Corro is proud to partner with our Corro Ambassadors to highlight Black Equestrian Voices this Black History Month. Keep reading to learn more about the unique journeys of four remarkable horsewomen who are promoting diversity, inclusion, and representation in the equestrian community.
Photo courtesy of Carla McCanna.
Carla McCanna is a journalist and competitive rider who is passionate about helping equestrians of color find community in the horse world. You can learn more about her experiences as a black equestrian in her interview with the Equestrians of Color Photography Project and read about her equestrian journey in her own words below.
"Equestrianism to me is a sport maintained by tradition, demanding work, and tireless passion. As my commitment to the sport has continued for over 13 years, the horse world has become nearly all-encompassing in my life.
However, I quickly realized how minuscule the equestrian community is in the grand scheme of things over the years. In international sports, equestrians have a relatively small number of participants and spectators.
As I looked around my barns or shows, I also realized that this small, separate world I valued so much consisted almost entirely of people who all looked similar and shared similar backgrounds with which I could never relate.
Ever since I can remember, I have been infatuated with animals of all sorts, especially horses. After watching countless horse-themed movies, reading every equestrian book I could find, and consistently begging, my parents allowed me to start lessons.
I was around 9 years old the first time I ever sat on a horse. My parents probably hoped it was a phase at the time, but I’m still enamored with the sport today at 22 years old.
My riding career moved quickly. My first trainer was a typical, strict hunter/equitation trainer. She pushed me hard, encouraging me to move up almost every lesson. By 11 or 12 years old, I was jumping 4-foot fences and showing in hunter and equitation rings. At this time, I owned my first horse, a beautiful Hanoverian/Holsteiner mare, who took care of me when I was young and challenged me as I grew. I credit a lot of my riding today to what I learned from her.
My desire to grow in a slightly healthier learning environment led me to switch trainers, and I found an amazing new barn family in Chicago, IL. During my time there, I owned and leased many different horses, including a few young project horses, and found a new passion in the jumper ring.
I eventually moved away for college and began riding at a show barn in Dallas, Texas. I am still there today and currently lease a 17hh, Jr/Am jumper named Loki who I absolutely adore.
Despite his unconventional breeding as a registered American Warmblood with Friesian and Saddlebred blood, Loki is exceptionally athletic and competitive in the ring. He is one of the most quirky, enthusiastic horses I know, with an endless personality.
Photo courtesy of Carla McCanna.
His spunk has been a source of a lot of my engagement on Instagram lately. I’ve found a community through social media where I have been able to connect with other equestrians of color in a way I never could before. Since diversity is limited in this sport, it can be difficult to find other men and women that look like me or share similar life experiences.
It was always easy to find peace being around these animals, and I fell completely in love with the sport. But while this sport is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, it is always daunting to stand out or not feel completely welcome as a Black woman in this world.
The stares, online comments, or slight microaggressions have been consistent at shows and new barns. I have also received many, many messages from young riders of color who share similar stories and ask for advice.
What aspects of the equestrian world halt our inclusivity and global reach to this extent? I think from an outside perspective, equestrian sport is seen as only a boastful display of social status or financial means. But those of us in it know it is much more than this.
However, the expense of horse ownership and participation in equestrian sports is perhaps one of the most limiting aspects to its inclusivity or lack thereof. And I am the first to admit there is a dominant and undeniable privilege for those of us able to afford and participate in this sport. A privilege that I recognize I have myself and am grateful for, but also wish to bring awareness to.
As an isolated sport, it seems to be built around both passion and a partially toxic environment. While most of us joined the sport as young men or women who were simply fascinated with our love for the animal, there is a certain level of inevitable ignorance in a world so exclusive.
In truth, I understand the equestrian world as a sport where diligence, skill, and hard work are rewarded, yet hostility and discrimination are not usually penalized. It is no secret that much of this sport is made up of white, wealthy families. Therefore, consequences for racism or discrimination are unfortunately rare.
However, this sport’s culture also breeds very passionate competitors and an extremely resilient mindset. I love this intensely, despite everything. With more exposure, pressure, and acceptance, I know we can strive for an even better experience for all.
Representation is so important. I remember growing up and noticing only one other Black woman professional in the sport to look up to. Now, there is a small community of us able to share stories and goals online which is so fulfilling and something I wish was more prevalent growing up in the sport."
Connect with Carla at @eqempress on Instagram to follow her equestrian journey with her spunky American Warmblood.
Photo courtesy of Chanel Rhodes.
Chanel Rhodes is an equestrian entrepreneur and founder of Mane Tresses, a small business dedicated to creating whimsical hairpieces for horses. Read more from Chanel below about the journey that started with a mission to showcase the power, authenticity, and creativity of the Black cowgirl.
"I am a first-generation African American rider and third-generation entrepreneur with a passion for horses that has lasted my entire life. As a child, my mother encouraged me to live my life with passion and worked incredibly hard to afford my riding lessons so that I could pursue my dreams. Although I did not ride consistently, I never lost sight of my dreams of riding and owning horses someday.
At the age of 20 years old, I began to research how I could afford to chase those dreams with little to no money. I eventually decided to become a working student to pay for lessons and worked for a trainer in Long Beach named Cliff Salter for 7 years.
Through Cliff, I was able to buy my first horse with my mother's support. 14 years later I am now a business owner, stunt rider, and a working student for a Hunter/Jumper Program called Mountain View Farms South with trainer Jasmine Wheatley.
Today, I have two amazing horses, a Tobiano paint named Lady and an OTTB named Gabriel. I ride in both English and Western riding styles and compete in Hunter/Jumpers, Barrel Races, and Gymkhanas. Lady and I have also participated in a few productions and photoshoots together.
During Black History Month in 2019, I became inspired by the many creative Social Media posts from other African American Equestrians and decided to get a little creative with my Tobiano’s sad and limp mane by creating a false mane prototype that matched her mane colors.
Unfortunately, the prototype did not work on the day of my video and photoshoot with my fiancé, Andrew Garces. Andrew suggested filming me installing my loose leftover braiding hair from scratch. He edited and released the project the very next day. I named this project “Afrocentric Pony.”
Shortly after I released Afrocentric Pony on Social Media I was contacted by Abriana Johnson and Caitlin Gooch from the Young Black Equestrians Podcast to record an episode. During the podcast, they encouraged me to create a sellable item.
Afterward, I started developing my horse extensions. The name of my business is Mane Tresses, where customers can get “A Tress Above The Rest.”
I have created synthetic, lightweight, and easy-to-install colorful or natural colored wigs for horses. Mane Tresses launched on January 25th, 2021. My target market is equestrians, specialty horse shows, production companies, movie studios, photographers, and theme parks.
Photo courtesy of Chanel Rhodes.
Thankfully, I have been blessed with some wonderful opportunities and open doors. I want to encourage others to think outside of the box, never give up, and live their lives with passion. Just as my mother always told me “If you are not living your life with passion, then you are not living at all.”
Do not let society rule your mind or ideas, the outside voices do not matter. Never give up even when you feel discouraged. It took 50 prototypes and a lot of crying before I had a successful product. Keep the faith and keep moving forward.
There have been a few struggles. As a young child, I was not sure if black people rode horses. Due to the lack of representation, the sport did not seem inviting. Competitive riding can be very hard enough as it is on your body and confidence. But I also had to get used to being one of the very few, if not the only, people of color at some of my competitions.
Starting my business has also been a challenge. It took some time to develop my product. I had to balance a full-time job, caring for my horses, exercising other horses as a working student, and starting a business.
As a new inventor, I developed around 50 prototypes, which became frustrating at times. After losing the opportunity to showcase my products at big events due to COVID-19 cancellations, I had to fight to not become discouraged.
Breaking some traditions in a very traditional world has not been easy. I am a creative, right-brained sole proprietor and I am not afraid to admit that staying focused on developing the technical side of my business has been tough. But I learn more through each and every new experience and I am grateful to have found a way to combine my love for horses and art.
Mane Tresses have been featured in magazines, online articles, television shows, and mini-documentaries. Lady and I even participated in a Facebook Commercial with hip-hop artist Chika that premiered during the 2021 Grammys. You can see more of our appearances on the Press page of the Mane Tresses website.
My new challenge is reaching my goal to consistently work with the entertainment and fashion industry. Beyoncé definitely could have used horse wigs for her Ivy Park Rodeo wear photoshoot.
I also think the horses on Disneyland’s Main Street would look great in some Disney-themed horse wigs, complete with lights and hair that changes color in the sun. Even CHANEL #5 could have used some horse wigs on the runway.
I have so many ideas, which at times can cause me to feel overwhelmed, and make it difficult for me to organize my thoughts. Although my road has not been smooth, I am grateful for the journey and experiences."
Emily and Sarah Harris
Photo courtesy of Sisters Horsing Around.
Emily and Sarah Harris are on a mission to make fun, engaging, and educational content about horses accessible to everyone. Recognizing the lack of representation and information available for first-generation equestrians, the two sisters started Sisters Horsing Around to bridge the gap between the horse world and those new to horses.
The Harris sister can't remember a time when they weren't obsessed with horses. But unlike many young equestrians, Emily and Sarah weren't born into a horsey family.
Although their parents didn't have a background or knowledge of horses, they always supported their passion. After the girls finally wore their father down enough to purchase their first horse, the girls jumped into the horse world with both feet and never looked back.
With the help of countless books, videos, a supportive trainer, and a dash of over-confidence, Emily and Sarah learned everything they could and eventually accumulated an impressive collection of eight equines, including a gypsy vanner, a small pony, and four adopted mustangs.
Learning how to train green horses from scratch and care for their herd at home is no small feat for any rider, let alone first-generation horse owners. But even as their knowledge as horsewomen expanded, their mother continued to be their biggest supporter.
Photo courtesy of Sisters Horsing Around.
"Our mother always reminded us how blessed we were to have horses, and how important it was to remember to give back to our community as our equestrian journeys progressed."
When Emily and Sarah first entered the horse world, they were struck by a lack of representation and the cultural differences that existed between black equestrians and a largely white horse community.
"When we started we could only find one black equestrian on Youtube. So we knew just how important it was to get more representation out there."
Inspired by their own experiences and determined to make equine education more accessible for everyone, the sisters started Sisters Horsing Around to showcase their own experiences and share what they've learned with new generations of equestrians.
In addition to sharing their equestrian knowledge, Emily and Sarah also use their platform to promote diversity in equestrian sport and highlight the achievements of prominent black equestrians with series like Legends in Black Equestrian history.
For Black History Month, Sisters Horsing Around shares the stories of people in the black community who had a pivotal impact on the equestrian world in their series, Legends in Black Equestrian History.
"Even though we celebrate our history every day and month of the year, we want to take this dedicated time to recognize the accomplishments of men and women who went before us and whose inspiration lights our way."
Featured equestrians include Robert Lemmons, a former slave who became one of the greatest Mustangers of all time, and Cheryl White, America's first black female jockey. To learn more about Black Equestrian History, follow Sisters Horsing Around.