Kelly Moran sitting on stone during one of her travles
Reiner Kelly Moran, pictured in Bagan, Myanmar, has made traveling around the world a major part of her life. Seeing different cultures has helped shape her into the woman she is today. Photo by Shelby Moran

Gettin’ Personal With… Kelly Moran

This reiner from California has turned her passion for travel and photography into a way of life.

Not all who wander are lost, and even though Kelly Moran might not know exactly where she will be heading months – or even years – from now, her love for travel has become a way of life. The reiner from Laguna Hills, California, leads an exciting life outside of the show pen, and her adventures have culminated into some great stories and many lessons.

Long before she had a career and began traveling the world, Moran fell in love with horses. She has been riding and showing ever since. In 2002, she posted her first check to Equi-Stat after becoming interested in the reining discipline.

“I was little, and I had two other sisters. We started out horse crazy,” Moran recalled. “They did the all-around, and I went straight to the reining. I’ve been doing it for way too long – I started competing when I was 13, so 20 years now!”

Moran’s had her fair share of success, with more than $108,000 won. She trains with Tracer Gilson and focuses primarily on the Derby Non-Pro classes, but she will occasionally show a futurity horse. In 2017, she took over the ride on 2016 National Reining Horse Association Futurity Level 4 Open Champion Spooky Whiz (Spooks Gotta Whiz x Myo Starlight x Paddys Irish Whiskey) after her parents, Joe and Karen, purchased him from Rancho Oso Rio LLC. Together, they earned more than $20,000 before they started their 2018 season.

When Moran is not in the show pen or at the barn, she is running her business – Lucky 13 Design and Photography. She works with clients all around the world taking photos at corporate functions and events. Her career also allows her to fuel the passion for travel that was instilled in her at a young age by her parents.

“Our whole family has always been into travel,” she explained. “My parents encouraged it because you learn so much, especially going outside the country. My parents were really big on traveling with [my sisters and I], and then as we got older, we went on our own trips – sometimes as sisters and sometimes alone.”

Kelly Moran doing a sliding stop at Reining by the Bay
When she’s not traveling the world, Moran enjoys showing her reining horses. At the 2014 Reining By The Bay, she piloted Wimpys Mega Step to the Derby Level 3 Non-Pro Championship with a 219.5. Photo by K.C. Montgomery

Aside from the images Moran shoots for her business, she has developed a passion for wildlife photography and fallen in love with Kenya. While she loves all her trips, the experiences the east-African country has to offer put this particular place at the top of her favorites list.

“In terms of a place that I would like to repeatedly go back, I’d say Kenya, just because of the people,” Moran said. “I love the animal and wildlife aspect of it. I always tell people if they want to do a safari, I would send them there because the animal views are so high and the people are super, super nice.”

Another country Moran recently added to her passport is Myanmar. Despite the political unrest, the world traveler was pleasantly surprised with the opportunities she had while visiting and said she would highly recommend it as a destination.

“Myanmar was incredibly interesting,” she said. “I went in expecting the worst because of the crisis going on in the Western part of the country, but it was amazing. The people were just so sweet. Obviously, the political situation is very complex and really unfortunate for the local people, but in terms of the stuff that’s there, it’s completely out of this world.

“It reminds me a lot of Cuba; there are no tourists at all,” she continued. “All the colonial buildings are kind of decaying, and then you go up to Bagan where there are thousands of temples in the fields. It’s like you’re Indiana Jones because there are no tourists. You go to Cambodia, and there are tour groups everywhere, but here, it was like, ‘Have your own pagoda all to yourself!’ As a photographer, it was just like Candyland.”

Unfortunately, traveling around the world can be somewhat risky if precautions are not taken. While Moran said she has never been to a place where she feared for her life, she expressed the importance of being aware of her surroundings and being proactive.

“Obviously, you have to be aware of the situation,” she said, referencing Myanmar. “You need to go with someone, and we were with a guide the entire time. Two girls in a country like that…I would only go with a guide In Lima, [Peru,] there were certain parts that were pretty sketchy. I’m cool with sketchier places because you get lots of stories out of it. Just don’t be dumb. If I get in a bad place, I get out.”

Moran said the key to getting the most out of a trip is not expecting too much. Because of the things she had heard about Myanmar, she was worried her trip might not be as enthralling as she had hoped, but by going in with an open mind, she got a lot out of the experience.

“It was neat because it was so unexpected,” she said, reflecting on the trip. “I packed the little power bars because I was expecting to not be able to eat. I thought it was going to be rough for a week and a half there, but it was full of pleasant surprises. If you keep your expectations low, it can always surpass them.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Moran does not speak any other languages fluently. Instead, she has found smiling is a very important way of communicating since “it’s like the universal sign of kindness.” She also emphasized the importance of trying to learn basic phrases, though, since others will be more willing to help if they recognize a person is trying.

As Moran runs out of room for stamps in her passport, she has found the lessons she learns from her travels are some of the most valuable. Her career, her wildlife photography hobby and her love for horses have shaped her into the person she is today, and she thoroughly enjoys all that her life has to offer.

“The great part about traveling is that you’ll find that 99 percent of people around the world are good and nice and willing to help. It’s sad that we have these biases against people, because if you actually go travel and meet other people, you’ll realize everyone is kind of the same,” she explained. “You have different experiences, but everyone wants to help and wants to be friendly. That’s my favorite part about traveling – getting those experiences.”

This article was originally published in the April 15, 2019, issue of QHN.