Chris Cervantes is a horse trainer at Far West Farms, in Calabasas, Calif. He is one of the many equestrians who collaborate with the Equestrians of Color (EOC) on Instagram to promote inclusion and diversity in equestrian sports and for aspiring young riders. Chris is completing his second Master’s degree at Pepperdine University in clinical psychology.
Chris’ interest in horses and riding started with his dad, who took him on pony rides. One day he went with his mom to a farm, and they asked about riding lessons.
“I was about 6 years old,” says Chris. “My mom couldn’t afford to pay for lessons for me. I cried every day for horseback riding lessons until she finally took me. That first day, I remember watching a girl jump a 5-foot fence. I knew right then I wanted to do that one day. In my first riding lesson, I remember I rode a pony named Sugar, and he bucked me off. A great starting point, because you can only go up from there!”
Growing up, Chris couldn’t help but feel a little different though.
“I remember always being the only boy, half Mexican-American, riding with blonde girls,” he says. “It was good for me, because it created thicker skin to deal with other things in life.” But he thinks there will be distinct advantages to expanding diversity in the horse world.
“If riders from various ethnicities begin to see trainers like themselves, they will begin to feel validated and included in riding. Equestrian remains a high-status sport that only a certain demographic group is a part of. I think if parents truly support inclusiveness and diversity in their child’s life, they will aim to seek that in sports activities, too.”
Life as a Trainer
Now that he works full-time in the horse world as a trainer, Chris has found fulfillment in teaching children that remind him of his younger self.
“I love watching kids learn new skills and build confidence,” he says. “I like watching the progression with a student. I try to teach them to enjoy the journey of becoming an accomplished rider, and not be in a hurry to learn everything in one hour.”
He specializes in teaching his students to become independent problem-solvers in their riding.
“For riders who are more intermediate, I like letting them think for themselves and problem solve,” says Chris. “I want them to eventually become independent riders. I like helping students tune in to their horse’s training issues and offering solutions that help build their confidence as a rider.”
He has great advice that applies to everyone though—even you!
“All riders have insecurities, and fear is a prominent issue,” says Chris. “Young riders should know that just because something is scary or hard doesn’t mean the goal is unattainable.”
A life spent working with horses has given Chris a lot of experience, and he has a reminder for any horse person.
“Daily grooming is the best time to get to know your horse,” he says. “Become familiar with your horse’s markings, their legs and their personality.” If you don’t do this, you could miss a minor issue that later turns into a big problem, such as a cut, skin infection, or brewing abscess.
Chris also encourages young riders to join the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) even if they own their own horse in order to gain a wider variety of experience. IEA is for youth in grades 4-12 and gives you the opportunity to compete in hunt seat, western and dressage even if you don’t own a horse, by random draw the day of the show.
“Riding a variety of horses is important,” he says. “Just because you can do one thing on a particular horse doesn’t mean you have the skills to perform that task on every horse.”
Looking ahead, Chris has lots of big plans still left to accomplish.
“I plan to finish my doctorate in Sport and Performance Psychology, and my new goal is to write a children’s book, too!”