How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as an equestrian with a light seat and hand. Maybe this is because I started out as a hunter rider.
I’ve done catch riding all my life, and I know how to adjust my riding to different mounts. I believe that horses tend to go better for riders that they like, so I prefer a softer approach.
I love to ride on a long, loopy rein and find the hunter gap over fences. However, I’m currently transitioning into the jumpers.
How did you get involved in horses?
Despite the fact that my parents are not animal people, I began riding when I was just five years old. My neighbor, Ms. Irina, worked at a stable and gave me informal riding lessons after school. When Ms. Irina saw how much I loved horses, she encouraged my parents to enroll me in a local riding program.
Once I started, I rode anything I could get my hands on and competed in several schooling shows. Throughout middle and high school, I competed with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA), and I served as captain of my IEA competition team.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
I don’t come from a wealthy family or a family with a horse background. As a junior, I couldn’t afford to show on the prestigious “A” circuit. I have never had the opportunity to practice riding consistently with a horse of my own, and it was very challenging to progress on lesson horses that were often quirky, elderly, and/or unable to jump the big fences.
Another challenge that rattled my confidence as a young rider was when a stable owner told me that I had no chance of making it on a collegiate equestrian team. While I’m happy to say that I proved her wrong, it makes me sad to know that the equestrian sport is still riddled with elitist perspectives due to its classist history.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
Even though people of color are few and far between in the equestrian sport, I know that Black people have a rich history of involvement with horses.
The first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby was a Black man named Oliver Lewis. The thoroughbred that won with Oliver was trained by a Black man named Ansel Williamson, who was later inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Donna Cheek was the first Black person to become a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, and the first equestrian to be inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Distinction. Mavis Spencer is also an incredibly accomplished Black equestrian. She has won numerous Grand Prix show jumping events.
These esteemed riders (and so many more) are part of my culture. They have all inspired me not to give up on my dreams of becoming a professional equestrian and running my own nonprofit equine therapeutic center for disabled children, at-risk youth, and veterans.
What are you most proud of as an equestrian?
Horses are my passion, so I’m proud of all my accomplishments as an equestrian. I made the UC Berkeley Cal Equestrian Team as a freshman and served as captain of the team my senior year. While in college, I was accepted into the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program in Petaluma, CA. This past January, I received the support of a generous sponsor and was able to compete in my first USHJA-rated “A” show in Thermal, CA.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Persevere through adversity because blessings come unexpectedly.
Before I won Miss California USA 2021, I had not ridden for two years. I never would’ve guessed that being a beauty queen could lead to so many equestrian opportunities. I now have multiple brand partnerships and ride with the Compton Cowboys/Compton Jr. Equestrians nonprofit team. After graduating college, I thought I’d have to give up on my lifelong goal of riding professionally, but now I’m closer than ever to achieving that goal.
To people of color involved in the equestrian sport, you deserve to be in the horse world. You deserve to be seen and heard. We need more diversity in the equestrian sport, so please don’t ever give up on your dreams!
Kirstie Marie Photography LLC is a fine art equine photographer located in Aubrey, Texas. Her style is characterized by revealing the most beautiful elements of each girl and her horse in sun-soaked, distinctive photos to be treasured for generations to come.