Defying Gravity

Miko McFarland’s grit led her to breathtaking trick-riding adventures with her Paint Horse Bandit.

By Lyssette Williams

Miko Moriuchi McFarland felt the pre-performance butterflies flutter in her stomach as she waited to enter the Equine Village at the Kentucky Horse Park for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. As a professional trick rider, she was asked to carry the American flag in a liberty stance—delicately balancing atop the saddle at a full gallop, with the flag billowing behind her—for the closing ceremony. Miko had performed tricks like this hundreds of times before with her trusted Paint Horse, Sparkle Grady One Eye, but never with 20 unknown horses also in the ring.

“It made me nervous,” Miko said. “I don’t take holding the American flag lightly. You need to follow etiquette and the flag must be treated with reverence. I had to completely surrender myself to ‘Bandit.’ ”

But Miko had no reason to be nervous. Her journey with Bandit to be an exhibitionist at a pinnacle equestrian event was a long one; it’s a path she never imagined for herself the first time she pet a horse as a young child. Sure enough, when the cue came, the duo charged into the spotlight and Bandit pulled through with his athletic ability, calm demeanor and the unshakable bond he shared with Miko, as she carried the flag with pride in front of thousands of cheering fans.

Finding Balance

Born and raised in Branson, Missouri, as a fourth generation Japanese American, Miko learned the art of balancing two worlds early on.

“I’ve always identified as ‘Missourian,’” Miko said. “Growing up in a multicultural household with mixed family traditions, I learned to normalize being ‘that Asian kid’ on my mom’s side and being ‘that white kid’ on my dad’s side. I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, a skill that would serve me well.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.