BY KAITLYN NICELY-HARVEY
I rode for the first time when I was eight years old. We were visiting my grandmother, Terry West, who was one of the first female black jockeys. My older sister, younger brother, and I rode, and I was the only one who kept coming out to ride. I’ve always loved it. I like to think that it’s in my blood to do this. Terry owns most of the horses that I ride, and she helps me a lot. She and my great aunt Edith taught me how to ride and they both played a major role in my riding.
I decided to turn professional right after aging out of the juniors. As I got older and started riding more and more, the vision formed and I thought, I can make a life doing this.
Today, I primarily work with Carolyn and Kenny Krome of K2 Show Stables in Westminster, MD, as well as Jenn Newman at Persimmon Tree Farm. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Chad Keenum, Jamey Prettyman, Adrian Ford, Shelly Bulman, Jeffrey Curtis, Melinda Cohen, Paul Turner, and Brian Joyce.
I started catch riding as a junior quite a few years ago. At horse shows, people would say, “Hey, Kaitlyn, can you ride this one for me? Can you school this pony?” Last year, I got to ride several junior hunters for Jeffrey Curtis, and I’ve worked a lot with Chad Keenum, who’s given me some nice opportunities. Paul Turner gave me some rides on green ponies at Pony Finals, where I’ve gotten to show a few times. I’ve had a lot of support for turning pro out of my junior years, as well as a CWD sponsorship thanks to Ashley Lowe, and for all of that, I’m so grateful. Carolyn Krome was really supportive of me going pro, and my grandma was all for it. She told me, “Go for it. You can do this. You can build a name for yourself and keep stepping up from there.”
In 2019, I won the Laura Pickett Award at the WIHS Regional Horse Show. That was a real honor. Since turning pro, I’ve been teaching out of Pickwick Stables in Sykesville, MD. I primarily teach adults, and I have a few kids and some beginners who are just stepping up to horse show. I really enjoy seeing the riders and horses really come together as a team. I love trying new things and seeing the partnerships form!
I also love showing myself, and I’m lucky enough to have a nice group of horses right now. I recently bought a four-year-old from Andy Kocher named Quora. She’s lovely, very talented, and I hope to get her into the young jumpers next year. I have another nice jumper, Solidify, and I hope to step him up to the 1.20-meter jumpers this winter and keep building on it from there. He’s owned by my grandmother and I’m very grateful to ride him.
And I have a few hunters. I have a nice little Thoroughbred, Nothin But Fire, who I’ll be showing in the 3′ Greens. I’m hoping he can be a really nice pro horse to set me up. Then I’ve had another nice hunter for almost three years now from Chad Keenum. He’s almost my obsession, kind of like my kid! His name is DancinOnMyOwn (Sinclair at home), and he’s pretty game for anything, but I think he really loves to do the derbies. He’s great to ride really difficult to catch. He loves his turnout!
Growing up being a person of color, I can’t really think of a single time where I could look at a magazine or an ad and say, “Oh, this person looks like me.” I think a big step toward change is giving people of color the representation, giving them a voice. Personally, I’ve always felt like I’ve been accepted and loved, and I’d like to think our sport is loving and accepting of everyone. Still, I’d love to go to horse shows and see different people from different backgrounds.
There’s a severe lack of diversity in the equestrian world, and I think that’s sad. It definitely needs to change. People need to open their minds and hearts for a change in the sport. When top trainers, magazines, and ad campaigns use their platforms to represent people of color in our sport, they’re saying, “Hey, you can do this, this sport is accepting and loving of people of color.” It’s about giving people visibility and a voice.
*This story was originally published in the February 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!