How did you get into horses and what role do they currently play?
When I was a little kid we would drive by the stables near my house. My Mom would always point out the horses. I could see the kids riding from the road and I always asked my Mom if I could ride too. One day, when I was 6 yrs. old, she surprised me and turned into the stables for my first horseback riding lesson!! I was so excited!
My first ride was on a Palomino pony named Penny. I loved it from the moment I had to brush Penny and take care of her. I started out on lead line riding western. From that Saturday, I don’t think I have ever gone a long time without riding.
I probably remember the name of every horse I have ever been on. I go to horse camps every summer; first as a camper and now because I am older, I am usually a Counselor in Training. I joined 4-H and attend Horse Hoopla where we spend 3 days living in the stalls next to our horses, doing horse-related activities and taking riding lessons. At Horse Hoopla there are 4H clubs from all over Cecil County, so there are a lot of us. It is so much fun!!
I moved to another stable where I received more formal training and was able to do in-house shows. I eventually joined the show team competing in the Chesapeake Bay Horse Show Association (CBHSA). Now, 7 years after the first time I got on Penny, I ride at least 3-4 times a week at my home stable Granite Springs. I spend hours with my horse, Dunkin, that I got 2 years ago.
I am also moving to my new horse Nikki, an Oldenburg, because I am outgrowing Dunkin. At 17H, she is the biggest horse I have ever ridden. She’s great and we are starting to teach each other. Nikki was a bit wild at first because she wasn’t ridden a lot. But since I’ve been riding her pretty regularly, she’s calmed down a lot.
How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I am a Hunter/Equitation rider. I am very competitive, but I also really like getting better. I love riding different horses, especially horses that make me a better rider.
I fall a lot less than I used to, but even if I fall, I get back on. I have learned how to handle a bucking horse and stay on. I used to fall every lesson and end up with sand in my clothes. But it has been a really long time since I have almost died, maybe 2 months…LOL!
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I like being different and unique. It’s the hardest part but also the best part. Our EOC differences are also what I love about all parts of my life…it is our music…our hair…our style…our dances…it’s what I like about being a Black girl.
I love showing up to competitions well prepared and looking good. Sometimes, I love placing high. But most times I don’t really care what ribbon I get, even if it’s a ribbon color I haven’t gotten before!
What is your happiest moment as an equestrian?
It’s a tie…When I got my first champion ribbon with Scarlett. I was about 8 years old and it was in the Walk/Trot Equitation class.
And when I was able to get Dunkin, and have my own horse and ride him any time I wanted. It’s great showing up to competitions and Horse Hoopla with MY horse. I am so proud of how he rides. I think people thought he wasn’t a good horse, but he is my greatest horse.
Sometimes I think people think that I wouldn’t have the nicest things because of my color. I don’t understand it. People act surprised when I have something new or I say that Dunkin is my horse.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
It’s difficult finding clothes that fit me and finding a helmet that works with my hair. I have to change my hair now that I have to have all of it under my helmet and I can’t do that with braids. The clothes and helmets are made for a certain shape and for hair that’s not like mine. Being alone, being different can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes I feel so out of place. There is no one else who looks like me.
The other girls wouldn’t talk to me at first and would look at me crazy-like because I am black. But once they got used to me, then they began to talk to me. When I was little, it was scary for me to be so out of place. I didn’t think people would like me because I didn’t look like them. Sometimes I wondered if the judges scored me differently because I didn’t look like the other riders. I still do, but I ride my best.
It’s both being a new kid and being a different kid that makes it twice as hard. But none of that will make me stop. I tell my friends; they can’t understand. But at least they listen.
In December, we went to the horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Me, my Mom, and my friend (who also rides) got some of the meanest looks. It was so uncomfortable and I was kind of scared. I didn’t say anything to my friends but they knew something was wrong with me. My friend, who is also an EOC, also asked if anyone else noticed the looks and if they had the same uncomfortable feeling. I was so glad she noticed too and we were able to talk about it. I had fun at the auction; but I don’t think I want to go back because it was so uncomfortable.
In what moment have you been most hurt or disappointed as an equestrian?
One moment that I think about is when during a show season I missed a lot of shows because I have Crohn’s disease and sometimes, I was too sick to go to the CBHSA shows.
Also, when Scarlett died. She was the first horse I competed on. She was the best horse and we were so unique together. I loved her and she took care of me. She kicked everyone else. Everyone else has stories of how mean and moody she could be. She even kicked my Mom once in the knee when she was fussing at me. We were the best pair. I still get so upset that she is gone.
What words of encouragement do you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Don’t pay attention to how people look at you. Don’t try to fit in as much. Don’t get in your head.
I would tell other girls my age to try riding because you get to do something different something no one else is doing. You get to meet different people. You really get to show everyone who doesn’t think so, that people of color can do anything they can do, and sometimes we can do it better.
Find friends and stay with them. Always talk to your friends and tell them how you are feeling. I have been lucky to be at stables that are welcoming and become my second family. My current barn family at Granite Springs Stables is the best yet. I have a freedom here and responsibilities that make me a better rider, a better horse owner, and a better part of the barn family. We take group trips together, to the rodeo, to the auction, and we have sleepovers. For everyone, find that barn family that supports you and you have fun with.
Also, your trainer has to be someone you trust and encourages you to do your best. I have been so lucky to have only great trainers who give me strength. Each one has taught me something different and trusted what I could do even when I didn’t trust myself. Summer, Mrs. Cline, Ms. Kris, Ms. Whitney, Ms. Jaime, and Mr. Bryan. Right now, Ms. Jaime for the show team and Mr. Bryan, are my main trainers.
Mr. Bryan was a judge at one of my shows before I knew him and after every division, he would tell me what I did good and what I could have done better. I wanted to ride with him after that. He even helped me find my horse, Dunkin. All of us can talk to Mr. Bryan about everything! He’s really cool! Find a trainer who doesn’t treat you differently because of your color but also doesn’t ignore it.
What is your favorite:
Horse Breed: I don’t have a favorite…I love them all
Horse Color: Black, Paints, Chestnuts, Palominos, Grey…I can’t choose
Discipline: English or Western. Dressage is too slow for me.
Treat to give: Molasses treats with a candy center that we get from Dover Saddlery
Place to ride: I don’t have one. I like riding everywhere. I hope to get to ride at the beach this year. We didn’t get to go last year because of Coronavirus
Memory: Riding Scarlett, she was a 14.1H Palomino. I got an infection in my right finger and had to have surgery and she got an infection in her right eye and had to have it removed. We just had this weird close connection. I loved her so much! We were moody together.
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.