How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself the same as any other horse crazed person – I absolutely can’t see my life without them! My parents both have explained that I wanted a horse ever since I was able to understand what a horse was. Mind you, no one prior in my family has ever owned a horse. We didn’t have the facilities for one either considering we lived in the city at the time with an acre or so of land.
To help my addiction, I played horse movies on the television all day long, ranging from Black Beauty, to My Friend Flicka. If it had a horse in it, I was watching it! Whenever we would go to the fair and saw the pony rides, I’d HAVE to ride a million times. The owners of the ponies would feel so bad for my parents that they would eventually end up giving me free rides!
Anyways, my parents realized that the horse faze wasn’t going away anytime soon, so they decided that it was time to move. They bought 14 acres of land when I was 6, and we moved in shortly after our house was built. My parents signed me up for horse riding lessons, and a year or so later I was able to buy my first pony with the money I had saved up. Eventually, as I learned and met new people, my career in horses got bigger and more serious.
Now, I am a strong, determined woman of color who is out there just chasing her dreams one day at a time with my dream team of horses just like anyone else. I am an avid barrel racer and have been since the age of seven (I am 21 now). I currently am racing 2 horses and plan to expand my team even further in the next year or so. I run pretty competitively on my horse named Fancy Dream (Fancy). She honestly has done so much for me and has gotten me so many places I never could have imagined. She truly is an awesome horse!
My second horse Kalimans Gold Card (Kali) is a 4-year old and is just now really getting the grasp of things. Within the next year or so, I have no doubt that he will be up with the top horses. What is so great is that I’ve trained them both, so everything that they accomplish within their career is beyond rewarding. There’s just something special about training a horse yourself.
What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?
What I enjoy most about being an equestrian of color is what most people hate: the staring. Being different honestly helps me build up my confidence at the shows. I’m sure people aren’t staring for the right reasons, and I am sure there is talking that goes with it as well. But it is so soothing when I go out there and place high in the standings and show people that just because my color is different, does not mean I cannot be a good rider, a good trainer, knowledgeable about horses, have decent horses, and decent things.
My parents and my surrounding group have been so supportive throughout the years, and they have gotten me through so much. If anything, being an equestrian of color is an advantage. In my opinion, it allows us to be different without even really having to try.
Which goes back to the staring situation when you walk into a show atmosphere. What your job is to do next, is show that you’re deserving of that attention, and change the negative thoughts, into positives when people see you ride and get to know your personality. Eventually, they’ll realize they were in the wrong to judge you just because of the way you look. As I’ve gotten better and established a reputation, I’ve gotten the chance to become a sponsor for multiple amazing companies. Let me tell you it is so great to know that companies like me for me, and that color wasn’t even a factor for them.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I have been truly lucky to not experience any major problems with being an equestrian of color. Will it eventually happen? I am almost sure of it. I live in Ohio, so the state isn’t as racially divided as other states may be. Sure, I can sense when someone may not be very fond of me being in the barrel industry. For example, when I give a smile and a nod, and I get nothing from them but a stare? Yeah, something is definitely not sitting right with me when they can go and do the same thing with someone who is not of color.
I am truly a happy person and you can ALWAYS catch me smiling and laughing. I was also raised right by both of my parents to treat everyone with respect until they break that respect. I wish everyone was like that. Which brings me into the rodeo atmosphere. The rodeo world specifically pounds that into people’s heads, but only a select few, decide to honor that when they’re actually exposed to people of color.
A major factor of being an equestrian is the “you’re not black, you ride horses” or “you obviously are white on the inside because you ride horses” or “real black people don’t ride horses”. I wish I could count how many times I have heard this come out of people’s mouths. And honestly, it is one of the most offensive comments that I get.
My mother is African American and my father is Caucasian. So, I have always been faced with having to “pick sides” when it comes to different aspects. I guess the horse world is a “white” sport. When was that ever designated? Who knows. But, that isn’t the case. I take big pride in being half black, and I wouldn’t change it if I had the chance to. I’ve taken many classes in college to learn about my ancestors, and how African American’s are treated in today’s society, and in my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to “act black”. I am who I am, so the question should never arise in a conversation, period.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color?
What I have to tell other people of color is that your dreams matter too. Always have a healthy group of people that support you through everything and bring you back up whenever you are down. I never would have imagined that I would get to travel every weekend with my horses, compete in big competitions, win some barrel races, have sponsors, get to travel with a beautiful new truck and trailer, and the list could go on and on. I started with nothing, just a little girl who knew that she had her heart set on horses. I just gradually built my way up. I don’t plan to stop until I get to do this as a living one day.
So, who knows, maybe I’ll see you at the NFR, and I don’t know, maybe you will see me as well one day and be the first African American pro barrel racer to make it there. Honestly, only time will tell, and life is so good. So, make the very best of it and never stop believing in yourself. Yes, there will be times when it seems like everything is against you. But just know, it will only get better, and if you were truly destined to do something, it will happen.
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.