In order to contribute toward a more inclusive equestrian community, we are committed to listening and learning from real riders with diverse backgrounds. In this blog, RW customer Kayla reflects on growing up as a Black equestrian. By honoring Kayla’s story and others, we hope to expand our understanding of fellow riders’ experiences and create a space where all feel accepted and welcomed.
I grew up in the suburbs of the Midwest, just outside of St. Louis. I had always been acutely aware that I was one of only a few Black kids in the schools I attended. It wasn’t until I got more actively involved in the equestrian community that my differences were more apparent. I wasn’t born into a horse loving family. Like a lot of us, that never stopped me from begging for lessons every year for Christmas and my birthday. Looking back, I think my mom knew once I was 'in' there was no going back. Eventually she caved and sent me to summer riding camps. Every year I waited for those two weeks where I learned the fundamentals of caring for horses and basic riding skills. By age 15, I had started working off lessons in exchange for barn time and riding lessons, before my parents finally leased my first horse. The barn I rode at was almost an hour from my house in a more rural area. That’s where the micro-aggressions started.
Kids and adults alike would say things like, “Black people don’t ride horses," or "will all the hair even fit under your helmet?" People always used to tell me I spoke "so well for a Black girl". I’m not a confrontational person and I admit at the time I didn’t think much of it. I still rode, took lessons, and cared for the horses at this stable to the best of my ability. It’s something I was passionate about. Eventually I transitioned into more formal hunter lessons, where it became apparent my coach didn’t like my 'look'. She always tiptoed around it and made passive-aggressive comments. I was incredibly uncomfortable but stayed at the barn. She was a prominent trainer and I wanted to push myself. After high school, I attended college for Equestrian Science where I was yet again one of about five minority students in the whole program. I withdrew for a change of careers, but I never stopped riding and showing. No matter where I was or how well I did, my race was always one of the first things people noticed and felt the need to point out. Regardless of the barn's size or the proximity to cities with more diverse populations, I was always the lone Black girl at the barn.
As if it wasn’t difficult enough to be a Black rider in this community, I also had to deal with the intersectionality of also being a plus-size rider. I have never physically fit in here. Neither my color nor physical appearance were what people wanted to see. I feel as though I’ve had to fight even harder to prove my 'worth' when competing or spending any time in public with my horse. I have never been granted the luxury of bring unaware of my race in this space. I have always been told I "don’t act very black" like it's praise. I’ve been accused of being the 'help' or a charity case. I’ve been called the N-word at horse shows and on trail rides more times than I’d like to count. I have never opened a catalog and seen anyone who looks like me. As a child I told my mom my life would be better if my skin was different and cried myself to sleep over it. Luckily through horses I learned perseverance. I never let any of this take away my passion for these animals.
These days, I no longer show. Mostly just train for fun and trail ride on my OTTB Janet. Much like everyone’s relationship with their horse, she’s the best part of my day. I feel very fortunate that since moving us both to California, I ride now at a barn where there is so much diversity. There are riders of nearly every color, religion, and socioeconomic background. I know that this my stable is a small spec in the equestrian industry, and many still rarely see diversity. What is important is that a lot of tough conversations and introspection is happening. We all just need to ensure that this isn’t a moment but continuous progress for our community to be a more welcoming environment for everyone! No matter your color, race, size, gender identity, and so on. I hope someday I can open a catalog or magazine and see the faces of people who look like all of us.
As we strive to become a diverse community replete with empathy and genuine acceptance, we look forward to sharing the experiences of other underrepresented equestrians. Each month, Riding Warehouse pledges to recognize a “Featured Rider” who will be highlighted on our social media platforms and receive a $100 gift certificate, which can be redeemed by the rider or gifted to a good cause. If you are interested in being our next Featured Rider, please share your story with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!