Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com, @sasequinephotography

We are from Virginia and we consider ourselves an anomaly because of our unlikely obsession with horses in combination with our family and racial background. From a racial perspective, not only is it unusual to be a young black girl who loves horses, but it is also unusual considering our family background that our parents would have not just one, but two daughters who are absolutely horse crazy. None of our family members have ever been involved with horses.

Our parents don’t know where this love came from at such an early age with no family influence, but it certainly seemed that we were born with a passion for horses. With our parents’ support throughout childhood, we both read tons of books and magazines and watched videos of well-known horse trainers until our parents gave in to the request for a horse, which was a present for Sarah’s eighth birthday. Our second horse came as a gift for Emily at Christmas three years later.

 

Since then, we have owned several horses during our horse journey, including Allie, Amazing Grace, Genesis, Rowdy, Dancing Shadow, Stella, and Promise. Our current horses are Amazing Grace, Rowdy, Genesis, and Promise. Rowdy is the only gelding in the herd, Amazing Grace was a former rescue horse, Promise is a pony, and Genesis is our youngest horse with the others being in their late teens. Despite the stark differences between all our horses, they all have taught us valuable lessons that we still use today.

We are are 4-H alumni and served as President and Vice President of our county’s 4-H horse club before Emily aged out. We are both members of the United States Pony Club with USPC certifications in all of the certifying disciplines. Emily is currently a delegate of the USPC National Youth Board and is Co-Chair for her Regional Youth Council. Emily is also a certified Open Horse Show Judge.

We started Sisters Horsing Around in 2018 in an effort to put into motion the things our mother had spoken to us about when we were younger, such as how blessed we were to have horses and how not many black children had the same opportunities we did. She would often tell us that she wanted us to remember those in our black community and when we “got big,” meaning make it big in life, she wanted us to provide an opportunity for others to get involved with horses.

Sarah, who was around 9 or 10 years old at the time, responded, “why do we have to wait until we get big?” Because of those conversations, we thought of ways to put that in action and not delay, and the idea for Sisters Horsing Around was born. We have been trying our best since then to provide an opportunity for others to learn about and get involved with horses.

We use our Sisters Horsing Around YouTube channel, website, and social media accounts to educate non-equestrians about the horse world. As passionate horse enthusiasts, we hope that the content we create will help bridge the gap between those outside the horse world and those inside the horse world.

Being first generation horse people, we didn’t have the privilege of having someone hold our hands and guide us as we navigated the equestrian world; we just dove right in. Because of our plunge into the horse world, we had to learn everything firsthand. Now, we want to make it easier for others to get into the horse world. We want to be for others what we wish we had when we first started. We strive to be your equestrian “tour guides.”

When it comes to riding, we both have an understanding of multiple disciplines. We ride Western and English in multiple disciplines in each. Because of our experience in multiple disciplines, we strive to bring awareness about the different disciplines to help dispel the prejudices incurred by misunderstanding. We want to help others see the good in each discipline and are always ready to engage in conversations on the topic.


We also partnered with a 501c3 nonprofit organization called The STAND Foundation headquartered in Washington, DC. STAND is short for Strengthening Thoughts and Nurturing Dreams and the foundation works to reach children and young adults in underserved communities and also endeavors to inspire youth to pursue positive decision-making skills through nature and equine-based programs. Because of our like-minded goals, we joined forces with the organization and actively participate by providing equestrian instruction for the equine programs and camps facilitated by the foundation.

We want others to see what makes the equestrian world so exciting. The horse world is enormous, and we want to explore every inch of it and take you with us on the journey. We want others to experience the joy that one can have with horses and to encourage others to embark on a horse adventure of their own.

If you want to learn more about us you can visit our website, http://www.sistershorsingaround.com/. You can watch our videos on our YouTube Channel, Sisters Horsing Around, and see what we are up to on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.

My daughter Rory was a horse girl before she was even born!  By the time I was pregnant, I had owned Louie for almost four years.  I bought him as a 5 year old and produced him from Beginner Novice eventing up through Preliminary.  I knew him like the back of my hand, and I rode through nearly my entire pregnancy.  I swear he could sense I was pregnant because he never put a foot wrong the entire time.  When Rory was born, Louie was the first of our animals she met when we got home from the hopsital and he was instantly smitten with her.

Our horses live at home, so from that first moment meeting each other, Louie and Rory spent a lot of time together. Even when she could barely walk or talk, she would insist on accompanying me to do the barn chores—mixing grain, feeding, grooming, and cleaning stalls.  On the morning of her 2nd birthday, in January 2020, she sat on Louie’s back and sang “Happy Birthday to Louie.” It may have been her birthday, but she loves him so much she wanted to share it with him!  That day, we had a fun brithday party for her at home where she got to share Louie and our other animals with her friends.  At the party, a nurse friend of mine commented to me how it was interesting that Rory’s eyes were two different shades of blue.  I didn’t think much of it at the time because her eye color was constantly changing and we still fully expected her to end up with brown eyes like both my husband and myself.

Two days later at her 2 year check up with her pediatrician, Rory’s appointment was going well until the nurse couldn’t obtain a reading with the vision scanner.  When her doctor came in, he couldn’t either and I mentioned what my friend had said about her eye color.  He took a closer look at her eyes and suggested we see a pediatric opthalmologist immediately.  But later that evening, he called me and said to skip the opthalmologist and go directly to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  At that point, I knew we were dealing with something serious.

We spent a few days at CHLA where Rory had an MRI and Exam Under Anesthesia (EUA) before she was officially diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a very rare pediatric eye cancer of the retina, in her right eye. The tumor was so large that it was filled nearly the entire retina and was staged at Group E, the most advanced category.  While we were given the choice to try systemic chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and possibly save the eye, the probability that her vision would return was so low and the probability that the cancer would spread was too high, we decided it was not worth the risk and chose to have her eye removed immediately.  Had the cancer escaped the eye, it would have traveled on a direct path to her brain and bone marrow.

A week later, Rory’s right eye was enucleated.  It was an outpatient procedure and we were home by that same evening.  Rory bounced back so quickly, she was already helping me with barn chores again the next day! Just over a month later she received her prosthetic eye, which she will continue to be fitted for the rest of her life, but it doesn’t bother her one bit.

The pandemic started just a few days after she received her prosthetic.  I am grateful for the extra time we’ve been given together when everything shut down.  Rory and I spent hours together everyday outside with the horses.  Louie truly helped both Rory and I process the trauma of her diagnosis and treatment, and the bond the two of them formed will never be broken.

Now, Rory and Louie are more attached to each other than ever.  She rides him a couple times a week both in the arena and out on the trails, and has been learning to trot.  She begrudgingly still shares him with me while we continue to pursue our dressage goals, but she has made it very clear that he is “Rory’s Louie” and will officially belong to her someday!

 

For the month of October 2021, we will be donating 9.5% of our sales from the Louie Collection to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles Retinoblastoma Program.

To learn more about Retinoblastoma, please visit: www.knowtheglow.org

The mission of the Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship is to provide opportunities for youth aged 17-27 from marginalized communities to become involved or stay involved in horse sports through financial awards and mentorship focusing on not only horsemanship and equestrian pursuits, but also career planning and education.

We believe that opportunities for riding, training, and showing are not easily attainable to individuals facing socioeconomic and accessibility hurdles as well as overt and passive discrimination based upon their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Together we seek to bridge this gap through the sharing of knowledge, opportunities, and solidarity.

 

THE FOUNDERS:

 

SHAQ BLAKE

I am the author of theblackequestrian.com , a blog created to chronicle my journey as a black adult beginner rider chasing my dream of becoming a showjumper. I began riding in the summer of 2018. In the past two years I have been a working student and a consistent lesson student. I bought my dream horse, a 5-year-old off the track Thoroughbred named Bear in February of 2020 and we are growing together to make our debut in the hunter and jumper ring. As a rider of colour in a predominantly white sport, I use my blog and social media platforms to highlight and uplift other riders of colour as well as to touch on ways to encourage more diversity and inclusion in the equestrian community.

 

MANDY COLLIER

I am a mental health researcher by day and an equine massage therapist by night. Horses have been an all-consuming passion for as long as I can remember but riding lessons and horse shows were hard to come by until I joined the University of Pittsburgh’s equestrian team in college. This opportunity was a wonderful springboard into the equestrian life and through my connections on the team, I found the barn where I would meet my heart horse, Charlie Brown. I hope to act as a conduit for other passionate young equestrians to find opportunities that enable a joyful, passionate life full of aspirations and, of course, horses.

 

JACQUELINE ELY

I began competing with horses at a young age in 4-H and then with the intercollegiate equestrian team at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics and Nutrition. I continue to start young horses under saddle and re-train problem horses through my business, Ely Equine LLC. I develop all of my own competition horses from the ground up, often raising or buying youngsters to bring along. I enjoy riding all disciplines and any breed of horse. My main passion however is Dressage and Working Equitation. I feel we never know enough and can always gain more tools for our toolbox when working with horses.

My mother Barbara was an avid trail rider and loved her horses on par with loving her children, which is to say she would have died for them if she had to. She spent almost every weekend riding in the mountains for Panthertown Valley, NC or the forests of west or north Georgia. Arabians were her passion, I think because they matched her intensity of personality and sharp wit. When we were younger there was the beautiful white Arabian Lucinda, who broke the rope to her harness more than once. And later there was Strike, a less anxiety-prone black and brown Arabian with a perfect white stripe down his face. Because my mom was such a fiercely independent person, I think she loved riding the trails on these beautiful creatures at breakneck speeds because it let her spirit soar after days of pushing paperwork as an attorney. I am sad to say I did not inherit this great love but I loved how happy her horses made her and am fortunate to have so many fond memories of us together around them.

 

One of my most special memories involves a trail riding trip to Northern Ireland in the early 2000s. My mom had recently divorced and so it was just me, my mother, and younger sister Jackie. We stayed at this beautiful inn near the shore and rode the gorgeous hills and coastlines of Ireland everyday. We didn’t ride Arabians (fortunately for me) but we all enjoyed the sturdy footing of the large Irish horses provided for our daily rides. I love looking at the pictures from this trip because my mom is just beaming. Nothing made her happier than being with her girls and riding a horse on gorgeous trails.

 

Our mom passed away in 2019 after a ten-year battle with fronto-temporal degeneration. This disease took away the very essence of her and she even became scared of horses, which was devastating to witness. I am very appreciative of the joy and comfort horses provided her for so long and am happy she lived her life so fully before she got sick. I often think of her riding in Heaven now and beaming like she did in these old pictures from our last trip together.

 

If you have questions about Fronto-Temporal Degeneration, please visit The Association for Fronto-Temporal Degeneration for more information.

When I started my business, a friend introduced me to Jen Sincero’s inspirational-but-not-in-a-corny-way books. I’m always down for a little self-help (especially when there is cursing involved!) and her whole thing is about being a “badass.” I read all her books and loved her approach, her attitude and her wisdom.

Not long after getting back into riding and eventing, I started looking around at shows and realized around 90% of the competitors are women. And they are doing seriously dangerous shit! They’re showing up with incredible skill and courage to take risks most sane people wouldn’t.

I don’t think of myself as a risk-taking person. But I don’t let fear stop me from doing things (most reasonable people choose golf over the sport of eventing in their mid-40s!).

And I’m not special. So many riders are just like this. We may feel like we’re going to barf at the start gate but we DO NOT give up. We don’t give into our fear. Somehow we get out there and do it. Over and over again.

Getting over your fear, doing something even when you’re scared, is truly badass. It’s not the absence of fear but the acknowledgment of it. It’s respect for the risk of the sport and, ultimately, for riding through it. Trusting yourself and your horse to safely and successfully navigate the course takes guts.

Here’s the thing: Equestrians are athletes. Period. And we’re athletes that have to face down real fear. Because whether you’re just hopping on a trail horse or getting on your eventing horse to tackle a training level course, it’s f*cking risky! In my book, that makes us cooler than LeBron James.

No matter how you participate in the sport, it takes courage to saddle up a 1200 pound animal. That courage is what inspired The Badass Collection.

So if you’re feeling a little worn out, a little uninspired — and even if you’re feeling your absolute best — remember the wise words of Jen Sincero: You Are A Badass.