How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
I would describe myself as light-hearted but serious at the same time. I like to be known for always having that big ole smile on my face and having a good laugh, but I’d say I have that competitor-switch real quick as well.
I always have my horse’s needs and health at the forefront of my mind when competing. I got into horses and rodeo because of my passion for the animals and the Western way of life.
That said, I’m a competitor at the same time and want to do the best of my abilities and always do my best to win. Nothing compares to the feeling of winning. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to be able to do all of that with my equine partner/partners. The connection between horses and humans is incomparable to anything else.
How did you get involved with horses and what role to they currently play in your life?
My mother grew up with horses, so from a young age she would take me riding with her. Plus, my godmother Courtney Ireland (who has since passed) had a cattle ranch in Idaho where I’d work and help out in the summers.
From a young age, horses instilled themselves into my life and I knew I wanted them to be a part of my life once I grew older. Now they’re my passion along with roping and competing on them. I don’t see them ever going away, I don’t ever want to live without horses in my life.
If I’m not at work, I’m either in the gym or on my horses competing or practicing and trying to better myself in my discipline. They play a huge part in my daily life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Part of being involved in the equestrian life is knowing the level of commitment and time that they require.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
My mother is from McKenney, Texas. She grew up with some livestock, had a pony and horses, and rode herself from early childhood to twenties. It was always for pleasure though, never competing. My Aunt also had horses that they actively rode and my Uncle Herb rode professional bulls for a short bit as well. So I had been semi-submerged into the Western world growing up as a child from a young age.
I didn’t grow up on a ranch or vast land like most traditional cowboys. As a child, my mother would take me and my siblings riding. However, my godmother Courtney had a ranch where I worked and would be on the vast majority of my time as a teenager. So that played a key role in introducing me heavily to the Western life/world. I’d ultimately say that time with my godmother planted true love and passion for what I do now.
Since growing up in and around the Western life, one thing I’ve learned about, whether it be horses or the Western life, is that you’re constantly learning new skills. It’s a never-ending process no matter how much you know. It keeps me humble and always engaged. It makes me want to be better; a better Cowboy, improving my horsemanship, or just better in general.
It’s funny because in life there usually comes a time when you can say you’re an “expert” in something- but with horsemanship, there’s just so much and it’s an ever-evolving door and knowledge to be learned. I’d say it’s influenced me in more than one area of my life – from my work ethic, to my morals, to who I am as a whole.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
One challenge in particular that I’ve faced as an equestrian of color, is from a young age of not feeling like I belonged in the rodeo/western world. I do my best not to read into the racial aspect of things but in the Western world, there’s no denying that it’s white-dominated. That’s not the fault of anyone either, that’s just how it is and has been.
I remember when I was younger trying to find that sense of belonging. I remember pulling up to events and it was like an automatic feeling of feeling out of place, whether it’s how people looked at you or the blank stares you get. I was usually the only person of color at the events competing so finding that sense of belonging for myself was a big mental challenge.
However, I wouldn’t have changed it because it made my mental game a lot stronger and made me a better person for it. Regardless of how I felt though I always aimed to just do the best I could and try and win. Let that speak for itself.
The other thing that helped me a lot was just finding the people who I mixed in well with. The Western world is very welcoming, there are lots of good-hearted people in it, regardless of how I felt. I had friends who helped mitigate that feeling of not belonging and made me feel more welcomed and put peace of mind to my mental side of things which also helped a lot.
Nowadays if I see people new to the scene, I try to make all people feel welcomed and greeted with a smile and help them along, just like those who did that for me too! I always aim to be that person I needed when I was younger getting into the game.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
The words of encouragement I would have for those wanting to get into the equine life are to not be afraid to ask questions and to be a sponge. Know the level of commitment it’s going to take, but know you aren’t alone and that you can’t start if you don’t take the first step!
Funny thing a fellow cowboy told me once when I was younger and aspiring to be a better roper is that “Jake Barnes and Trever Brazil, they all put their pants on the same way as you so if they can do it, so can you.” Of course, it takes a lot of dedication and time amongst other things but the point is if they can achieve it so can you.
Horse breed: Quarter horses all the way, no doubt. (Geldings over mares)
Horse color: Flea-bitten gray (even though they’re the hardest to keep clean)
Discipline: Team roping/rodeo, and now and then I try to make it out to a mounted shooting practice for fun.
Treat to give: To be completely honest, I don’t give much treats but my fiancé hooks my horses up with apple crisp treats
Place to ride: I’m open to riding wherever! However, I love a good view when riding out or a nice, long sandy wash to let just let my horses run.
Jeni Jo Photography is an equestrian portrait photographer based in Washington state