ALI NILFORUSHAN Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
Ali Nilforushan at the 2019 Temecula Valley National Horse Show.
60 FALL ISSUE 2020
I think this is an amazing country, but I always tried to speak perfect English with no accent because I didn’t want anybody to give me anything just because I was a minority. And back then, you were enemy number one being from Iran. Being Iranian in America was not cool. I believe my diversity and the things I went through are an advantage for me. When I’m standing at the back gate and I’m looking at somebody that has not been through what I’ve been through, I think to myself that I have an advantage. I’m mentally stronger. I’ve been through war. I fought every moment to be in this country. It builds this great depth of character. I wanted people to notice me because I was just as good as them and I came from adversity. I never wanted you to feel sorry for me because of all the hardship I went through. If you look at me as an equal, that’s a win. I wanted to get this [success] because I earned it. I wanted people to say, “Where’s that kid from? The Middle East? And he rides like that?” This sport was and has been very good to me, which is one of my driving forces in this business right now—to fix the things I see that definitely need to be looked into. In this current environment, a kid like me would never have a chance to become a professional, let alone an Olympian. The way I look at it, being very wealthy should be an advantage, not a necessity. And we need to figure out ways for kids that maybe don’t have the ultimate means to also have a shot at this. I look at this as you and I are lining up to do a 100-yard dash. We’re here to see who the best is. If you’re super-wealthy and you can buy better horses, that should give you a three-step head start, a four-step head start. It shouldn’t mean that I can’t race you. The beauty about the horse business, to me, is that it was my sanctuary. I was discriminated against very hard in school. People wouldn’t drink water after me at the water fountain. Nobody would sit next to me. I was called a terrorist no less than 10 times a day…. But I always had my love for horses. I always just envisioned being on a horse. And when you’re on a horse, it’s just you and that horse and none of the things that they say can get to you. That’s why the sport means so much to me, because it saved me from all the horrible things that kids can do and say. It’s interesting, I never felt like a minority in the horse business. I always just tried to fit in; I just wanted to be one of the people at the show. It was beautiful. I never felt any racism or anything, which is what made me love the sport so much. Then the better I became, the cooler I became, and it gave me my confidence. By the end of high school, I was one of the cool kids in the school. And all of that, all of those blessings, came into my life because of this incredible industry, this sport. This sport is everything that I have. I want people to know that my plan is to genuinely leave a legacy in this business and be one of the people who has brought about change in many aspects of this sport. I have everything because of this sport, and I will give everything back to this sport. I’m here for real and to make this industry everything I truly see that equestrian sport should be.
PHOTOS: ELAINE WESSEL/PHELPS MEDIA GROUP, MIKE SEXTON (OPPOSITE)
Ali Nilforushan came to the United States from Iran at age seven. He rose through the show jumping ranks, eventually making history as Iran’s first Olympic equestrian when he competed as an individual show jumper at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Nilforushan and his wife Francie later founded Nilforushan Equisport Events, a horse show management company devoted to producing world-class events on the West Coast.