How would you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I have been riding and competing on the A circuit for over 30 years. Primarily, I have competed in the hunters and occasionally dabbled in the equitation and jumpers. I have been extremely fortunate because I have been able to keep my horses at home for the past 15 years and stay in Florida for the winter months.
I very much enjoy being an integral part of my horses’ daily schedules. It allows me to get to know each of them on a much more profound level. Like most people in the industry, I have had many successes, and I have had many failures. I ride well – not great – but I love the horses, the training process, and the element of competition.
My niche is importing young horses (generally 3-4-year-olds) and bringing them along in their careers as show hunters.
I currently have five horses. JetSetter and Iconic Z are my two 4-years-olds, who are just starting their show careers in the hunters. My 6-year-old Diarado gelding (AirDrop), who I purchased as a 3-year-old in Germany, did all the 5-Year-Old Young Jumper Classes/1.20m jumpers last year. He is now starting to transition to the 3’6″ Amateur Owner Hunters/Derbies.
Astoria is my seasoned and most perfect Amateur-Owner hunter, who I bought 30 days under saddle out of Holland. Lastly, I have a former Grand Prix jumper, Dagano Van’t Langbos, who is a quirky 18-year-old gelding from The Czech. Dagano is now enjoying retirement.
How did you get involved in horses?
I got involved in horses when my parents took me for a pony ride when I was six! Naturally, I fell in love with the experience as I have always had a huge love for animals (we also have 4-5 rescue dogs at any given time).
I started riding lessons and my parents leased me a pony shortly thereafter. Within a few months, I was in the show ring, doing the walk-trot classes, and progressed from there. I had extremely supportive parents, and a patient trainer, Pixie Denver, with who I still maintain a very close relationship with after almost 30 years. My riding took a brief hiatus towards the end of college and the beginning of graduate school, but I quickly found my way back to the saddle.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
Culture is defined as: “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization”. For me, my culture encompasses the environment in which I was raised and existed in for the past 37 years. Because I was adopted from South Korea when I was only four months old, I feel much stronger ties to my family and American culture than I do to Korean culture.
My equestrian lifestyle can be attributed to two extremely supportive parents, who bought me my first pony over 30 years ago. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into! They have continued to encourage and cheer for me every step of the way.
What are you most proud of as an equestrian?
Although it has been a challenge, I am most proud of my ability to keep a grounded perspective and stay well-rounded in an often cutthroat and unrealistic world that demands extensive time, money, (and sometimes your soul) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is very easy to let your friends, family, community, and personal well-being slip away to play second string. These are not elements of my life that I wish to sacrifice.
I have made a concerted effort to involve myself in my local community – I was the President of the Board of Directors for Dress for Success Lexington, in addition to sitting on several other Boards for the Lexington Junior League, and dedicated over 100 hours last year to volunteer at some of the local non-profits (Ronald McDonald House, God’s Pantry Food Bank, Hope Lodge). I have made lifelong friends.
While this may not be a realistic goal for everyone, I believe that it has helped to maintain a realistic perspective, in addition to both supporting my community and fostering my personal well-being.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
Personally, I cannot remember any time where I have felt as if the challenges I have faced in this sport were a result of being Asian-American. The industry is multifaceted. The horses are in the limelight, with their riders/trainers/owners/breeders/grooms all working to fulfill their individual roles. Everyone comes together as a team.
Because of the prevalence of equestrians on the international spectrum, most of the horse shows have a multi-national element. There are a variety of individuals representing their country. At the end of the day, it comes down to whose team has best prepared their horse(s) to go into the show ring and perform.
While the hunters and equitation are subjective and the judging can carry a political aspect, I have never felt that the color of my skin or my cultural background had any effect on the outcome of my performance.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
Regardless of the color of your skin or your cultural background, people should not feel intimidated to pursue their interest in the equestrian world. There are a multitude of disciplines, levels of competition, and degrees of commitment. You just have to figure out which best suits you.
Do not compare yourself to other people in the industry. As in life, everyone is on his or her own personal journey. Do what makes you happy – it is way too expensive and demanding not to.
And remember, horses don’t see skin color – they sense your energy, they feel your emotions, and they take you for you.
Sara Farrell is a fine art and portrait photographer servicing Lexington Kentucky. She strives to turn candid moments into lasting memories. Sara believes in the importance of empowerment through representation, and the power that emotional storytelling through photography can have.