If you enjoy spending time with a horse or two, then the answer to this question is you. You are what an equestrian looks like. And yet, so many riders do not feel this way – or are made not to feel this way. This is wrong. And I think that it is time our sport, as a whole, begins to get a little more intentional about changing the perception of what an equestrian looks like…
Both you and I have a voice. I think it is important to begin using our voice right now to help our sport diversify. To change the status quo of what an ‘equestrian’ looks like.
As I write this, early June 2020, it has been a difficult few weeks. So much hurt has been and is being felt by so many people all over the world. It is still being felt right now. And, importantly, it was being felt before now for so many equestrians. It is just that now, it is being spoken about.
This hurt has been and still is, the predominant feeling for so many equestrians. The simple truth is that riders are being treated differently based on how they look.
Equestrian sport has the ability to change. It has done it before. And yet, there is so much still to be done. Now is the time to begin doing this work.
I realize that I am writing this from a privileged background. Maybe I do not fit the ‘stereotype’ of what an equestrian looks like exactly, however, I am also not a million miles from it either. I have the privilege of seeing riders who look a little like me and who I can identify with every single time I open an equestrian book, go on social media, land on a website, and everything in between. Most riders look a little like me. I can see myself in them.
It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to realize that most of the visuals that Strides for Success has published, up to this point, have only served to reinforce this stereotype.
And that this is true because of my own laziness in actually doing something about it. My willingness to accept what was ‘there’, rather than find ways to diversify. However, going forward, I want to change this and I am committed to changing this. I am truly sorry.
I also realize that what I am feeling right now is not even a patch on the bum of what other people are feeling. What other riders have been feeling since they began riding. The riders who do not see themselves represented in the mainstream media. Riders who feel uncomfortable and different because there are very few, if any, people who look like them in the magazines and other media.
Diversity with Horses
The equestrian sport has gone through a transformation in the past 20 to 30 years. There was a time, I remember it, where horses were judged. They were either ‘useful’ or they weren’t. Useful usually meant that they had certain characteristics; usually breeding, type, or talents.
Now, all horses are, rightly so, valued for being themselves. Their individual and unique ability are celebrated.
The special gift each horse is blessed with has always been there. However, now our sport has grown to hold space for all horses. Even those who are not deemed ‘valuable’ from a monetary perspective. A horse no longer has to be a superstar to be celebrated. He just has to be himself; and horses are great at doing that.
I point this out because this change in how equestrian sport as a whole views horses is a pretty recent one. The sport can change. However, it is our responsibility as the riders and the equestrians to initiate the change in our own beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors.
This change occurred because we, the equestrians, began celebrating all horses. We changed the sport and we have the power to do this again right now.
Diversity with Disciplines
Another big change that has occurred over a similar time frame has been how riders interact with, experiment with, and embrace different disciplines and methods. Thankfully, long gone are the days where there were set ‘tracks’ riders must follow if they truly want to be a ‘certain type’ of rider.
We now get to mix and match different methods and disciplines in order to create a training program that both horse and rider love and enjoy.
Natural horsemanship working alongside higher-level dressage. The principles of dressage used as important training for showjumping. Trail work is seen as beneficial for all horse’s development, both mental, emotional, and physical. Driving works side by side with riding. Lunging and groundwork benefit all horses and riders as well.
Fun and enjoyment are now seen as essential requirements for horses and their riders.
And there are so many different methods and ways, riders really can create the perfect fit for their unique situation and horse. Again, in order for this to have happened in the equestrian sport as a whole, the change had to first begin with the riders.
I say this to demonstrate again how our actions have dictated how the sport has evolved. So it is important to realize that our actions will determine how it continues to grow and change in the future.
Diversity with Equestrians and Riders
So, we can see that our sport has the ability to evolve. It can change. And yet, there is one glaringly obvious area where things have not changed. Where our sport is stuck. Diversity of riders. What equestrians look like. And, because of this, what the ‘yard’ looks like.
I have never, ever, walked into a yard and felt like I was in a magazine. I am sure that those yards do exist. However, I have never been in one or seen one. Equestrians come in all shapes and sizes. They come from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures. And have a whole myriad of different beliefs and traditions.
And yet, most media will represent all of these wonderful, unique, and different riders with a single stereotype. A stereotype that, let’s be honest here, most riders look nothing like and most yards couldn’t be further from.
The young (under 25), white, thin models, that are styled to give the impression of extreme affluence, used to represent us look, for the most part, nothing like you and me. And the expensive, well-bred, and perfect horses at yards that have dozens of ground staff have yet to really compare to a single ‘day to day’ yard or barn I’ve been at. Again, I am not saying that these don’t exist.
What I am trying to get across here is that these traditional stereotypes fail to represent the diversity of riders and their horses within our sport as a whole.
As equestrians and riders, we need to begin taking action to change this perception of our sport. I feel uncomfortable writing this because, up to this point Strides for Success, unintentionally but never the less, has helped contribute to it. I have not personally done enough to change this. And I realize now that this is due to my privilege in never having to feel too uncomfortable with regards to ‘fitting in’.
I am ashamed that I have never really considered this before and I am committed to changing this about both myself, personally, and Strides for Success.
And change, at this level, begins with having difficult conversations. It is feeling the uncomfortable feelings and not trying to mask them over. My feeling uncomfortable is not even a drop in the ocean of what I imagine riders who do not feel represented or celebrated in our sport must feel.
My recent realizations can never compare with their day to day reality.
And this is why I want to be part of the change that our sport MUST go through in order to diversify and expand going forward.
Celebrating Diversity in Riders
An equestrian is someone who enjoys interacting with horses. Whether that be on the ground, at the end of a lunge line, or in the saddle. Being an equestrian has absolutely NOTHING to do with how a person looks. Nothing.
Being an equestrian has everything to do with how it feels when these beautiful creatures allow us to interact and be in their space. No judgment.
It is also a privilege, which our horses bestow on us, that ALL people can experience if they want to. Not something that is reserved for the special few. Gosh, what a pile of rubbish. And yet, open most equestrian publications or go on social media and follow an equestrian hashtag… It looks like a special sport reserved for a special few people who look a certain way.
Okay, I will go back to teaching people to ride horses now! However, I hope that this will make you think a little about our sport. And about how your unique contribution can help it to grow and evolve again so that all riders are included in the day to day happenings of it.
It is only when all riders are represented in the day to day, that all riders will feel comfortable participating in the day to day.
We have massive work to do. We MUST begin taking action. One of those actions is that all riders are represented in the day to day media and publications that our sport publishes. Not just the big publications and I am not shaming or judging them here. But for us. The equestrians. The riders on the ground. We can begin changing our conversations.
It starts with us. You and I are equestrians. And I believe that our sport needs our input right now.
- Life as a Black Equestrian by Camille S.
- If you have an article or blog post that you feel would further this conversation, please reach out with the links and we can, if it is suitable, include it here