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Horse People

The Equestrians of Color Project

In 2020, the topic of racial equity came roaring into the headlines in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Many of us wondered what we could do to help bring healing to our country. As equestrians, we can see that representation of racial diversity is lacking in our sport. Photographers Shelley Paulson, Bethany Pastorial, Erica Hills, and Anna Smolens decided to do their part to bring about change by forming a photography project, the Equestrians of Color Photography Project, that would amplify the voices of equestrians of color by giving them a place to tell their story, while also raising awareness about the lack of representation in equestrian visual media.

“Being an equestrian of color sets me apart from other riders in the ring because I’m one of the few equestrians of color competing at this level. I’m proud to represent people of color in the equestrian world. I love bringing diversity to an elite competitive sport that normally isn’t available to those with a diverse ethnic background.” – Isabella Dean. Photo by Erica Hills

With the project, photographers across the nation serve as allies by photographing each participant and interviewing them about their experiences as diverse members of the equestrian community. The resulting images and interview responses are combined in a blog published once a week at

“Any of you reading this, especially the youth like me: Know that you are valid and worthy of anything you can achieve. Each and every one of us is beautiful and unique; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” – Adriel Carroll. Photo by Rebecca Tolman

More About the Equestrians of Color Project

To date, the project has published over 55 stories from breeders, trainers, non-profit organizers, riders, barn owners, and horse lovers across the nation. The impact is significant with increased diversity seen in publishing, advertising campaigns, associations, and nationwide movements.

If you are an equestrian of color 16 years or older interested in sharing your story through the project, you can connect with a local photographer ally at

“Don’t allow others to treat you as less than. We belong just as much as anyone else.” – Karina Chavarria. Photo by Alaina Hower
“You can be the one with the unique story. The one who people never thought could make it—but did.” – Kristen Hwang. Photo by Jeni Brunner
“My proudest moment as an equestrian was getting my USDF bronze medal. For several years, I couldn’t afford a horse that I could bring up through the levels in dressage. I was lucky enough to get connected to a woman who wanted someone to enter into a long-term free lease of her mare, who was 13-ish at the time and only fully broke when she was about 10.” – Nia Morales. Photo by Erica Hills
“You can’t change your skin color, so embrace it. Things may be different on the ‘higher-end’ of the horse world, but in rodeo and bulls & barrels events, I haven’t met or interacted with anyone who thinks I’m incapable of something due to my ethnicity.” — Chloe Hatzenbeller. Photo by Shelley Paulson
“I want to show other riders of color that they, too, can be a part of horses. It can be intimidating to anyone to start something new when you don’t feel like you belong. A strong support system that is encouraging is beneficial. I think people should shoot for the moon—you will at least land among the stars.” — Christopher Cervantes. Photo by Lindsey Long
“As long as you have integrity and pride in your riding and horse, you can’t fail. Be honest, give yourself goals, and remember to always listen to your horse.” — Kayla Benney. Photo by Anna Smolens

This article about the Equestrians of Color Project appeared in the July 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Shelley Paulson

Shelley Paulson is an equestrian photographer and filmmaker based in Minnesota. She shares an inspiring look at some of her favorite images and the stories behind them in her new book, Horses, Portraits & Stories, available on Amazon.

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