective judgement. I feel more comfortable and freer in the jumpers because my judge is a clock, not a person. Another challenge I have faced more recently when I moved from NY to the South, is people questioning the difference of appearance between my mom and I, since I am adopted. People at horse shows question whether my mom is related to me since she is not a person of color.
Due to riding nationally, I travel from different places to compete. This summer, I recently traveled to a different state in the south. I was approached by an older white man, while in my riding attire, who commented “I didn’t think they let people like you ride horses.” It was extremely hurtful and I had no words to answer.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
If you are given the opportunity to ride, don’t be afraid to get into the sport because of the lack of diversity. Find a trainer and barn that will encourage you, support you, and help you achieve your goals. I am fortunate to have a trainer that believes in me enough to question a judge’s decision (when appropriate). It is really important to find your community within the sport that will support you and cheer for you no matter what challenges you are facing. It is not going to be easy, but rarely anything worth it in life is.
Erica Hills is an equestrian lifestyle photographer located in Florida. She is one of the founders of this project and is committed to fostering growth and development within the equestrian community through the inclusion of all riders and all disciplines.