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.
I am not the image that comes to mind when people picture an equestrian.
Whispers in the tack room, glances in show aisles, a raised eyebrow or an innocuous question. I’ve gotten used to these over time.
I am somewhere in between.
I see wealthy white children holding their tongues and averting their eyes. They are uncomfortable with acknowledging that they could do better. They come from families where their futures were handed to them on silver platters. They do not want to address the reality that their skin color has not made their life harder. They don’t want to scuff their pristine Instagram feed with activism.
I see fake sympathy; thinly-veiled racists bitter at not being the center of attention. They assure themselves that all lives matter. They pat you on the shoulder and tell you of all the white people killed by law enforcement, and how their uncle is a cop and really, he’s a good man. They lock the doors to their echo chambers and drop the key in the police fund donation box along with a fat wad of cash.
And I now see black equestrians pushing back against this stifling silence. I see my friends, my community, rising as strong allies. I stand with them.
I am transgender. I was born in a female body. Since I was a child, I knew my brain did not match my physical attributes. I am medically transitioning to male. The horse world has been a blessing and a curse with the unspoken assumption that you don’t generally pry into others’ business while at the barn.
It has been a blessing because I do not have to deal with intrusive questions. I do not have to answer ignorance. It doesn’t make you or me a better rider. I go about my business, hoping that I won’t receive a blatantly invasive question about what’s in my breeches.
It has been a curse because it silenced me, and others like me. If no one cares, and it’s not relevant, why would I say anything? I have to actively search to find people that share my experiences. When you have to dig through web archives and ask around to find anyone who’s gone through similar experiences to you, it leaves you feeling suffocatingly alone.
I occasionally see upper-level riders who are part of the LGBTQ community, but I have never seen any other transgender people. I remember starting in the horse world, googling “transgender equestrian” and variations of this term, and finding a couple of odd articles and some blogs. Nothing remotely relevant to what I was searching for — competitive riders, show riders. Eventers, dressage riders, hunters, jumpers … Hello? Anyone?
Despite the lack of diversity at the top ranks of showing, one thing I am grateful for is equestrian sports not being divided by birth sex. I can’t imagine that I’d have kept riding if that had been the case, if I was forced to ride in a division of only girls. I can practically hear the cries of “superior male biological strength” and “unfair to real women” from here. Trans women have it rough.
The horse world needs to open up more. If it is hard for me as an LGBT equestrian, I cannot imagine not already having a foot in the door of the industry and trying to find a starting point amongst rampant racism, homophobia, and elitism. This is not just about financial opportunities or location anymore. Our discussion on inclusivity and equality needs to begin shifting to more personal critiques — of ourselves and of others who may not be making our spaces safe and accepting. I want to see the conversations about economic status and politics equally matched by conversations about how our local barns can do better, how we can start unlearning bias, how we can make changes. Welcome equestrians who look ‘different’ from the typical model of a white skinny girl into your barn families with open arms. Black people, people of color, and LGBT people do not have to be outstanding to earn the right to live and exist without fear of other people.
Instead of arguing for your opinion of how financial divides are the only thing feeding racism in this industry and talking over minority voices, take your hands off the keyboard. Take a breath and wait. Stop drowning out qualms of oppressed peoples. Let them, let us have the microphone for a second. Hear what we have to say.
I do not doubt that the future brings change. This is inevitable, but now glaringly so in equestrian sports. For the sake of a better world years from now, for the sake of children turned away from horses in years past because of their skin color or who they are, advocate and educate. Read, study, listen. There is no end to learning.
Us horse people should know that fact very well by now.
Get involved: Caden emphasizes the importance of listening and learning, so let’s all recommit to that! A great follow-up read to this essay is “We Can Make the Equestrian Community — and the World — a Better Place for Queer People“ by Jess Clawson, Ph.D., published last year on Noëlle Floyd. Jess talks a lot about inclusiveness and shares some powerful suggestions for how we can respect, support and lift up our LGBTQIA+ community. For a comprehensive list of resources for trans persons and trans allies, click here and here.
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.