The Equestrians of Color Photography Project: Meet Luna Guo, Maya Nakano and Alex Travis

Luna Guo. Photo by Leah Lewis

In 2020, a group of photographers came together to create the Equestrians of Color Photography Project, a weekly blog that promotes inclusion and amplifies the voices of equestrians of color ready to openly share their story with the community. 

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The Equestrian: Luna Guo

The photographer: Leah Lewis

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How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?

Redefined. What I mean by that is it took me so long to find and fit myself into the definition of an “equestrian.” Let me take you on a brief journey. I met a horse for the first time when I was 4 years old, watching the mounted police ride through the streets of Ottawa, Canada. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and blissfully unaware of the prejudices and limitations in the world around me. I immediately declared I wanted to be a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (a “Mountie”) when I grew up, thinking it was the only way I could ride a horse. When, at the age of 12, I discovered you could take riding lessons, I never begged harder for anything in my life from my overprotective parents.

“Just for the summer,” they said. Famous last words. I continued riding and competing in the hunter/jumper world–scrappily–on and off for many years between school and work, somehow continuing to keep a pipe dream of going to the Olympics alive. But of course, how could I when I didn’t have the connections, the horses, or the financial means?

Years of moving around and plenty of instructors later, I felt defeated by the sport and nearly lost the passion I always had. Everyone had different opinions on how to ride and manage a horse, and nothing seemed to fit. I needed to create a space to find my own style. So instead, I tried something new and decided to do purely leases and share boards. To my surprise, I apparently had the tools in my arsenal all along. But it showed up in a different form: By centering on the horse-human connection. That’s when the embers re-emerged. Equestrianism isn’t about a sport to me; it’s about the deep connection between two individuals and the amazing things that they can accomplish together.

The Equestrian: Maya Nakano

The photographer: Jessica Sanders Photography

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How has your culture influenced your equestrian lifestyle?

I love sharing my equestrian life with my Japanese friends and family who are not familiar with horses. Most of them have never ridden or even touched a horse before. Just the fact that I am around horses so much surprises my friends who probably are wondering if I actually have a real job. When I share the stories and photos of my riding experiences, most are in awe of the beauty of horses. My grandmother, who lives in Japan, tells me that she enjoys seeing these beautiful American scenes through my eyes and feels as if she is riding with me. I also love introducing [them to] the discipline of eventing, which most Japanese don’t even know exists and is also an Olympic sport.

The equestrian world has opened a new door to meeting people whom I would not have met if it were not for the shared passion for horses. I would never have met the daredevils who have no fear on horseback but who are also the kindest people I have ever met, or the young riders who are half my age but their dedication for horses is impeccable, or the mothers my age who somehow manage to care for their horses and their actual human babies all while maintaining a professional career!

What challenges have you faced as an equestrian of color?

Learning to ride, I never had a role model with a similar background as me and sometimes it felt like I was out of place at the barn or the showgrounds. I was lucky to be surrounded by very supportive trainers and friends most of the time, but I did meet a few that seemed to not take me seriously as an equestrian because I did not fit the typical definition of an equestrian. From a physical aspect, I have also found it challenging to find riding gear that fits my body shape. Most helmets on the market simply do not fit my Asian round head and breeches and boots are designed for people with much longer legs than mine. I believe, however, that the equestrian world is heading in the right direction and working to be more inclusive. I do see more young Asian riders competing at shows and I have seen Asian models in equestrian magazines. I hope that the future generation of riders can embrace their background but still feel perfectly at home in the equestrian world.

The Equestrian: Alex Travis

The photographer: Fox Trot Photography

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What do you enjoy about being an equestrian of color?

I enjoy improving the lives of horses and their relationships with humans through my cultural teachings. When I have had really grateful clients and positive feedback I always take that as an opportunity to educate people on indigenous issues in this country (and others). Unfortunately, the history of native relations in the United States is less than palatable and I feel that it is important to acknowledge and correct these wrongdoings if we are to move forward past them. When people are elated that I’m able to help them with their horses, I tell them that until as recently as 1978, my methods and horsemanship were illegal and nearly wiped away from existence by genocide. I use my horsemanship as a means of advocating for my culture, my people, and our rights in this country, and that is truly a gift.

What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?

I am happiest or most proud when I go to the five-acre turnout to get my horse, bridle in hand, and he comes right to me. Or when it is time to come in from turnout, they both go right into their pen with no fuss. I think that says a lot about our relationship. Most recently, we had an incident where both of my horses were chased through a barbed wire fence by a dog. They were both cut up and had been bitten pretty badly. After they had escaped the dog, they stayed nearby my property line and when I went outside and called to my gelding, he and my mare came straight to me. I put a board over the barbed wire and led them both across. Even though they were both distraught and wounded, they trusted me in that moment to lead them back to safety without a halter or lead rope and to doctor their wounds. The bottom line was that they trusted me to be their leader and protector and that I had built that relationship with them by myself without any help, harsh tools, or bribery.

Share your story

If you are an equestrian of color (16 years or older) interested in sharing your story through The Equestrians of Color Photography Project, you can connect with a local photographer ally via the project website 

*This story was originally published in the February 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!