How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?
When describing myself as an equestrian, I would identify as someone who prioritizes the overall happiness and welfare of horses rather than focusing solely on performance.
In my younger years, my perspective was centered around what the horse could do for me. However, as I have grown older and established my equine bodywork business, my focus has shifted towards what I can do to improve the horse’s well-being and help them feel better in their own body. This shift in perspective has completely transformed my understanding of being an equestrian and its personal significance to me.
I have great admiration for equestrians who can dedicate themselves to both their horse’s performance and their overall well-being. It is a remarkable feat that deserves applause. As I continue my journey, I hope to find a balance between these aspects in the future. My goal is to contribute to the horse’s happiness and health while also acknowledging the importance of their performance.
How did you get involved with horses?
During my upbringing, we were fortunate to have a kind neighbor who offered riding lessons to my brother and me. I was immediately hooked! As fate would have it, our neighbor began working at a newly opened trail riding ranch nearby and generously extended an opportunity for us to work as trail guides.
Working at The Red Buffalo Ranch provided me with a remarkable exposure to various horse breeds and disciplines. As a trail guide, I had the privilege of leading riders through beautiful state park trails, teaching at summer camp, and working as a weekend manager once I was older.
Alongside these experiences, I pursued jumping lessons, engaged in drill team activities with Rocky Mountain horses, delved into the world of dressage, and even competed in a few endurance rides. In addition, I, along with most of my siblings, regularly volunteered at a local therapeutic riding facility. Witnessing the transformative power of horses in assisting individuals with special needs was a deeply rewarding experience.
I was so fortunate to ride so many different horses, but I did not own a horse until adulthood. About 5 years ago, my then-fiancé, now husband purchased my American Paint mare Kimber. Kimber motivated me to pursue a career in equine bodywork in a desire to improve her physical comfort. She embodies an incredible combination of gentleness and grace, and she holds a special place in my heart. The journey from those initial riding lessons to becoming a horse owner has been a testament to the profound impact horses have had on my life.
What role do horses currently play in your life?
At present, horses have assumed a profoundly different role in my life compared to my childhood riding days. I am now fortunate enough to operate my own equine bodywork business, Sleepy Hollow Equine Services LLC, where I have the privilege of working with a diverse array of horses across various disciplines. Through equine bodywork, I strive to facilitate the well-being of these remarkable animals, assisting them in finding physical harmony and comfort.
In the hierarchy of my priorities, horses hold an exceptionally significant position, second only to my faith and family. They are not merely a passion but an all-encompassing devotion and if I’m really being honest, an obsession!
In essence, horses are my guiding companions, accompanying me on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening. Their influence is immeasurable, and I am eternally humbled by the opportunity to work with them and contribute to their well-being.
How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?
During my childhood, horses were not a passion for my family until my older brother and I started riding. Initially, my parents held concerns about the potential dangers associated with horses. Despite their worries, they supported me in pursuing my dreams safely.
It was the environment I grew up in, rather than any specific cultural influence, that shaped my equestrian lifestyle. I grew up in an area with lots of horse farms and could ride my bike to a few of them. I started working with horses around age 11.
As I have grown older, my equestrian lifestyle has taken on a new focus. I believe that horses are something that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy. I have come to recognize the multitude of healing gifts that horses offer, and I am passionate about sharing these benefits with others.
Whether it is through therapeutic riding programs, equine-assisted therapy, or simply providing opportunities for people to interact with horses in a positive and nurturing way, I aim to promote the idea that horses can bring joy, healing, and personal growth to individuals from all walks of life.
What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?
As the only person of color in many equestrian environments I encountered while growing up, I constantly felt the need to prove myself. I worked tirelessly to demonstrate that I was just as dedicated and capable of working with and riding horses as anyone else. Being the minority in nearly every horse-related situation forced me to become comfortable with my unique position.
However, as I matured and embraced my identity, I learned to let go of insecurities. I realized that my value in the equestrian world was not defined by external perceptions but by my years of experience and genuine dedication to horses. Ultimately, what truly matters is the mutual understanding and connection shared among horse people. Regardless of color, true horse enthusiasts can connect and bond on any level, recognizing the shared passion and devotion we all have for these incredible animals.
I am African American. I am Native American. I am French. I am German. I am an Equestrian and that is all that matters.
In what way have you been most disappointed as an equestrian of color?
I have found the lack of access and recognition for equestrians of color to be profoundly disheartening. The stories I’ve heard from fellow equestrians of color are often heartbreaking, as they share experiences of feeling marginalized and as though they don’t truly belong within the equestrian community. It is important to remember that horses have played a pivotal role in numerous cultures for thousands of years, serving as an integral part of our ancestors’ lives.
The horse world, unfortunately, has not always been open and inclusive to equestrians of color across all disciplines. However, there is a glimmer of hope as I witness a slow but meaningful shift taking place. More individuals, including myself, are gaining the confidence to step forward and demonstrate that horses are meant for everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.
By actively participating and showcasing our passion and skills within the equestrian community, we are challenging the existing narrative and breaking down barriers. This growing representation is vital in reshaping perceptions and fostering a more inclusive environment for all equestrians.
Change takes time, but I firmly believe that progress is being made. As more diverse voices are amplified and the contributions of equestrians of color are acknowledged and celebrated, the equestrian community can evolve into a space that truly embraces and values the diversity of its members. Together, we can work towards creating a future where all equestrians, regardless of their color or background, feel seen, respected, and welcomed with open arms.
What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?
I can wholeheartedly say that whether you are an equestrian of color, or anyone drawn to horses, the passion and reward is worth any doubt.
Despite potential adversities, challenges, and the occasional feeling of not fully belonging, I encourage anyone considering involvement with horses to persist and overcome any obstacles they may encounter. Horses don’t see color; they see heart and your true intentions and that is how they connect.
Once you experience the indescribable bond and connection with these amazing animals, you will find yourself forever captivated. So, regardless of any doubts or hurdles that may arise, find the resilience within yourself to forge ahead.
The pursuit of horses is a remarkable journey that will enrich your life in ways you never imagined. Embrace the journey, embrace the challenges, and let the horses guide you to an extraordinary and fulfilling equestrian lifestyle!
Horse breed: Arabian
Horse color: Liver Chestnut
Discipline: Trail Riding & Endurance
Treat to give: Apples!
Place to ride: Sun-dappled trails
Jessica is a professional equine photographer based in New Jersey & Pennsylvania.