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APHA

Passion Project

A first-generation equestrian, Chanel Rhodes is launching an entrepreneurial empire using colorful equine tresses.

By Jessica Hein

Those simple words, spoken by her mother, became something as a mantra for Chanel Rhodes, a now 33-year-old equestrian from Southern California. Growing up, Chanel knew she was a little different from her peers, preferring the company of her mother, Valerie, to her school mates and passing time in the quiet solitude offered by her sketchbook. But an innate love of horses burned bright from the time she was a tyke, Chanel says, and it’s yet to be extinguished.

“I am horse obsessed and I have no idea why,” Chanel said. “Ever since I was a little kid,when my mom would be driving down the street, I would point out horses and horse trailers. They were always my favorite animal, as far back as I can remember.”

A lack of representation in mainstream media made Chanel question whether or not black cowboys even existed—of course they do, Valerie insisted, and the single mother worked hard to make sacrifices that allowed Chanel to step into that world, at least periodically, though trail rides and lessons.

“I’ve always done all that I could do to make sure Chanel pursued her passion and not just her abilities; this allowed her to discover attributes she didn’t know she had,” Valerie said. “There’s something wonderful about discovering yourself, and I wanted her to have every opportunity to do so, whether it was owning horses or anything else she desired.”

Undeterred, even when she was first bucked off around age 6, Chanel knew horses had to be part of her life.

All the while, Chanel was a sponge, soaking up every piece of horse knowledge and opportunity that’s come her way. And she’s harnessed her creativity—while also tapping into her own roots—to launch Mane Tresses, a line of hand-crafted, single-piece hair extensions designed to add a splash of color to those who aren’t afraid to stand out in the crowd. And where she once struggled to find representation in the horse world, Chanel’s now leading the charge herself by forging paths in social media and the entertainment industry, often with her rainbow-maned Paint in tow.

Hoofbeats on her Heart

By age 20, Chanel had a few riding basics under her belt, but she was still green when it came to owning, caring and managing horses on a daily basis. But armed with a “now or never” mentality, she was prepared to learn those lessons the hard way, through trial and error and hours of dusty, sweaty work in the California sunshine. She turned to Craigslist, looking for an inexpensive horse to call her own, as well as a place where she could keep the animal on a college student’s meager savings.

“I talked to a guy in Irvine who was willing to do free board in exchange for feeding and cleaning, and I asked him a bunch of questions. He said, ‘You obviously don’t know anything about horses, so let me give you some advice: You need to find a trainer and become a working student to pay for your lessons that way.’ It was the best advice I could have gotten. He really opened my eyes,” she reflected.

But even that’s easier said than done. Embarking on the search, Chanel eventually found her way to a rundown barn in Long Beach, where she met an outspoken black cowboy from Mississippi—much to Chanel’s surprise.

“I had never met another black cowboy before,” Chanel said. “His name was Cliff Salter. He was willing to let me be a working student for him, and I stayed with him for seven years. He was very knowledgeable, but had very poor social skills—he was so rude, but I wanted to learn so badly that I stayed. That was such a learning experience for me.”

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This is an excerpt from the spring 2021 issue of Chrome—get Chrome magazine by becoming an APHA member at apha.com/join.

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