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Dana Bivens

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Land Rover Rookies: Marc Grandia and Campari FFF

Marc Grandia and Campari FFF. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

When Marc Grandia set his sights on the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this spring, he had only one pandemic in mind: COVID-19. He never thought another wave of infections, this time affecting horses, would impact his winter training plans.

The Washington-based professional rider had set his sights on a winter and spring competing in California to prep his 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding, Campari FFF (Camiros – Tanner, by Ariadus), for their 5* debut. Then, in February, a wave of EHV-1 infections plagued equestrian venues in the state, forcing the cancellation of key spring horse trials and FEI competitions — and derailing Marc’s final prep runs before the biggest event of his life.

“I drove to California this winter with eleven horses,” Marc said. “That is my business.” Marc, along with his wife Erin, run Full Gallop Eventing out of Common Ground Stables, a training facility in Duvall, Wa. They regularly winter in the drier and sunnier state of California, getting in early season events before the Area VII season starts in May. Marc, like many West Coast riders, must balance training and riding with extensive travel to make it to events. Regular entries on his calendar include trips to Southern California, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and beyond.

The eventing community in Area VII is small but mighty, and it has provided an amazing support network for Marc. Growing up outside of Seattle, Marc was always surrounded by horses. His parents and two of his sisters are equestrian professionals — horses are in his blood. He grew up with his mom helping him in the dressage phase, which he confesses “wasn’t always easy,” and training with John Camlin at Caber Farm.

Travelling 24 hours for an event is not uncommon, and it’s part of the game for West Coast eventers. Despite the challenges, the Pacific Northwest is home. “The tight-knit area VII community and quality of events up here is the reason that I have stayed,” says Marc. I’ve been encouraged to move east, but in my opinion, eventing is happening in Area VII. We probably have more successful riders per capita than anywhere else in the country.”

So this past winter, he and his team headed south as part of an annual odyssey to catch some early season events. This year he looked forward to sunny skies and spending some quality time with his wife and newborn son, Banks. But all that changed in the blink of an eye. “I planned to go to Galway and Twin Rivers to run the Advanced and four-star short with Campari, and then that was thrown out the window.” In February, USEF announced that events in California would be cancelled, meaning Marc would have to change his plans and figure out another way to get ready for Kentucky.

Marc Grandia and Campari FFF at Tryon this month. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

He decided to load up Campari and his wife’s Intermediate horse, Hyacinth, and drive cross country to catch a couple FEI competitions in March and April. Marc hopped behind the wheel and embarked on the trip solo, driving over 3,000 in three days to North Carolina. “We went from running a Preliminary horse trial at Ram Tap, and then loaded up and travelled to North Carolina to do the Carolina International four-star,” he explained. “I wasn’t sure we were ready!”

Despite the unscheduled early cross-country trek and tackling a big four-star with one run under his belt, Campari delivered, and the pair had a great event with some planned time on cross country.

Their success at Carolina is testament to a partnership that has grown over seven years. Marc spotted the Washington-bred gelding when he was a five-year-old that proved to be too much horse for one of his students. “I had two horses at Copper Meadows at the Novice that year. One horse won and had a successful Intermediate career. And then there was Campari, who was close to last. He spent most of the dressage test rearing!” Marc laughed. “He’s very opinionated, hot, and spooky. We call him a ninja sometimes. He is not malicious by any means but is quirky and really athletic, so you better be on your guard at all times.”

Marc Grandia and Campari FFF. Photo courtesy of Cortney Drake Photography.

Despite these antics, Marc saw the potential in the horse and approached Team Rebecca LLC about purchasing the gelding for him to ride. Long supporters of Marc and of aspiring event riders, Sarah and Jerome Broussard are dedicated to finding talented horses for talented riders. They trusted Marc’s intuition on the fiery five-year-old and agreed to help him.

The gamble paid off, and after four years, the pair completed their first 4*-L at Rebecca Farm in 2019. After a 2020 hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they returned to the 4*-L level and were second at Twin Rivers in the spring of 2021, and sixth that summer at Rebecca Farm. In the fall of 2021, they travelled to the East coast and were fourth and ninth at the Terra Nova 4*-S and the Tryon International 4*-S, respectively.

“We came east to see if he was ready for the big events,” Marc said. “He really changed after these runs. He’s become very confident and head strong in the cross country phase.”

Even though he has been flying (mostly) solo during the lead-up to Kentucky, his team has been hard at work on the west coast keeping things running smoothly despite pandemic challenges. “I am in North Carolina with two horses, its eighty degrees outside. It’s not a hardship for me. It’s been a big sacrifice for everyone at home,” he said. “Common Ground Stable’s owners, Neelie and Simon Floyd, really stepped up to help take care of everything at home. My wife has been keeping the horses going while I have been gone so our clients haven’t missed out on a whole lot. Colette, my head groom, has come back and forth to help me at events. It’s been really amazing that the team has come together to support me, and I am so grateful.”

Marc’s plan for Kentucky is simple: ride well. “Campari is great in all phases. I don’t want to jinx myself,” he laughs. “Dressage has been a work in progress, but he feels stronger, more balanced, and more confident in that phase than ever before. On cross country, the plan is to go slow in the beginning, see how he is going, and then open him up and let him shine.”

For the show jumping phase, the scopey gelding “generally doesn’t have unlucky rails. It’s easy to figure out what I did wrong because he really wants to jump clean.”

Marc and his team head to Kentucky early next week from their spring base at Will Faudree’s Gavalin Farm in North Carolina. He will be joined by his wife, their newborn son, and Colette, who will groom for the event, along with friends and family from home to cheer him on.

It truly takes a village to make dreams like this come true, especially when pandemics stand in your way.

Why Is Black History Month Important?

Dana Bivens is a professional event rider who bases in Virginia. Dana’s essay for EN’s 2020 Diversity Scholarship, “Inaction Is Silence” provides some important reflections on the state of equity and diversity in equestrian sports. On the final day of Black History Month, she takes a dive into the truths, meanings, and lessons behind this month — and how we can use this knowledge to improve our world and our sport.

Photo by Brant Gamma.

For Black History Month this year, I had intended to write a historical account of an important African American equestrian from our past. As I began researching equestrians, it dawned on me that there is a bigger issue at heart that is often untold during Black History Month. Why it is important for us to look back, understand history, and make sure all groups are equitably represented? Because understanding our own history is essential to understanding our present.

As George Orwell said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the future controls the past.” This control leads to political or social power, which often excludes a historical perspective and can lead to disastrous consequences. When black, brown, indigenous, and any marginalized voices are left out, and political motivations shape the story, the results can influence the thoughts and biases of all who are fed that history.

Following World War II, the growing Civil Rights movement in the United States created a sense of uncertainty and fear among those in the south who wanted to maintain the status quo. This was true of the Virginia General Assembly, whose leadership feared the change that was percolating at the highest levels of government, and a growing push for school desegregation. Benjamin Muse, a Virginia State Senator, recalled that many members felt “the movement to end racial segregation was a part of a communist conspiracy,” and an organized effort to change the historical narrative to support the segregationist’s viewpoint took form.

In the 1950’s the Virginia General Assembly appointed the Virginia Textbook Commission to review and rewrite three history textbooks that would be used in all Virginia schools. The commission had license to select historians, revise publishers, and craft a narrative that suited their political objectives.

 

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The Commission produced three books, one each for fourth, seventh, and eleventh grades. These texts would be distributed to all Virginia public-school students, no matter their race, and remained in use from 1957 to 1965. Dr. Francis B. Simpkins, one of the historians selected for the fourth-grade text wrote in his 1947 book, The South Old and New, that “slavery was an education process which transformed the black man from a primitive to a civilized person. The true victims… were masters [who were] forced to tolerate tasks undone, orders forgotten, lying, and thievery.”

The seventh-grade text titled Virginia: History, Government, and Geography, maintained that “a feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes. Even if the master was not a kind person, it was to his own interest to keep his slaves contented and in good health. If he treated them well, he could win their loyalty and cooperation. Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living themselves and for those whom they worked.”

In eleventh grade, students were received Cavalier Commonwealth: History and Government of Virginia, which argued that “bondage as they knew it was not totally evil; both [races] realized that enslavement in a civilized world had been better… for the Negro than the barbarities he might have suffered in Africa.”

For eight years, millions of Virginia students were fed lies by those in power, those whom they trusted, which smothered the true atrocities that took place under a veil of happiness and complicity. It also taught students that African Americans lacked intellect, were innately lazy and dishonest, and they benefited from slavery much as a dog benefits from a good master.

The effects of the textbook commission hit me for the first time when I was twenty years old and working as a waitress outside of Richmond, Virginia. The owner of the restaurant saw an African American man walking outside and became angry saying, “slavery was the best thing that ever happened to Black people. All they had to do was work and they got food, shelter, and clothing. Now I have to pay for their laziness.” I remember staring at him, appalled. Did people really think this?

 

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I confronted him for this belief, stated that I was “one of those Black people,” hoping to shock him into shame or contriteness. Conversely, he yelled, “you should be ashamed of yourself” and I was subsequently fired for standing up to the boss. When I called the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to report the offense, I was told that, because it was a small establishment with only a few full-time staff, the EEOC did not cover these claims and I would have to pursue things myself with a lawyer. As a college student without the means to do so, I sadly let the issue go and moved on.

Looking back, I can see the parallels between this man’s prejudice and the narrative pushed by the Virginia Textbook Commission. As children in school, we rarely challenge the information fed to us or the teachers who embody a seemingly endless source of knowledge and wisdom. Sharing a history that portrays slaves as complicit, white owners as caring and loving, and a nirvana-like existence in the Antebellum South soured the perception of students for nearly a decade.

For many, these beliefs remained for a lifetime, shaping actions and stealing access to education, job opportunities, or even personal connections that were shunned by peers. These books laid the groundwork for impressions, biases, and misconceptions that bleed into modern political and social life in Virginia and throughout the country.

Those of you reading may wonder… what does this have to do with equestrian sports? There is often a lot of confusion surrounding the idea of equitable sport and equal access. I have heard from many people that horse sports are open to all, but the limiting factor is money, not race. Consider this: the reconstruction area, subsequent Jim Crow laws in the south, and policies across the country actively worked to exclude African Americans from business opportunities, voting, education, and other institutions. The Homestead Act, which awarded land in the Midwest to entrepreneurial pioneers, was not open to Black people.

Today, many of these profitable mega farms that produce food for the nation are owned by the same families who were given the land over a century ago and continue to profit from them. In the industrializing north, African Americans were barred from growing unions and organized labor movements, meaning they were excluded from jobs that would have pulled them from the depths of poverty. Even today, studies have shown that, when employers are looking at job resumes and selecting candidates to interview, those with “black sounding names” are less likely to receive a call back even if they possess the same qualities as a “white sounding” candidate.

This historical legacy has created centuries of economic hardship for an entire race of people, a formidable glass ceiling that prevents many from achieving the economic success that others are able to pursue without these barriers.

 

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History and culture has created a powerful prejudice against African Americans which prevents many from achieving the success they desire. As a result, education, wealth, and other dreams are off limits. In equestrian sports, money is of course a limiting factor, but the larger issue is access to the same opportunities to achieve that wealth in order to participate in our sport or other endeavors that possess a sizeable financial commitment.

In our society, as in our sport, this bias manifests in snap judgements and lack of consideration for the background and struggles of others. We must understand our history and the roots of our sport, in order to understand that of those who share a seat at the table. Only then can we move forward together and forge a more just, equitable future and a new normal where equestrians are from all walks of life and are able to pursue their passions alongside peers, free from racial stigma.

On this last day of Black History Month, I challenge everyone who reads this to take a deep dive into your own prejudices and biases. I also challenge you to bring a healthy dose of skepticism to the information that you read. Recognize the source, decipher the author’s motivation, and use your intuition and critical thinking skills to understand the messages both written and implied.

Understanding history gives us all a more complete picture of our past, which helps us understand the present, and make wiser decisions for the future. Embrace the stories of Black, indigenous, and people of color who, until recently, were largely absent from the historical narrative. Use their struggles, victories, and everyday challenges as additional educational fuel to create a more rounded and accurate picture of this nation’s past and to pave the way for a better tomorrow.

Dana Bivens: ‘Inaction Is Silence’

In summer 2020 we launched a 1st Annual $5,000+ Diversity Scholarship with the support of generous donors, inviting minority equestrians to contribute to the discussion of diversity and inclusion in equestrian sport. It is the mission of this annual bursary, which we intend to expand in coming years, to call for, encourage, elevate and give a platform to minority voices in a space where they are underrepresented.

How do we build a more diverse, inclusive and accessible sport? In the coming weeks we will explore this question alongside many of the 27 Scholarship recipients as they share with us their essays in full. Collectively, their perspectives coalesce into a body of work that will no doubt help inform a viable path forward for equestrian sport, and we are committed to connecting their actionable ideas with the public as well as leaders and stakeholders of the sport.

Today we welcome Dana Bivens. More voices: Aki Joy Maruyama | Anastasia Curwood | Caden Barrera | Dawn Edgerton-Cameron | Deonte Sewell | Jordyn Hale | Jen Spencer | Julie Upshur | Leilani Jackson | Madison Buening 

Photo by Brant Gamma.

Like many little girls, I became enamored with horses at a very young age.  Horse crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it.  I dreamed about ponies, and riding, and wide-open spaces, and all of the imagery associated with the equine lifestyle. Riding was foreign to my parents and extended family, but my parents took me for lessons when I was four, and the rest is history.  Twenty-eight years later I still ride and compete.  And for 28 years, I have yet to meet a single equestrian who looks like me.  This is a sobering and isolating truth, which speaks to how homogenous our sport is and how this lack of diversity limits our potential to expand audiences, grow equestrian communities, generate revenue and support, and to make the joys of riding and horses available to everyone.

My experience in the eventing community has been predominantly positive.  Among my equestrian peers, merit is based on talent and hard work, and one is rewarded for the sacrifice put in and the time spent learning to be not only a good rider, but a good horseman or horsewoman.  I am in awe by the dedication and skill of so many of my peers and enjoy the camaraderie and openness that eventing offers, especially compared to some other equestrian sports.

The conversation on diversity within our community has, however, been lacking.  It is an uncomfortable subject, which requires the individual to assess their own privilege, address inherent bias, and to challenge the viewpoints of those who may be held in high regard or who garner respect. The national discourse on this issue has forced us all to take stock of our own positions regarding race, class, and privilege.  The equestrian community is thankfully participating in this conversation and my hope is that we can have an open and honest discussion to learn from our own mistakes, to become more inclusive and, to prioritize equality.  

How can we combat racism within our sport? 

There can be no change in silence and inaction.  The first steps to combating racism are to be mindful and aware of the latent bias we possess, to actively work to change this bias, and to be outspoken when we witness racism within our community.  Racism comes in many forms and prejudice is a learned, and sometimes unconscious, behavior that takes time to unlearn. 

Members of the minority community must also hold others accountable and to be proud of who we are, our personal stories, and our heritage.  This has been an area in which I have struggled in the past and hope to improve in the future.  

For years, I taught lessons and rode horses as my full-time job.  I would travel to local farms and interact with any number of equestrians in the area.  Many of my clients did not share my political beliefs and this led me to implement a policy of neutrality while working.  I felt it was unprofessional to mix business and political or social commentary, and as a result I kept my views private.  Unfortunately, this behavior led me to extend my neutrality to other issues and not to engage in areas where I should have.  

When discussing relationships and dating, one of my clients, who was around my age, told me she could “Never bring a black guy home to her parents.”  I remember pausing, looking at her and asking, “What do you mean? You know I am part African American right?”  Her response was perhaps more stunning, as she stated, “Oh, but you don’t count. You are a credit to your race.” As though my profession or character exonerated me from any associated negativity attached to the African American community.  I should have challenged this thought, but I did not.  I stood dumbfounded, surprised people still thought like this and did nothing to defend my heritage or to combat the racism I had just experienced.

In light of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and other equality movements, I see now that I should have engaged with those who perpetuated stereotypes or blatantly made their beliefs over people of color (POCs) known.  Racism must not be a political issue.  Equality does not depend on your political leanings.  And I should not have been afraid to respond to prejudice.  I confess, however, that at the time I felt impotent and dependent on the business of my clients to continue my career, so I did not engage.  The BLM movement has made this discussion mainstream and has encouraged many to vocalize their experiences and challenges and this has made me realize that it is my responsibility to challenge these stereotypes no matter the venue and no matter the situation. I will defend my right to equality and defend that right for others even if it puts strain on business and personal relationships.  I encourage all members of the minority community, as well as supporters from the majority, to do the same. There can be no change in silence.  Inaction is silence.

Photo by Brant Gamma.

How do we diversify?

I remember times when my father, who is African American, accompanied me to competitions to watch and drive the horse trailer and be a typical horse show dad.  More times than I can remember people asked if he was my groom rather than wondering if we had some other relationship.  Because he was black, my peers assumed he was employed by someone at the show, rather than the father and supporter of an aspiring equestrian.   It dawned on me at a young age that we looked more like the help than the riders, and for years I felt ashamed of my appearance because I did not look like the successful equestrians whom I idolized. 

Inclusion in the equestrian community must come from changing the image of what it means to be an “equestrian.”  Growing up, I did not know a single equestrian who was African American.  No one at the shows or at the barn looked like me.  The resounding image of the successful equestrian is white, affluent, and athletic.  Fortunately, in this sport we enjoy greater equality among the genders, so I did have many female role models to emulate.  But seeing another African American at the top of the leader boards or on the cover of equestrian magazines would help to evolve the image of the successful equestrian to include members of other racial and socioeconomic groups.   

There are many equestrian groups out there who bring horses to urban communities and draw in non-traditional audiences.  We need more of these programs in our community and more support from external donors to make this a reality.  Thank you to those who bring horses to kids who would never have otherwise experienced horseback riding.  And thank you to Eventing Nation for making this scholarship a possibility.  This type of support is key to changing our current trajectory and opening the door for more to join our community.

Self-reflection is key

We all need to recognize how minor things will affect how another views the world.  The insidious nature of small acts and their potential to invite hatred into the world can permanently and profoundly influence the recipient of this distasteful treatment.  The impact of racism and the feeling of hurt and impotence that cruel words can create is second to no other type of cruelty that I have experienced.  It is fundamentally debasing and degrades the victim based on a physical attribute.  Additionally, it places the responsibility of “overcoming” this allegedly negative quality on the victim.  I must prove to you, white person, that I am worthy of your time. 

When I was in college, I dated a man whose parents were openly racist.  When our relationship became public, they told my boyfriend at the time, “We thought we raised you better” and that people of different races shouldn’t reproduce as it was unnatural.  Additionally, when they came for his college graduation, they prevented me from sitting with them in the auditorium, and actively excluded me from conversations and events.  This experience was so unbelievably hurtful that it still brings tears to my eyes.  They did not take the time to get to know who I was but rather made an assumption based on my skin color.  Their actions said the color of my skin made me inferior to them, a lesser person, not worthy of their time nor their attention.  Finally, I felt so powerless to combat this viewpoint, and angry at myself for feeling as though it was my responsibility to change their minds when they were in the wrong.  The most hurtful part of this experience was that when I brought it to the attention of others, they argued that “Some people just think that way.” Unfortunately, this explanation was seen as sufficient for dismissing open hostility toward an entire race of people and that being entitled to one’s opinion justified such blatant acts of hatred.  The lack of support from others during this experience eroded my trust in non-POCs to stand up for what is right in the face of such prejudice.    

Sadly, many of you have felt the profound sting of being judged for a personal characteristic such as your race, gender, religion, or merely your opinions.  To be prejudged and dismissed as inferior for a personal attribute, particularly one that is immutable, is fundamentally debasing and an experience I wish for no one.  This a palpable reminder for why we must take care in what we say and remember that even the smallest words can create undue harm when coming from a place of hate or fear.  Victims of racism or prejudice often view their world through that lens and it taints their relationships and colors their perceptions not only of themselves, but of other groups.  We have the opportunity to create a place of acceptance for many, and I know that this amazing community of riders has the power and the will to do it.  

Let’s move forward together

If we work to change our image and to promote diversity, we will draw more participants into our sport.  This will lead to more students and clients for trainers, more owners who support aspiring riders, and a wider fan base to boost attendance and viewership at equestrian events.  It also means more kids will experience the same joy of riding and benefit from the same opportunities for growth and personal development that changed my life.   I am encouraged by the ongoing efforts to promote diversity in all areas of society. We are all privileged to live through a time of inspiring growth in social and economic opportunity, but we also cannot miss this chance to continually improve the things we love. I love riding, and I would love to share my passion with anyone who will listen. Today, that means reaching a community that we don’t often see around the stable and sparking the same passion and love that inspired each of us to the sport. Find ways to share your love for riding with a broader community and help new faces light up with the joy we all find in the saddle.

Get Involved: Dana ends her essay by issuing a challenge: that we find ways to share our love for riding with a broader community who might not otherwise have access. She talks about equestrian groups who bring horses to urban communities, and note that we need more programs like these and more support from donors. 

There is currently no comprehensive directory available online of urban equestrian outreach programs. Let’s start one, to make these programs more accessible to those who wish to get involved as users, volunteers or donors. Here’s a list of programs that I’m aware of — if you know of others, please let us know in the comments so we can add them. 

Chamounix Equestrian Center Work to Ride Program (Philadelphia, PA) 
Compton Cowboys (Compton, CA) –
Compton Jr. Equestrians (Compton, VA)
Detroit Horse Power (Detroit, MI) 
Dreadhead Cowboy (Chicago, IL)
Ebony Horse Club (London, UK) 
Ebony Horsewomen (Hartford, CT) 
Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club (Philadelphia, PA) 
Leg Up for Cleveland’s Kids (Cleveland, OH) 
Taking the Reins (Los Angeles, CA)
The City Ranch (Baltimore, MD)
The Urban Equestrian Academy (Leicester, UK)
The Westernaires (Jefferson County, CO) 

Could your stable support an outreach effort? This doesn’t have to be a full-fledged riding lesson program — it could be a monthly open barn, wherein you invite community groups to visit and learn about horses, or whatever works for you. Get creative! 

Nation Media wishes to thank Barry and Cyndy Oliff, Katherine Coleman and Hannah Hawkins for their financial support of this Scholarship. We also wish to thank our readers for their support, both of this endeavor and in advance for all the important work still to come.