How did you get involved with horses?
Madea: As a child, my family couldn’t afford lessons, so my best friend and I would ride our bikes 13 miles to spend a whole day pulling weeds in a field for a half-hour of trail riding.
Sabelle: Through my mom, of course! My parents tried to get me into any and every sport imaginable at a young age and each time I refused to go back; I just didn’t like any of it. So one day they just decided why not try horses, and that was it. Since that one 30-minute lesson, horses have consumed my entire life. I am so grateful for my mom and the gift she gave me, introducing me to horses.
How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
Madea: I have always loved horses and ride for fun. My proudest moments as an equestrian have been watching my daughter become a beautiful, talented rider. She is my pride and joy!
Sabelle: I would describe myself as an equestrian that tries their best to support everyone around me.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
Madea: I, personally have been blessed and grew up in a culture that was free of barriers and restrictions regarding my equestrian lifestyle.
Sabelle: Growing up in Turkey there were no boundaries or barriers for me. The barn I rode at had such a mixed group of riders. We had trainers that always instilled in us that anything we put our minds to we could do.
What would you like our readers to know about your history and/or culture?
Madea: I never had the desire or opportunity to get riding lessons until I was well into my 40’s. I would like readers to know that it’s never too late to get started.
Sabelle: I started riding when I was five when we lived in Turkey. There were no limits to who could ride, each day there would be new clients: men, women, children of all nationalities and ethnicities. Our barn accommodated each and every rider. Up until I moved to the United States, I never realized the lack of representation in the sport.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Madea: None thus far. I imagine if I were actively showing or involved in a large horse community, my response may be different.
Sabelle: I’d like to think I’ve been fortunate enough where I haven’t faced any challenges that had to do with being a person of color. (The beauty of growing up and riding in Turkey!) But when I was younger it did affect me to not see people like me dominating or even being present in the riding world.
In what way have you been most disappointed as an equestrian of color?
Madea: I’m not sure if I can attribute this to the fact that I’m an equestrian of color; however, I am disappointed at the lack of integrity and honesty some professionals in this industry display. I see this more often than I would like and wish it was more about the horse and rider, and less about the money. I guess it’s just the world we live in.
Sabelle: Living in the state that I do (Oklahoma), it’s so hard to bring awareness and speak up about issues relating to people of color in this sport and in society today. Many people say politics don’t belong in the sport, etc., but I disagree. Injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Madea: Follow your dreams and never allow anyone or anything get in the way of achieving your goal. Also know that almost any barrier can be overcome. You just have to keep working hard and asking the right people until you get what you want and where you want to be.
Sabelle: If you love the sport or are even thinking about starting the sport do not let anything stop you. You deserve and have every right to be here just like everyone else; do not let anyone question whether you belong in the sport.
Sabelle: Gotta love the dark bays!
Sabelle: Hunters all day every day!
Treat to give:
Sabelle: Organic treats because my princess of a horse accepts nothing less
Place to ride:
Madea: Outside arena/trails
Sabelle: Anywhere as long as I’m with my mom
Rachel Griffin is a wholly obsessed horse-nerd-turned-photographer based in Oklahoma. She’s on a mission to help devoted equestrians feel confident and comfortable in portraits with their heart horses—because that partnership too important to let nerves or worries get in the way of celebrating it.