Editor’s Note: Heels Down Mag asked adult amateur riders to tell us how they would change equestrian sport. Our editorial team selected five finalists’ essays, which are being published this month. One winner will receive an Ecogold Secure saddle pad ($170-250 value).
By Shaquilla Blake
The equestrian world can be a daunting place. A seemingly impenetrable world, where everything and everyone is shiny, crisp and clean. The majesty of horses is amplified as they perform dressage tests, jump courses and gallop cross-country fields.
To be a great equestrian not only requires dedication, it also requires access and funds. Accessibility and a lack of diversity are two factors that can deter future great equestrians and delay the progression of the great sport. As a Black adult ammie rider, it is difficult to ignore the feelings of “I do not belong” when I walk into a barn and there is no one else that looks like me. Being different in a world that does not promote diversity is not only uncomfortable, it can be scary and discouraging as well.
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, however living in an urban city did not provide me with access to barns in close proximity to my home or school. There were no IEA teams at my inner-city charter schools, and my mother did not even know where to begin to find lessons for me. For my 25th birthday, my husband booked a trail ride at a barn about 30 minutes away from our house. From the moment I swung one leg over the back of my trail horse I was hooked – I signed up for weekly lessons before we drove out of the barnyard.
After a few months of lessons, I began volunteering at the barn and my passion and appreciation for horsemanship burned even deeper. I eventually moved barns several times, however with each new location the differences between myself and the riders were glaringly obvious at every turn.
I am reminded often how rare it is to see someone like me on the back of a horse. When I share that I ride horses, as well as that I own a horse, and the reaction is always one of sheer surprise and curiosity. “YOU ride horses?” the questions flow, and I gladly answer them because I want to share all my knowledge and resources with anyone who shares a passion for horses the way I do. While I admire the greats like Beezie Madden, Scott Brash, Steve Guerdat, and so many more, I can’t help but think about how there are so few people in this industry who share similar experiences as me, from where I come from to the color of my skin.
Horses come in all shades, so why not their riders? Diversity in the equestrian world is something that should be encouraged because not only will it bring a new layer of excitement and talent to the sport, it will encourage change and progression.
I want to be an inspiration and example for other aspiring black equestrians, to look at me and feel that their dreams can become a reality and to make it feel that much more attainable.