So You’re a Horse Person Grappling with the World Right Now – We Can Help.

The world is a strange, turbulent place at the moment, and if – like most of us – you prefer to keep your brainwaves at 100% equine occupancy, you might have some misgivings, misunderstandings, or simply some questions about the world’s biggest conversation right now. Initially written as a wildly long Facebook status on my own personal (UK-based) profile, this slightly eventing-themed question-and-answer bulletin has been written to help simplify this extraordinarily complex conversation, dispensing with the new dictionary of buzzwords and instead using examples we all understand. 

Riders around the world have united to stand up for human rights, a trend started in Compton, CA. Photo by Lindsay Long.

“I’m a Conservative [or a Republican, if you’re in the US]. Isn’t the Black Lives Matter movement a left-wing thing?”

The horse world is a majority Conservative industry, primarily because if we’re looking at policy voting, the Conservative party tends to have an increased focus on issues that affect the countryside and people whose work is intrinsically connected to agriculture and the land. I get that. But if you’ve staunchly and outspokenly supported the Tory government, you may feel that showing any sort of support for Black Lives Matter makes you a ‘lefty luvvie’. It doesn’t.

The issue of systemic racism – which means racial injustices within the structures our country is built upon, rather than individual racism, such as the use of slurs – isn’t a party issue. Systemic racism has existed since, well, always – through Tory leadership, through Labour leadership, through both Democrat and Republican leadership in the States. It is a failing that has continued no matter who’s in charge. It’s a human rights issue, not a political party pissing match. There’s never yet been a political party who has served all the people it supposedly represents, or tackled in full the changes that desperately need to be made. Anyway, let’s be real, I think we can all agree that most politicians are total clunges* anyway.

*if you’re an American, this is a fun new word for you from my side of the pond. I’ll let you look it up yourself.

“I’ve previously shared or said some things against the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m worried that if I don’t stick to my guns now, I’ll look weak, or like I spoke without thinking before. Am I going to look like an idiot if I change my mind?”

Nope. You’ll look like someone who has the intelligence and humility to increase their frame of reference, put the work into learning, and grow from the experience. You know, like we all do every off-season.

Remember in 2017, when Ros Canter suddenly went from being somewhere in the top 30 in five-stars, to consistently showing up in the top five? It seemed like overnight, she’d become this fast, fierce competitor – like everything had just fallen into place. Naturally, everyone wanted to know how on earth she’d done it. What had changed?

“[Chris Bartle] found that my reins had got shorter as Allstar B got keener, and begun pulling my body forward [on cross-country], so I wasn’t always ready for the next element,” she explained, detailing that extensive video analysis and a few stints on Chris’s training see-saw, Rock-On Ruby, had led to the revelation that simply allowing her reins to be longer could change everything. And it did – in 2018, she became our World Champion.

Does that mean she was shunning every riding method she’d used before? Nope. Does it mean she, or anyone else, was saying she was a terrible rider pre-2017? Not at all. If she hadn’t been humble, hard-working, and willing to try new things that were probably uncomfortable at first, would she be the reigning World Champion? Probably not.

“But ALL lives matter, not just Black lives.”

The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ can also be read as ‘Black lives matter too’ – not ‘only Black lives matter.’ The movement works towards equality, which can only be achieved when the group that suffers the most inequality is the focus of systemic change.

Look at it like this – all four of your horse’s legs matter when you’re preparing for a three-day, right? You want all of them to be tight, cold, hard and sound enough to safely tackle the task ahead. But if your horse suffers an injury to a tendon, he’s not sound to run, is he? You don’t look at him and think, ‘well, he’s got three other sound ones, that’s good enough’ – instead, you put in the hard labour and the sleepless nights to get that injured tendon healed, strengthened, and back to its best before you even think about filling out another entry form. You know that overall soundness and fitness for purpose depends on every element of your horse’s body being in the best shape possible. Sometimes, that means focusing your attention on one area.

Or, to quote a sign at one of London’s protests, ‘saying All Lives Matter is like saying All Jobs Matter while people are clapping for the NHS.’

The equestrian community: with liberty and justice for all. Photo by Lindsay Long.

“Why do people keep talking about white privilege? I came from a low-income background myself and had to work really hard to be able to ride. I’m not privileged.”

I’m glad you asked. ‘White privilege’ doesn’t actually refer to privilege as we often think of it, as material wealth. It simply means that because you’re white, you are highly unlikely ever to have been discriminated against for your skin colour, nor will you have faced any kind of systemic racism yourself. You may still be lacking in privilege in a variety of ways — if you’re a woman, you’re more likely to experience violence or sexual assault. If you’re LGBTQ+, you’re more likely to be discriminated against or experience violence or harassment because of your sexuality or gender identity. If you live below the poverty line, you will face specific obstacles because of your lack of resources, finances, and access. Someone who intersects multiple privilege loss zones — for example, a poor queer Black woman, will experience a higher number of hurdles and more frequent discrimination. A straight Black man will enjoy sexuality privilege and gender privilege, but he won’t have white privilege.

“Why is the UK going mad over this, too? George Floyd was an American who got killed by an American cop. Maybe they have problems over there, but we don’t have those sorts of issues here.”

I’m afraid we do, and I won’t have enough space in one social media post to cover the whole shebang, but I will link to some great resources at the bottom if you’d like to learn more about the UK’s structural injustices, which include…

  •  The Windrush scandal (no, nothing to do with the programme of the same name that trains aspiring Olympians.). After World War II, Britain was rebuilding from the rubble – the only problem? The work force had been so depleted by the tragically high number of fatalities that there was barely anyone left to undertake the labour that would bring the faltering economy back to life. The solution? Bring in some help. The post-WW2 efforts were bolstered enormously by the huge number of Caribbean people who were offered citizenship under the 1948 British Nationality Act if they would relocate to the UK and join the workforce. They did, effectively saving us, and have continued to live here as tax-paying citizens with families ever since. Until 2018, of course, when the Home Office decided they didn’t fancy upholding that Nationality Act anymore, and detained and deported many elderly people who had been a huge part of our post-war efforts. Families were torn apart, lives were lost, and injustice prevailed.
  • In 1997, the 350-page Macpherson report was published, revealing an enormous racial bias in Britain’s police force. The report, which followed the dropping of charges against a group of white youths who murdered Stephen Lawrence, found significant evidence of harmful racial bias in almost all of the UK’s structures – the police force, the education system, the workforce, the NHS, and so on. Analysis by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, in tandem with a group of psychologists, also found that Black males are more likely to be considered dangerous, more like to be assumed to carry a weapon, and that white British citizens will, in most cases, use the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ to form their opinions of the group at large – but ONLY when that group is formed of ethnic minorities. We’ve all seen Rollkur in action, but we don’t think everyone who does dressage practices it, right? Now imagine we made that kind of baseless flip judgment.
  • Ethnic minorities are three times as likely to be thrown out of, or denied entrance to, a bar, nightclub, or restaurant as white people. 38% of ethnic minorities polled say they’ve been falsely accused of shoplifting, while on 14% of white people polled had experienced the same. Minorities are twice as likely to experience ‘casual’ abuse from strangers – name-calling, uninstigated violence, or hate speech – as white people.
  • BAME people are routinely kept out of positions of power and influence. A study undertaken in 2013 found that of the 17,880 university professors in the UK, an astonishing 85 were black. 85. 15,200 in total were white. In January 2017, there were NO black academics in management, director, or senior official roles in the British university system, despite a hell of a lot of black academics qualified and available for the roles.
  • Black people represent 3% of the population of England and Wales while accounting for 12% of the prison population. British police officers haven’t been prosecuted for the unlawful killing of a black man since 1971 – but that’s not because it hasn’t been happening. It has – but justice has not.
  • Mark Duggan. Sheku Bayoh. Sean Rigg. Sarah Reed. Cherry Groce. Leon Briggs. Christopher Alder. Brian Douglas. Belly Mujinga. Say their names.

“Okay, so I understand why the movement exists, but I don’t feel I can support it because I don’t like violence, and those protests look like they’re getting pretty violent to me.”

This one’s a tricky one, and something I’ve seen a lot of on social media recently. Videos and photos – many of which are easily debunked – are widely shared, often with a status remarking that the sharer thinks that violent protesters are undermining the whole message of the peaceful movement.

But here’s the thing – if you’re ONLY sharing the videos and images of rare instances of violence, and not sharing a single message offering an explanation of why the (majority peaceful) movement is happening, you are helping to undermine that message. By contributing to flooding social media with just the negative, you’re helping to drown out the positive. By not doing research on the video or image you’re sharing, you’re aiding in the spreading of misinformation.

So how can we take a more thoughtful approach to using social media in this fraught time? Well, first of all, we all need to make better use of Google, which offers us all the opportunity to fact-check what we’re sharing before we click the magic button. I’ve seen countless people sharing a status recently decrying the ‘horror and heartbreak’ of seeing a British monument to World War II fighters defaced during a protest. The image accompanying it? A statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who fought for the continuation of slavery, and whose statue (in Virginia!) has been the subject of ongoing debate over removal for many years now. Know how long it took me to fact-check that with Google? Approximately five seconds. You know how annoying it is when you get tagged in that 52 Free Thoroughbreds post every year? Don’t you want to SCREAM at the tagger that they could spend two seconds reading the comments or Googling those damn Thoroughbreds to know that they got rehomed approximately 183 years ago? Yeah, that.

I’ve also seen a fair amount of people sharing videos that supposedly debunk the ‘myth’ of systemic racism. The thing is, there are facts, statistics, and numbers to prove that this systemic racism exists, so sharing an entirely anecdotal video of a handful of individuals saying they haven’t experienced it isn’t actually an argument with any foothold. Also, it’s worth taking a step back for a second and thinking about why you’re sharing it – what harm do you expect is going to come to you if systemic racism is addressed? Again, systemic means ‘within the system’ – it is not a personal attack, nor is it saying that you as a person have failed. Yes, we’re all talking about how we can improve ourselves, how we can learn and be kinder and more engaged, but when we talk about systemic injustice, we aren’t calling you out. Please don’t take it so personally – instead, take some time to read fact-based resources from both sides of the argument and make your own mind up, rather than jumping on the status quo on social media.

Also, as an aside, none of us can really speak for the brave soldiers who lost their lives fighting for our freedom in the war – but if I had to give my life for human justice, I would want more than anything for my legacy to be a continued focus on humanity. I would hope that the lucky ancestors of that great and terrible sacrifice would do me proud by standing up for the voiceless. If they pushed the oppressed down in favour of defending a monument, it would be rather like dying for nothing.

“Fine. But we’re in a massive pandemic, and I think it’s selfish that people have gathered for mass protests. I’ve had to give up my competition season, a significant chunk of my income, and access to my family and friends – how can protestors stomp all over that?”

An understandable viewpoint. But remember this – very, very few at the protests wanted to have to be there. We have all been shielding ourselves, suffering from lost income, and missing our friends and family like hell. It’s just that systemic racism is kind of like a pandemic too, except it’s gone on for centuries and killed a hell of a lot more people. Instead of thinking “it’s selfish that these idiots have gone out and broken social distancing to protest,” think, “it’s pretty damn depressing that in 2020, people still have to put their lives in danger to fight for basic human rights.” Particularly when you remember that the BAME community is affected at a disproportionately high rate by COVID-19. Sit with that for a minute.

“This is just such a big issue – I’m overwhelmed and I feel like there’s pressure on me to do something.”

Man, it really IS a big issue, I feel you there. Here are my tips.

1) Help spread factual information to your friends and family, either by sharing a few (fact-checked) posts on social media, or by calling out your pals when they make questionable comments or jokes. Remember, stay kind and respectful – it’s easy to react in anger when you hear someone say something harmful, but if you do, they’ll immediately be put on the defensive and they won’t listen to what you have to say. Lead with love, even if it takes more time and patience. Take a deep, slow breath before starting.
2) Look for petitions that take two seconds to sign and can make a big difference – petitions for policy changes, petitions for adjustments to curriculum so the next generation learns a more rounded view of British history. I’ll link some good ones in the comments!
3) Think about the areas of influence you have. Can you make a positive change there? For example, I work in equestrian media. Every horse magazine is full of pages and pages of white faces. So I’ve organised some photo shoots with BAME riders, so our pages are more diverse and any reader can pick up a copy and see themselves represented. This is just one small change, but it’s a positive one. I am working on considerably more, because I’ve chosen to make this a big focus in my career, but you may only be able to make one straightforward change – don’t underestimate how much good it can do.
4) Donate. Maybe you want to contribute the cost of a latte to helping programmes like the Ebony Horse Club or the Urban Equestrian, or horsey literacy initiatives like Saddle Up For Riding. Super! I’ll link some for you at the bottom of the post.
5) Acknowledge it. Maybe you can’t afford to donate. Maybe you’re scared of backlash if you post on social media. Fine – but don’t ignore the issue. Take the time to think about it and learn to see it in action. Message me if you need support, to borrow a book, or if you’re facing an inbox full of threats and nastiness. I’ve been there, and I will stand with you and help you through it.

“Well, I still don’t like it, and if you try to respectfully offer me a different viewpoint, I’ve got some choice names to call you.”

I will allow for one (1) feeling to be hurt by the nasty names you call me. The feeling I choose is hunger – so thanks, you’ve just helped me with my pre-eventing diet! Thank you in advance for how swiftly you have helped me to traverse cross-country.

Photo by Tilly Berendt.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Equestrian initiatives you can support:

The Urban Equestrian Academy provides access and opportunities to underserved communities in Leicester. 

While the Ebony Horse Club does the same in London’s Brixton, with their rider Khadijah Mellah winning 2019’s Times Young Sportsperson of the Year award after becoming the first jockey to win a race in a hijab.

St James City Riding School provides riding and animal husbandry opportunities for kids living in Gloucester, achingly close to the UK’s horsiest areas but unable to access them.

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club continues a century-long legacy of horsemanship in Philadelphia, providing invaluable opportunities for both young inner-city riders and the Black male mentors they learn from.

Saddle Up and Read is a US-based literacy programme designed to help bolster education for kids in underserved communities while also giving them the chance to hang out with horses for the first time. They’ve been working hard to build up a library of horse books that feature diverse characters, too. Help them out here.

Other initiatives you can donate to:

The Bail Project helps out activists and protesters who are arrested during the BLM marches. There have been some horrific cases of kettling and brutality that have come out of these arrests.

The Movement for Black Lives supports a number of valuable initiatives, including youth projects, legal support, and support for immigrants.

The Innocence Project works to assist wrongly criminalised people, providing support and representation to those who have been incarcerated without committing any wrongdoing, and working to transform the legal system.

Say Her Name focuses specifically on Black women and the injustices they face, both at the hands of the police and in the maternity ward, where they’re considerably more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

The Belly Mujinga Memorial Fund paid for the funeral of the British transport worked who was the victim of a heinous racial attack, in which a commuter who claimed to have COVID-19 spat on her. Now, the fund will be used to provide a better life for her young daughter.

The Stephen Lawrence Trust provides support and training for underprivileged young people to help them take their first steps onto the career ladder.

The Runnymede Trust is Britain’s leading thinktank, committed to working towards a truly post-racist society.

Petitions you can sign:

This petition calling for justice for George Floyd is officially the most-signed petition in US history. Pretty cool.

A petition to add The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race to the GCSE curriculum. 

Ensure sufficient BAME representation in clinical teaching at medical schools – particularly relevant as we deal with a global pandemic that kills BAME people at a significantly higher rate.

Suspend the export of riot shields, tear gas, and rubber bullets to the US, where they’re used to enact some Tiananmen Square level nastiness on peaceful protesters.

Add anti-racism education to UK curriculum.

Adopt a better-rounded approach to teaching the history of British colonialism.

Amend the UK Equality Act so Black children and teenagers aren’t sent home from school for having natural Afro hairstyles.

US – Make it a criminal offence to make a false 911 call, as demonstrated by Amy Cooper.

Introduce the Hands Up Act, which would make it a criminal offence punishable with 15 years behind bars for police offers charged with shooting unarmed citizens.

Justice for Belly Mujinga, which is focused on increasing protection and support for British transport workers.

Justice for Breonna Taylor, the frontline healthcare worker who was murdered in her home by plain-clothes policemen when they bungled a drug raid (the suspect they sought was already in police custody).

There are many, many more – please do leave links in the comments to petitions you’d like added.

Books for learning more about systemic racism (non-fiction):

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge explains systemic racism and micro- and macroaggressions simply, clearly, and in a manner that makes this non-fiction tome slide down easily. It’s important to note that Reni doesn’t feel comfortable profiting from increased book sales as a result of the murder of George Floyd, so has asked, if possible, that you borrow a copy and donate what you would have spent to a BLM-related charity. Sign up for a library card if you don’t have one and you should be able to borrow an e-book, or purchase here and match the cost with a donation.

Part memoir, part in-depth exploration of the legacy of structural racism in the UK, Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) is a book you’ll gobble up in one, it’s that good.

Akala’s lyrical writing and razor-sharp intellect lends itself beautifully to Natives, in which he uncovers British history and what it means for people of all races in the modern day.

Ibram X. Kendi provides an invaluable resource for aspiring allies in How To Be An Antiracist.

As well as a primer on how systemic racism has morphed throughout American history in Stamped From the Beginning: The History of Racist Ideas in America.

If you love a good workbook, Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is full of super journaling exercises to help you figure some stuff out.

Nikesh Shukla deftly pulled together The Good Immigrant, a collection of short essays from a variety of different viewpoints – all immigrants in the place they now call home. It’s one of my favourite books and brimming with different, wonderful voices.

Books for learning more about systemic racism (fiction):

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favourite writers, and Americanah is one of the best novels I’ve EVER read. It follows young Nigerian Ifemelu as she relocates to the US to flee military dictatorship, discovering when she gets there that her race – something she’d never had cause to think about before – is suddenly a very big THING. Whip smart, funny, and powerful, I’ve leant it to so many people and always miss it when it’s gone.

Like so many people, I read the Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo in a fast-paced haze, drawn through the book by its lyrical rhythm and its deft interweaving of twelve women’s stories. Most are Black, some are white, and their stories span different chunks of the 20th and 21st centuries, criss-crossing and weaving amongst one another in surprising, remarkable ways.

Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage focuses on a common theme – the incarceration of an innocent man. But this remarkable novel goes deeper than simply focusing on law and order – it covers the emotional ripple effect of a false conviction on a young Black man’s new wife and the third party that becomes a crutch.

Some may say that White Teeth or On Beauty are better recommendations here – and honestly, they’re amazing, so do read them – but my Zadie Smith pick is NW. Slightly more experimental than her previous novels, it follows four Londoners from Kilburn as they navigate adulthood with varying results. It’s a book I read several times over, itching to highlight passages because they resonated so much.

You’ve heard of the underground railroad – but what if it was, quite literally, a railroad? Colson Whitehead adds a sprinkle of magical realism to the brutal underbelly of American history, crafting a novel in The Underground Railroad that’s exciting, compelling, beautiful, and heartbreakingly relevant, even today.

TV shows, films, and documentaries to help you learn about systemic racism:

Want to learn more about the faults in America’s justice system? Why is it that US jails are full of Black men? 13th on Netflix hammers home some hard facts.

David Olugosa’s Black and British is a super book, but it’s also brilliant watching in this BBC programme.

Unsure about how racial bias infiltrates criminal proceedings? Strong Island, a documentary about the murder of William Ford Jr in 1992, will teach you a thing or two – but it’ll break your heart in the process.

Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing premiered in 1989, but it couldn’t be more apt for this moment in time. It’s a comedy – of sorts – centring around one hot day and the act of police violence that kicks off a spate of civil unrest.

Dear White People is honestly one of the best things Netflix ever did. Smart, cool as hell, and funny, it’s also got an eagle eye on the microaggressions that Black Americans face on a daily basis – as well as some of the major issues.

What does intersectionality mean, anyway? Well, it’s basically when two zones of inequality combine – and in the case of Moonlight, that’s being a Black man in America, and being a homosexual man. This is an utterly gorgeous, beautifully shot film, with superb acting from Trevante Rhodes and Mahershala Ali.

Based on the Young Adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give sees its teenage protagonist grapple with finding her voice when one of her friends is fatally shot. It made waves for a reason.

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