The Equestrians of Color Photography Project: Meet Maya Aryal, Chloe Bates and Leesan Kwok

Maya Aryal. Photo by Jill Brammer Photography

The Plaid Horse is proud to introduce some of the photo project’s featured equestrians to our readers in each issue

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. Learn more at

The Equestrian: Maya Aryal

The photographer: Jill Brammer Photography
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How did you get involved with horses?

Since I was two years old, all I’ve ever talked about is horses. My mom tried to introduce me to just about every other hobby—soccer, ballet, swimming—but all I wanted to do was ride horses! I took my first lesson when I was almost three and I fell in love. Since then, riding has been the most important part of my life.

As my riding has evolved from a hobby to a passion/future career, horses have taken on a new role in my life. While they have always brought me immense joy, now that I am riding and competing more seriously, horses have become more like teammates to me. I have come to rely on them and to constantly try to improve myself so that they can rely on me too. When on course, it’s up to both the horse and rider to perform, and I have learned the importance of working together with the horses to achieve a common goal. I think it’s important to recognize how much horses do for us riders, and to truly appreciate them for their kind and forgiving nature.

What is your happiest or proudest moment as an equestrian?

Rather than one specific moment, I am proud of my entire journey as an equestrian and all of the ups and downs that have brought me to where I am today. Starting out in a local lesson barn, I never would have imagined myself competing at some of the largest shows in the nation.

I am proud of my commitment to horsemanship and the sport and I feel that my passion for horses is apparent in my riding and horsemanship. (I take complete care of my horses, even while competing at some of the largest and most competitive events in the nation.) Riding makes me happy, no matter what kind of day I’m having, and I am both proud and grateful to have the opportunity to ride such incredible horses every day.

The Equestrian: Chloe Bates

The Photographer: Purple Horse Designs
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How did you get into horses and what is your current relationship with them?

Books and TV. I was obsessed with The Saddle Club, Heartland, Thoroughbred, The Ponysitters Club, the Hoofbeats series, Stabenfeldt International’s PONY books…the list goes on. None of my schools offered sports or extracurriculars, so when I was seven, my mom took me for my first riding lesson and I never stopped.

I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years learning as much as I could. In my senior year of college, I worked on a horse farm in South Africa as a trail guide and at a ranch in Wyoming as a wrangler. Now, I teach lessons at a local stable and work for my trainer. My goal is to continue learning everything possible to be a better horsewoman, as I hope to purchase my own horse soon.

In what moment have you been most hurt or disappointed as an equestrian?

I broke my back once! But in all seriousness, I almost hit a breaking point last year. I hadn’t been riding regularly for a while, and what little riding I was able to do just didn’t challenge me. I wasn’t clicking with the trainer or her horses and I was really struggling. I was feeling extremely isolated from the other folks at the barn and felt extremely burnt out from the news cycle and current events.

I had been rejected from several horse-related professional opportunities for reasons that I suspected were race-related, which was really upsetting to me because I want to continue in this sport and industry as much as possible. But I felt like there was just no room for me. There were no open doors, no closed doors, no seats at the tables. I wasn’t progressing in my riding, and it was all feeling really pointless.

I felt like the blood, sweat, tears, energy, and money that I poured into my riding somehow wasn’t enough, and this was really painful for me because horses and riding are such a crucial part of my identity. I explained it to my therapist as, “I love horses but I can’t love them into loving me back.” My outlook has since changed overall, but I do still worry that I will never be able to be as involved with horses in the capacity that I want to be because of systemic reasons beyond my control. 

The Equestrian: Leesan Kwok

The Photographer: Alaina Hower Photography
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How do you describe yourself as an equestrian?

Equitation traditionalist turned omni-disciplined adventurist who will try anything but endurance (nothing against endurance riders at all…in fact, I have a lot of respect for them. I just don’t know if my hips and knees can take the abuse!). My current identity is “polo player” because that is what I have access to at the moment. However, if given the opportunity, I believe I will sway to cross country rider or jumper really hard!

What words of encouragement would you have for other equestrians of color or people of color considering becoming equestrians?

There are people like you in the equestrian world; you are not alone. There are people who look like you, who have similar financial, social, and time constraints, who also love horses with all their hearts. There are people like you who feel guilty that they sometimes feel like horses are a burden because they have to work so hard to be in the horse world, but also appreciate the love and fulfillment that horses bring.

The diversity problem in equestrian disciplines is not as severe as the media leads us to believe. Let me preface this by saying I live in a bubble that is the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Riding is expensive in the Bay Area—even more so than the rest of the country. In the equestrian hotspots of Portola Valley and Woodside, you’d be hard-pressed to find lessons at a hunter-jumper barn for less than $100 for 45 minutes. However, because of the tech industry’s diverse workforce and high wages, the equestrian clientele here checks all the diversity boxes. There are people like you in the equestrian world. 

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 April 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!