Aki Joy Maruyama: ‘My Hope Is That Other Minorities Watching Me Compete Feel Inspired to Enter the Sport’

In summer 2020, we launched a 1st Annual $5,000+ Diversity Scholarship with the support of generous donors, inviting minority equestrians to contribute to the discussion of diversity and inclusion in equestrian sport. It is the mission of this annual bursary, which we intend to expand in coming years, to call for, encourage, elevate and give a platform to minority voices in a space where they are underrepresented.

How do we build a more diverse, inclusive and accessible sport? In the coming weeks, we will explore this question alongside many of the 27 Scholarship recipients as they share with us their essays in full. Collectively, their perspectives coalesce into a body of work that will no doubt help inform a viable path forward for equestrian sport, and we are committed to connecting their actionable ideas with the public as well as leaders and stakeholders of the sport.

Today we welcome Aki Joy Maruyama.  More voices: Jen Spencer | Jordyn Hale | Dawn Edgerton-Cameron | Madison Buening | Caden Barrera | Deonte Sewell | Anastasia Curwood 

Aki Joy Maruyama on Balou Moon. Photo by Leszek Wójcik.

My name is Aki Joy Maruyama, and I’m an Asian American eventer.

I got my first view of eventing when a friend invited me to watch the American Eventing Championships at Chattahoochee Hills in 2011. I was immediately in awe of the sport as I watched top riders tackle the cross country course. I aspired to do the same.

Over the years, I noticed the lack of minorities participating in eventing, especially in the upper levels. I came to understand the tremendous cost in the sport and my dream of becoming a 5* and Olympic rider seemed unreachable. However, I wanted to go as far as I could and moved to Florida when I was 15 to be a working student for Kyle Carter, whom I had met at Young Rider Camp.

Aki Joy Maruyama on Balou Moon. Photo by Leszek Wójcik.

I had many disappointments along the way such as not being able to be compete at the Young Rider Championships despite my best efforts to earn money for a costly trip out west. Up to this point, with the support and help of family, friends, relatives, and a whole lot of luck, I was able to successfully compete up to the CIC2* (old format) level.

As I was starting to feel my financial limitations to continue, Kai-Steffen Meier offered me a position as a working student in Belgium after taking a clinic with him in Ocala, Florida. What an amazing opportunity!! Although I was hesitant to move to a foreign country and leave life as I knew it, I felt this was the only way to pursue my goals without being a further burden to my parents.

Aki Joy Maruyama on Balou Moon. Photo by Leszek Wójcik.

It’s been a little over a year now since coming to Arville and training with Kai-Steffen Meier and Lara de Liedekerke. I feel I am having a once in a lifetime experience competing in international competitions throughout Europe. Although my training and board are covered through my work, I would love to receive a scholarship to pay for needed items such as a shadbelly that actually fits and has all the buttons! Every penny is valuable and helpful to me.

At the recent competitions at Waregem and Strzegom, I was conscious of being a minority presence. My sincere hope is that other minorities watching me compete would feel inspired to enter the sport and the equestrian community.

Aki Joy Maruyama on Balou Moon. Photo by Mathieu O’Regan.

A Note from Eventing Nation Editor, Leslie Wylie: I recently conducted an interview for an upcoming profile on Aki, and a simple story she told me has stayed with me since our conversation. Seeing yourself represented in the things you want to do has a remarkable value that I believe many don’t realize. I asked Aki who she looked up to as a younger rider, and she listed off the stalwart names: O’Connor, Fox-Pitt, Martin. But then she told me of a Japanese rider who approached her at a recent event. “Jardy was really an amazing moment for me because another Japanese rider was there, and he came and watched my dressage and even filmed for me,” she said. “We hadn’t even really met before. But when I talked to him, he said ‘you are Japanese, you ride for Japan, we will support you.’” That moment, Aki says, will stay with her forever. And it’s just one small example of how feeling truly seen and represented will do a world of good for our industry.

Nation Media wishes to thank Barry and Cyndy Oliff, Katherine Coleman and Hannah Hawkins for their financial support of this Scholarship. We also wish to thank our readers for their support, both of this endeavor and in advance for all the important work still to come.