I Am a Black Equestrian

Photo Credit Debbie Carr

BY STEPH KALLSTROM

I am a black equestrian. More precisely, an Afro-Peruvian equestrian. I was born in Peru and adopted from an orphanage. Through modern technology and genetic mapping, I discovered that my African heritage is from West Africa and more specifically from Nigeria. My South American Heritage is a mix of Columbian and Peruvian. It can be easily pinned that I am the descendent of an enslaved African. In the mid-1500s Peru started to enslave west Africans and brought them to Peru to work in plantations and build infrastructure. There is an entire community and unique culture of Afro-Peruvians to this day in Peru.

I was adopted as a baby, to a Swedish, first-generation Canadian family. I had the most in common with my late grandfather. He was the animal lover—dogs and horses. As a child in the early 1900s, he rode his family’s work horses in Sweden and was the person who encouraged and many times financed my equestrian addiction. My grandpa bought me my first show horse, who happens to be the mom of Tigger, the horse in the pictures.

Tigger is a 10-year-old registered Oldenburg NA, premium foal, owned, bred, and shown by me. His dam was my late show horse Precidia (Phantast) and he was sired by Westporte who stands at Country Lane Farm in Ladner BC, Canada. Tigger is known in the show ring as Wish List and he has literally ticked off every box on my own wish list.

Tigger came about after my beloved mare was injured when I leased her out during university. It was a career-ending fracture to the front foot. At that time, she would be pasture sound, so I decided to breed her. It took time and research to find the right stallion for her. Along with multiple conversations with breeders, trainers, vets, and friends, I made the decision on Westporte. My beloved vet (who is still my vet today), Dr. Paton, bred my mare. She foaled July 2, 2010, at 7:20 am. I had never owned a foal before and the woman who owned the barn where Tigger was born helped me along the way. Danette, who owns Golden Ears Sport Horses in Abbotsford, BC, has become a close friend of mine. She taught me how to work with foals, about inspection, and in hand showing.

Photo Credit Debbie Carr

Initially, I couldn’t stand Tigger. He touched everything, kicked me in the leg, bit me, and was generally annoying. He still is, by the way, but I love him with my whole heart. It wasn’t until I rode him that we really connected. He was three years old and was broke by a cowboy. In fact, the cowboy told me not to waste my money after two rides. I decided one day to pull him out of the field and get on. He was left alone for the winter and spring, and came back as a 4-year-old to start learning. His first rider would be Laura-Jane Tidball, who he loves to death. He can hear her voice anywhere and will actively seek her out.

This would start his journey to being a show horse. When he finally stepped into the ring he was champion every time he went out. He was series champion and year end champion and often clean sweeped the divisions with LJ. After his professional classes, it was my turn to show. I haven’t been to one show where we haven’t left with a champion or a reserve. He’s a great show horse—he doesn’t spook, and he’s basically ready walking out of the trailer and so willing to do his job. I think he knows, because he will hack out in the best of company like nobody’s business. In fact, John French, one of my west coast hunter idols, once congratulated me in a fairly large and competitive hack as I left with my winning ribbon. We trotted each way for what felt like a solid 10 minutes, and stood in line as the judge pinned the class for 7 minutes. Tigger and I proudly collected our ribbon to hear someone say, “Congratulations, you rode that well,” as we exited the ring. I, of course, told everyone in the barn that day. It was probably better than winning the actual class!

Aside from being a winner in the show ring and likely the naughtiest horse in every barn, he seems to get away with it because he’s a star under saddle. Tigger digs holes in his paddock, breaks the cross ties with his mouth, rears up and pulls down gutters on the barn, removes his fly mask, removes his halter and chews and stomps on it, takes off his own blankets and shreds them or pees on them, and nips and pushes people when you stop giving him treats. With all that said, he is honestly one of the most trustworthy and loyal horses when you’re on his back. He’s actually lovely to sit on, lovely to work with and a lovely partner in the show ring.

Photo Credit Debbie Carr

These pictures were taken to celebrate my heart horse. The dress is special to me because it’s Öfuurë, which is an award-winning African fashion brand. The name Ofuure originates from Nigeria, the Ishan word (Ofure) means ‘It is well.” It’s a black-owned and Canadian company. The patterns are bold, colorful and beautiful. It truly is an embrace of black culture. In the wake of the racial tension globally right now and black people being finally heard, it felt powerful to embrace my black heritage combined with horses. The necklace I’m wearing is also very special, it’s from my late grandmother and it’s about 65 years old from Sweden.

As we all continue our journey to self-acceptance, love, and embracing diversity in the equestrian world, remember to support and love each other.

Photo Credit Debbie Carr

When I am not riding you’ll find me walking my three dogs, on my yoga mat in an inversion, or at work. I’m an avid yogi and practice a fierce active meditation 7 days a week. I practice a variety of vinyasa, power, and ashtanga. I work as a case manager on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. My clients are the most marginalized people in our city experiencing a variety of barriers such as mental illness, addiction, cognitive impairments, trauma, intergenerational trauma, and/or fleeing violence. I am also the Naxolone site coordinator and part of the year I get Social Work and Nursing students to shadow my work. My three dogs are 14, 9, and 6 years old and range from 3.5 pounds to 65 pounds. My largest dog is training to be a service dog and generally accompanies me everywhere including traveling for work and conferences. I’m a battling a chronic illness currently and ride when I feel well enough.

These pictures were taken to celebrate my heart horse. The dress is special to me because it’s Öfuurë, which is an award-winning African fashion brand… In the wake of the racial tension globally right now and black people being finally heard, it felt powerful to embrace my black heritage combined with horses.


Originally from the December 2020 issue.

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