How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as a horse lover most of all.
While I enjoy riding, my love and respect for horses comes first always. I believe in positive reinforcement methods of training and evaluating the latest research to help my horse succeed both physically and mentally. I ride primarily hunter jumpers and lower level dressage, but do not show.
I ride to enjoy my time with the horses and to accomplish personal goals for myself and better the horses I ride overall. I try to introduce fun enrichment to the horses whose lives I’m a part of and mix up their schedules with trick training, bridle-less and bareback riding, and trail riding as well.
Horses have been a large part of my life for almost ten years, and I love riding and jumping but also the simple things like watching them graze in turnout or hanging out in their stall.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
I enjoy being able to show others that I am equally as capable of being successful in this industry.
While I do not show, I have always pushed myself to be the best rider and advocate I can be for the horses I ride. I enjoy being able to hold my own in terms of riding and overall knowledge and having a limited amount of doubt be presented to me in my particular community.
I also enjoy trying to be a positive role model and ally to other equestrians of color looking to make a place for themselves in the equestrian community. I like connecting with other equestrians of color, making friends, and supporting others on social media, as well as buying from EOC-owned businesses.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I have had several instances over the years with individuals at my barn making racist comments or calling me outdated and inappropriate slurs for Asians. Additionally, the issue of inclusivity in the equestrian industry makes it rather rare for me to see other Asian people at my barn or even on social media.
While I don’t get very discouraged because nothing would stop me from being around horses and doing what I love, it is disappointing that there is not a larger push by now. I feel there should be more equipment designated for equestrians of color, such as helmets that fit different head shapes, boots that are more affordable for shapes that may fit more specific proportions (besides custom), etc.
Additionally, it is always a challenge to feel like you need to represent an entire population of people when sometimes you may want to just go about your day worry-free.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
I would encourage those interested to find a knowledgeable and inclusive trainer who can help you learn and enjoy horses. They are worth the barriers needed to overcome and I would encourage others to try not to focus on what others may think and to find a supportive barn and community to learn from.
Finding a good trainer or place to learn and ride can be a great help, but also finding other EOC friends to ride with and allies to create a sense of community can be a real help. My advice would be to try to enjoy the sport for your own personal reasons and continue to learn so you can hold your own against others who may challenge you.
Everyone deserves to learn about these beautiful creatures and enjoy them in their lives with as much or as little involvement as they want.
Leah Lewis is a fine art equine photographer based out of Chicago, Illinois. Her work is driven by her deep love of animals and visually expressing the extraordinary bond that is shared between horse and human.