How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I describe myself as a “horse girl” who never grew up. As a kid, I was obsessed with horses. And honestly, absolutely nothing has changed other than I now get to do it as my full-time job managing a farm, instead of sitting at home watching Saddle Club and thinking about my next lesson. Now, it’s acceptable for me to talk about horses as much as I do because it’s my job.
How did you get into horses?
I’ve always had a fascination with horses. I went to a camp when I was younger that had horseback riding and was immediately drawn to it. Part of the fascination is the way a person is able to work with a horse and communicate with it, forming a non-verbal partnership.
I was not born into a family with horses and had to rely on my parents to support my love for them. They first used it as a way to encourage me to have fun when we went to our weekend house… Little did they know that they fostered an obsession with one of the most dangerous, not to mention expensive, sports.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I really enjoy being a part of the equestrian community that defies stereotypes. A part of the equestrian community that overcomes obstacles and forges new paths in the horse world.
I was born in Guatemala and adopted by, what I deem, the world’s best parents. So I wasn’t born into a family of privilege, but I did happen to fall into one.
I love being able to communicate in both English and Spanish with those in the Latinx community that also work in the horse world. They always have some pretty interesting stories and experiences about the people and riders that some of the Latinx community works for. I have been able to see both sides and it has empowered me to do better every day.
What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?
One of my proudest moments, that I get to repeat every so often, is watching a student (adult or child) who has had a traumatic experience in the past with horses, get back in the saddle and enjoy it again. It makes me so proud of myself because I helped get them to that point. But it also makes me proud of them for pushing themselves to face their – totally rational – fears of getting on a 1000lb animal with a mind of their own.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
There have been many times when people have assumed I was a barn worker or groom and I have been asked many times if I spoke English. I have even heard of myself referred to as unsavory names. I think the most disappointing part of hearing things like this, is that I know other people have to go through the same thing every day.
For as long as I could remember, I’ve wanted to continue to ride horses into adulthood. I think as a child my biggest challenge was never seeing anybody that looked like me or doing the things that I aspired to do. And everybody who did look like me in the horse world were never the riders, but the workers. I remember thinking the only thing that I could be was a jockey, which would’ve also been challenging as a woman.
In what moment have you been most disappointed as an equestrian of color?
One time, when I was working at a summer camp, I had many questions asked about the status of my citizenship. I was asked extra questions, along the lines of whether I had a passport, or proof of citizenship, that a non-POC was not asked. Even when I gave documents that should have been satisfactory. In that moment, I was very disappointed that I was being interrogated for something that I had already proven prior, “Just to make sure.” It made me feel like because of my heritage and skin, I was not being treated like everybody else.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Don’t let stereotypes stop you from achieving your dreams or goals. Just because there may not be many people visible out there that look like you or have the same skin color, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Maybe they are just waiting for someone like you to follow. Be your own role model, if you don’t have one to look up to.
Horse Breed: Gypsy Vanners
Horse Color: Palomino
Treat to give: Stud Muffins!
Place to ride: Old Chatham Hunter Pace Course
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.