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. Collectly, 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 Scnobia Stewart. More voices: Aki Joy Maruyama | Anastasia Curwood | Caden Barrera | Christopher Ferralez | Dana Bivens | Dawn Edgerton-Cameron | Deonte Sewell | Helen Casteel | Jordyn Hale | Jen Spencer | Julie Upshur | Katherine Un | Kimberly Kojima | Leilani Jackson | Lyssette Williams | Madison Buening | Malachi Hinton | Mitike Mathews | Muhammad Shahroze Rehman
My name is Scnobia Stewart. I am a 26 year old black female equestrian from Cedar Grove, North Carolina. I have been riding since I was 6 years old. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Equestrian Studies and I have ridden overseas in Germany. Currently, I am an adult amateur dressage competitor. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the NC Therapeutic Riding Center.
Over the years, I have witnessed various forms of systemic oppression and institutional racism within the equestrian industry. Equestrianism as a whole has always had a predominance of Caucasian participants. Even in 2020, minorities are far and few between across all disciplines. Often times, minorities feel that they do not belong in the sport because of the way they are sometimes treated. In my experience as a black dressage competitor, my encounters with racism have mostly been subtle microaggressions and racial indignities.
In most cases, racists within the dressage discipline want to maintain their status quo and not draw too much negative attention to themselves. However, they tend to express their prejudiced and discriminatory comments in a witty and covert manner. These forms of subtle racism are extraordinarily disheartening to individuals who are just trying to have fun participating in a sport they are passionate about. It is even more disheartening when racism is expressed in a blatant manner. Most racist equestrians are not bold enough to freely express their bigoted thoughts aloud. However, when a minority equestrian comes across a bold racist equestrian, it can be highly unnerving. My hope is that one day the equestrian sport as a whole can move past its stagnant history of being exclusively a “white sport” and strive towards having a heavier presence of minority competitors alongside Caucasian counterparts.
I think that in order for the sport of equestrian to become more diverse, our white counterparts will have to be dedicated to inclusivity. This dedication to inclusivity should involve making minorities feel welcome and accepted. It also would involve trainers/coaches/stable owners making a concerted effort to advertise their services through a multitude of channels so that it reaches a broader and more diverse group of people.
Additionally, trainers/coaches/stable owners will need to be cognizant that most minorities in equestrian do not have “connections.” Oftentimes, minorities jump head first into the sport without any prior experience or friends that share their common interest. This can be a disadvantage because minorities usually do not know about helpful resources and programs that may be available to them unless they learn about them from fellow equestrians. Luckily, I have acquired many helpful mentors along my journey as an equestrian.
My hope is that the current and future generations of minority equestrians will be able to enjoy the sport without feeling inferior or out of place. I hope that these generations will feel comfortable traveling to new farms and venues without the anxiety of possibly experiencing a bigoted encounter. I hope that minority equestrians never feel that their performance results are based on the color of their skin or any other unique attribute that classifies them as a minority. Last but not least, I hope that minority equestrian newcomers are welcomed to the sport with open arms and never discouraged from participating.
Get Involved: Scnobia Stewart mentions that she serves on the Board of Directors for the NC Therapeutic Riding Center. Based in Mebane, North Carolina, the Center’s mission statement is to “empower children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social challenges to create more active, healthy and fulfilling lives through equine assisted activities and therapies.”
As equestrians, we are all intimately familiar with the power of horses to strengthen and heal. We’ve been given so much by these animals; how can we play it forward? Getting involved with a therapeutic riding center is a way to share the gifts we’ve been given, as most depend heavily on volunteer support and donations to keep their programs going. You can make a donation to NC Therapeutic Riding Center here, or reach out to your local center to find out how you can get involved.
Disabled persons also face barriers, both invisible in the form of attitudes or assumptions held by others, and physical, as when steps or staircases literally prevent access. Are we as a sport doing enough to support and include disabled equestrians? As we move forward on our path toward a more diverse and inclusive sport, let’s make sure that our disabled friends always have a seat at the table as well.
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.