How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as a black dressage trainer who focuses on helping riders develop a system of awareness to then help them develop their horses. As well as to become more tactful and skilled riders, regardless of the horse they are riding.
I have always loved horses. As a toddler, they were my favorite animal. My mom introduced me to horses through pony rides and carriage rides until I was old enough to take riding lessons around the age of 7. I’m sure now my mom wishes she had taken me around to doctors’ offices instead of pony rides, but here we are!
She has always been extremely supportive of my dreams, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
I was raised by a white parent in predominantly white areas and was often the only person of color at the barns I rode at. So I really feel that I lacked a lot of black culture in most of my horse years. Even as a barn owner now, I am the only person of color at my farm.
Finding connections with black riders near me through social media has made it easier. Being able to see how many riders of color there are in the U.S., regardless of discipline, professional status, or how they like to engage with horses, has made me feel like there is more space for me in this profession than I felt before.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
As an equestrian of color, I have found that it can be difficult to be taken seriously. It is often assumed that you are “the help” instead of the business owner or head trainer.
I have had people walk into my barn on my property and treat me in a dismissive and rude manner, asking for “the person in charge” even though they have come on to my property uninvited – only to watch their attitude do a total turn around once I inform them that I am in fact the person in charge. I do have to admit, in those situations, it is very satisfying to turn that person away.
There is also always the pressure of conducting yourself in a way that is deemed “appropriate” for overwhelmingly white and wealthy spaces. In my younger years, this really inhibited my personal expression as I tried to fit in. While I am not an angry, explosive, or confrontational person in general, I am aware of coming across as “the angry black woman” as I establish the boundaries that I need to navigate the horse world and run a business.
I still struggle with self-expression and holding boundaries can be hard, but as I get more established as a trainer, and grow into myself, the easier it becomes. I just try to remember that when I am saying “no” to someone else, I am saying “yes” to myself, and that is a necessary skill to develop so that I can have a balanced and happy life.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
My happiest and proudest moments as an equestrian have always been the moments when I feel a horse decide to trust me and to work with me.
When I bought my horse Zarya, as a 9-year-old, she had already been through a lot of hands. She was started at a large training program in the Netherlands, where she had been ridden sort of like a machine whose needs had been disregarded. Then she was imported by a rider who ended up not being a good match before being sent off to be part of a broodmare herd for several years before coming to me.
While she was never naughty or mean, it took her a year to trust me. Once she decided to trust me, there was nothing that she wasn’t willing to try. She went from being aloof and uninterested, to engaged and more than willing to work, trail ride, give pony rides, and all sorts of other things.
So that is definitely what I find to be the most rewarding! When a horse decides that they are ready to work with you, there is no better feeling. There is no way to predict when the horse will decide to be your partner, but when they do, that is the best feeling. I have worked with some horses who are committed from day one, and some that have taken over a year. It takes the time it takes, but it is always worth the wait.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
As far as words of encouragement go, I have found social media to be a great tool for connecting with black riders, trainers, and horsemen of all disciplines all over the country. That has really made me feel more at home in the equestrian community.
I am starting to see more and more people of color opening barns with programs specifically tailored towards engaging children of color with horses. They are purposefully building programs to make black and brown riders feel safe, welcomed, and whole. That really brings a lot of joy to my heart.
I am doing my best to reach out to other people of color to support these programs, as well as stay connected with black riders online, regardless of the geographical space. It can still feel a little lonely at times, especially as a black professional in the dressage world, but knowing that I can build relationships with other black professionals online has been a big help for me mentally.
I am a traveling photographer based in Oakland County, Michigan. I love all types of photography, but specialize in equine and equestrians, weddings and events, horse racing photography and pets.
Having a lifelong love for photography and horses alike, I pride myself on capturing the special bond between horse and rider through a creative eye. I own 4 horses myself and live on a small, 5 acre hobby farm. My menagerie also includes dogs, cats, chickens, and quail.