BY JULIA FISCHER
Growing up as a mixed Latina, I have always faced racism. I have been discriminated against, been called slurs, and have been made to feel unworthy. As a child, I thought that something must be wrong with me as I could never clearly figure out why people looked at me differently. In elementary school, I was embarrassed of my skin color and wished I looked more like my white father instead of my Hispanic mother. I would wear jeans so my legs would stay pale and try to remain indoors so I wouldn’t add color to my skin. In high school, the kids would self-segregate and those of color would not typically interact with those who were white.
I have always been one of the few equestrians to be of color in my local area of Colorado. If it wasn’t for my family always supporting me, I would have quit this sport a long time ago. I felt isolated at the barns and encountered racist equestrians who never saw my family as equals. Not seeing clear representation at the top of our sport made me feel alone at times. I never saw another rider similar to me until I began to consistently show horses.
With no power or voice in this community, I felt belittled. My worth was directly questioned by people, and I was told that I did not deserve to ride.
Many people have told me that they “don’t see color,” but this statement ignores all of the struggles that myself and my family have gone through. It’s dismissive, and is typically used to end a conversation that I am trying to start. Typically, the same people who used this phrase would also treat their Hispanic grooms poorly and underpay their workers.
Although people claim the horse community is accepting of everyone, there are times when I’m not sure. I am one who is fortunate to currently be with a barn that does support all of their riders and has a great community of equestrians. But when traveling to horse shows, it is evident that not everyone is like this.
At the shows, people seemed shocked when they saw me as the rider—not the groom. They’ve outwardly expressed how odd it was to see a Latina riding a horse. One of the first times I witnessed this was when I arrived to participate at the Sonoma Horse Park in Northern, CA. The grooms at the barn next to us commented how funny it was to see a Hispanic girl riding a horse and a white person grooming. It was the role reversal of what is typically seen at horse shows across the nation.
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t until around 1964 that people of color could compete against whites, due to Jim Crow laws. Black riders are a part of our equestrian history too, but have been silenced in our history. People of all races were in the cavalry and contributed to our modern riding style, but were never able to compete against others equally.
When it comes to LatinX riders specifically, vaqueros from Mexico inspired today’s cowboy. They taught the American west how to herd animals yet when we refer to cowboys it’s the gunslinging white cowboys from a 1950s movie that pops into our head. People of all ethnicities have contributed to our history with horses, but it remains a sport dominated by caucasians.
As a proud supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I challenge the horse community to take a look within itself to change for the better. A lot of people want to dismiss this issue and say communities of color tend to be underpaid (which they are), and simply blame the issue (lack of participation) on finances. But those are simple answers to a complex problem. We have a lot of room for improvement.
The equestrian community is not as opening to everyone as it wants to seem. Sure, horses are a great equalizer and can bring us together in this sport, but biased people can just as easily separate us and make us feel alone.
We have to understand that there are people in our sport who are inherently racist. It’s our job to call them out. If you think that racism doesn’t exist within the horse community, you are either not asking the right questions or not looking hard enough. If we want our sport to be anti-racist—and we should—this is how we have to start behaving.
When I had the opportunity to compete at Spruce Meadows in Canada as well as riding in Spain, I saw more diversity in the riders that competed. In those international spaces, I never felt out of place. As a community we can be more accepting here in the States. We need to be more inclusive. We must become anti-racist in order to stop the spread of discrimination. We need to encourage young riders of color if we truly want to be an inclusive and global sport and not a sport so easily divided.
Julia Fischer grew up in a small town outside of Boulder, Colorado and is currently a sophomore at Arizona State University studying business. She has traveled across the nation showing her horse and competed her freshman year as a member of the Arizona State Equestrian Team.