How did you get into horses and what is your current relationship with them?
I was blessed to be exposed to horses at a very young age. I can vividly remember being pushed in a stroller, up to a fence, to have my mother assist me in giving one of these magnificent creatures a carrot.
Since then, horses have worked their magic on me from starting out in the Saddleseat discipline, to paving my way with my fabulous mare in the Hunter/Jumper world.
How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
Ambitious. I am most definitely aiming for the top of this sport.
Competitive. It does not matter if the odds are stacked against me. I am still a force to be reckoned with in the arena.
Caring, always. The horses come first, love for my past teammates, and for current barn and teammates.
Trendy. I can’t feel my best if I don’t look it. So there are times I do pull some very over-the-top outfits, but all in good taste.
What do you enjoy most about being an equestrian?
The horses and the lifelong friendships you find along the journey. It makes you feel otherworldly when you have surrounded yourself with positive individuals. Ones that help you either celebrate a victory, brainstorm with about what’s next, or just to simply heal with.
Also, as someone who is a dedicated athlete to this sport, it makes your heart flutter when all your hard work comes to fruition.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
Literally, some of my happiest moments are during flatwork schoolings. When I’m really in sync with the horse and it’s cadence seems to be an extension of oneself. Most of the time it’s an out-of-body experience for me. It feels like magic.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Unfortunately, racism will sadly always be an obstacle to overcome. I have been riding my entire life and no matter how much I climb the ranks in the Hunter/Jumper world or expose myself more to the horse industry, the more racism I find.
But what I find as an additional irritating obstacle is that myself, or any other person of color, is not your prop. We are not here to solidify you in your “woke-ness” and well-roundedness. I’m not here to make you look cool or feel better about possible thoughts of you wanting to culturally appropriate, in the equestrian world or whatever venue it may be. I see it as either you partake in these – what my ancestors see as major historical moments – with me, or you can watch from the sidelines.
In what moment have you been most hurt or disappointed as an equestrian?
The most disappointing and hurtful moment was easily when my professor/coach/advisor actually had the audacity to engage with a few of my classmates (outside of the classroom and without my permission) in degrading discussion of pictures of my riding at the time. After that, it took a few years for me to realize that I’m actually not the underdog they wanted me to be. They were and they still are.
What words of encouragement do you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
TO ALL my lovely brothers and sisters: The stares, the sneers, the mumbling about you, the favoritism – it is all unavoidable. But this is about you, YOU’RE the main character. And if being with horses makes you happy, then do it. Don’t be lazy about it though if this is what you want, let it resonate in you.
Take the time to learn and master the technical, anatomical, and educational routes of this industry/lifestyle and be the best of the best. There is no room for unkempt barns with suspicious fencing material for pasture, or housing underweight “sale” horses trying to be pawned off for $500. No more unethical training methods you see on Facebook or Youtube, or ill-fitting tack because it is pretty. It’s 2021 and we all need to do better for the sake of the horses, not the sport, or the bill.
My piece of advice for those on the competitive side of things: You can also ALWAYS use the natural advantage of sticking out to your benefit. Shoot, I’m even known for REPEATEDLY marching on that quarterline in a hectic flat class. It’s hard to ignore me due to my lovely melanin but especially when I have taken the time to develop myself correctly in this sport.
Horse Breed: Arabians, Thoroughbreds
Horse Color: Something about Bays…
Discipline: Show Jumping, Reining, Dressage
Treat to give: Molasses cookies, apples, gummies (something that I can eat too HA)
Place to ride: On trails, on a course (never off course though – not fun)
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.