How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as a person who simply enjoys being with her horses. I love riding – whether it is schooling and learning in the arena or enjoying nature by trail riding. I enjoy being in the saddle, but what I hold paramount is providing proper and loving care to my two special horses. Their happiness and well-being are the most important to me.
I have loved horses ever since I was a toddler. Both of my parents grew up on farms in North Dakota, and my uncle is still running the farm where my mom grew up. I treasure the memories of my uncle and grandpa taking me to visit the farm and leading me around on Sally, my uncle’s chestnut Quarter Horse mare. I suppose my family thought it would be a cute idea to set me on the horse, but ever since then, I was hooked.
Coming back home to Pittsburgh, my parents found a week-long horse camp in the summer to try to show me what hard work is involved in caring for horses. They thought that if I was exposed to the labor that goes along with horses and horse care, I would be dissuaded…they were wrong. It was one of the most magical weeks of my life, and afterward, my parents agreed to weekly riding lessons. Those once-a-week lessons were the highlight of my week!
After many years of pleading, begging, and asking for a horse of my own to love and care for, my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life: my heart horse, Nico. With the guidance of my instructor, my parents and I drove to a few states and tried many horses. Looking back, spending that quality time with my parents and experiencing the journey with them is so special and has created memories I will always cherish.
Growing up, and currently residing, in Western Pennsylvania, I have always liked competing in a few local horse shows per year. But I primarily identify as an equestrian who basically enjoys learning and riding for the pure joy of it. Nico, a thoroughbred welsh pony cross, has enjoyed competing at local hunter/jumper shows with me. He has also bravely carried me through hunter pace courses where we have had so much fun experiencing new obstacles. It is hard for me to believe that he will be nineteen this year in 2021!
My second horse to come into my life, Olive, is a large paint rescue pony we adopted in 2019 through a program called the Equine Rehabilitation Project. Olive came as a very green eleven-year-old, and although her backstory is sad and full of neglect, she doesn’t hold any grudges or resentment. She is the sweetest mare who just wants to love and be loved. Olive and I are currently learning dressage together, and it has been such a fun and positive journey. I am hoping that once we become more knowledgeable in the fundamentals of dressage, we can also try our hand at hunters.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
One of the main parts I enjoy about being an equestrian of color is that I am an example of the representation of diversity that our sport and horse community (in Western Pennsylvania) sometimes lacks.
As a child going to the barn to take lessons, I knew I looked different. My parents adopted me from Seoul, South Korea when I was an infant. I was born premature, so I had to wait until I was six months old to make the journey to the United States to be with my family. I have been very blessed and fortunate to have a life that is full of love, opportunity, and support from my parents.
Although the support from my family and friends is endless, going into places where you feel like you stand out for being, or looking, different can be an isolating and uncomfortable feeling. Remembering my first horse camp experience, I remember feeling a little out of place for being the only non-Caucasian person. However, I discovered that horses don’t care what you look like. They only care if you are kind, understanding and if you have a tasty treat to offer!
I am especially thrilled to be a part of The Equestrians of Color Photography Project because I think it is so important to extend inclusivity and welcome people of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds.
Growing up, I would never see diversity featured in catalogs or advertisements for tack shops and equestrian apparel. This would make me feel isolated in the sport I love. Not until recently have I noticed riders of color appearing in these sorts of ads. I have been thrilled to see that there is a representation of diversity featured in SmartPak and Dover Saddlery catalogs. It is so refreshing to see riders of color featured to model the apparel and products. It makes me so happy that young people growing up in the sport will see that.
Honestly, it has taken me a while to get to this point in my life – I used to want to blend in with everybody else, but I have grown to be more confident in my uniqueness. My hope of sharing my story is to somehow reach and support other riders of color by being a friend, ally, and cheerleader. I hope that I can potentially help other riders of color feel more comfortable, not so singular, and act as a role model to other people and riders.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I am forever asked, “Where are you from?” with the second question following closely of, “No, where are you REALLY from?”
Whether the microaggressions are due to a lack of diversity in the social community, or in the horse community, these questions are rude and cause me to feel alienated. I am an American. I have lived in the United States for my entire life since I was an infant, and this is the only culture and customs that I know. I find this very intrusive and feel backed into a corner as if I’m forced to disclose intimate details of my personal life and adoption in certain situations where I feel like it’s not appropriate or necessary.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color becoming equestrians?
Don’t feel like you have to settle in a place where you feel uncomfortable. Find the environment that will allow you to thrive. Enjoy your time with your horses, and work on building lasting relationships with friends and barn family.
I’m very fortunate to have had mainly positive experiences in the horse community, and I feel so lucky to have found wonderful friends through horses. This sport and hobby requires so much from its participants. It can stress emotions (and finances) but it’s important not to lose sight of why you’re at the barn: to find joy and happiness through horses, learning, and riding.
Jackie Harris is a part time photographer located in the Pittsburgh, PA area. The cowboy that taught her how to ride horses was an equestrian of color, Rusty. Although Rusty is no longer here to share his stories with the Project, she is passionate about sharing the stories of other EOC and opening up conversations about racial bias and helping others to understand the definition.