Featured Rider Julie: Sitting Tall in the Saddle

Julie and Cody July 2020.jpg

We continue our celebration of the diverse equestrians in this community with our next featured rider, Julie! Born in Okinawa, an island in the East China Sea, Julie has been infatuated with horses since she was a child. As she grew, she found ways to ride and spend time with horses but noticed there weren’t any riders who looked like her. Read on to hear her story of resilience and the power of a positive outlook.

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I don't know where my passion for horses came from, but my mother grew up around a farm on a little island called Okinawa. As a young adult, she met my dad while he was stationed at a Marine Corps base on the island. He courted my mom and one day he asked her to marry him. She thought he was asking her to the movies, or so she said. She had a wonderful sense of humor. There was a lot of fuss about this union from both sides of the family because interracial marriages were not accepted in the 1960s. Nevertheless, my parents stayed together, I came along, and we all headed to the States. Ultimately, my parents had a total of five girls and one boy.

Once in the States, we ended up moving to a city in the San Gabriel Valley, which is a vast suburban area in Southern California. As a young child, I watched the Rose Parade on TV just so I could see the horse entries. As I got older, I got to camp out on the parade route so we could watch it live.

The Santa Anita Racetrack is just 10 minutes away from where we lived and was en route to Sears, which is where we did most of our shopping. On the way there, I made sure I got a window seat, just to catch a glimpse of the horses being walked to their stalls. None of my siblings seemed to share my excitement when we drove by. I was the lone horse lover.

My dad worked hard to take care of his family of eight. We went to private Catholic schools and enjoyed family vacations. My parents taught me to work hard, always do my best, and keep going, no matter what. What choice did I have, being the daughter of a Tiger Mom and a Marine father? They instilled in me confidence, a competitive spirit, and good sportsmanship. Little did I know that as a person of color, I would also need to develop coping strategies to deal with the real world.

Julie and Jake.jpg

The skills that Julie learned from her parents gives her the confidence she needs to work with horses, like her Morgan gelding Jake.

Horses finally came into my life when I was in my teens. I took a few riding lessons with my Campfire Girls group and I got a job at a local rental stable in El Monte, CA. I would take riders out on trail rides along the San Gabriel River. When high school came along, horses were out of my life again.

After four years at a Catholic college preparatory high school, my college days finally arrived and so did the horses. I reconnected with a grammar school friend who had a horse at a local stable. She got me interested in English shows, taught me to jump, and introduced me to another horse owner, for whom I began a side job exercising a few his horses.

As my world began to expand and I met more people, I had casual conversations and naturally, the topic of horses came up. They seemed to be surprised that I rode because I don't look like a typical rider. What does a “typical rider” look like? The people I met played guessing games about my ethnicity and complimented me on my spoken English and vocabulary. I didn't know how to respond, but my parents would have expected me to be gracious and just say thank you, which is what I did. There were also those who treated me as if I were invisible and those who thought it was funny to refer to me as “Yoko”. I kept my chin up, sat up straight in the saddle, and rode on. This was my first memory of being treated differently due to my ethnicity.

Julie and Randy Brent Graef horsemanship clinic 2019.jpg

"What does a 'typical rider' look like?" Julie asks. Here she is riding her handsome Morgan named Randy at a horsemanship clinic.

I was finally able to obtain my first horse when I was thirty-four years old. He was a chestnut Morgan gelding who rode and drove. At thirty-six, I met an Asian Pony Clubber, then I knew there were at least two of us. I also acquired another horse, a bay Morgan gelding named Jake. We trail rode and did horsemanship clinics. Fast forward ten years, I saw a photo of an Asian barrel racer, an Asian roper, and Asians competing at high-level jumper competitions. This was the first time I saw Asians in the equestrian community being recognized for their skills and talents. Around this time, I acquired another bay Morgan gelding named Zippy.

Experiences and life lessons tend to, hopefully, make one wiser. Occasionally, I still experience various forms of racism, but I prefer to look at the positivity around me. I am proud of my Okinawan heritage, as well as my German and Irish side, and hope to bring nothing but honor to the family name. Though I may be unique in my own family, horses are my passion and through horses, I have met many wonderful people along my equestrian journey. I have held officer positions for several horse clubs during the past 25 years and volunteer my administrative skills for a local equine rescue shelter.

Julie and Cody 2019.jpg

Like many of us, horses have shaped Julie's life and introduced her to many wonderful people along her journey. She is standing next to Arabian/QH gelding Cody here.
Horses don't care about one's ethnicity. They don't care if you're male, female, or something in between. In the horses’ world, only a few things matter: food and water, who's in charge, where they fit in, who they can buddy up with, and which human helps them feel content. What the human looks like and what color they are have little to no concern to them. If only we humans could learn from horses, what a wonderful world this would be.

I'm in my late fifties now and I'm still the same horse crazy girl. My parents thought I would grow out of my interest in horses, but it didn't happen. I am fortunate to be married to someone who also shares my passion. I currently own two horses, a 24-year-old chestnut Arabian/Quarter Horse cross gelding named Cody and a 25-year-old bay Morgan gelding named Randy. I adopted Randy last year, as an ex-Amish-owned horse in need of a foster home as an alternative to auction. I trail ride, participate in obstacle challenges, and horsemanship clinics with both of these horses.

Julie and Randy horsemanship clinic 2019 (2).jpg

Thank you, Julie! If you would like to be our next featured rider, please send your story to feedback@ridingwarehouse.com. One featured rider each month will receive a $100 e-gift to be redeemed by the rider or gifted to a good cause. Thank you for reading and happy riding!
 

Comments

#2
Julie is the best. She helped me alot through the years. As a "diffrent", darker skinned rider I never felt out of place when she was around. Shes always helpful, never gets upset and knowledgeable about horses.
 
#3
Julie is the best. She helped me alot through the years. As a "diffrent", darker skinned rider I never felt out of place when she was around. Shes always helpful, never gets upset and knowledgeable about horses.
Hi Marina! We love to hear the impact that Julie has had on you. Thank you for sharing these kind words about her!
 
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