This evening, Thursday June 18, 2020 Heels Down Magazine hosted a Zoom panel discussion on diversity in horse sports. Equestrian sports cater overwhelmingly to white athletes, and white families. Yes, it is an expensive sport but is that the only reason ? Heels Down gathered a panel of black equestrians to answer questions and discuss this on the Zoom virtual meeting I did my best to get down the most I could from what these articulate women were saying. I have just transcribed their words and the questions asked by Heels Down and that were submitted by the audience. The questions are in italics.
Abriana Johnson Abriana has over 15 years of experience with horses and has a podcast Young Black Equestrians and Cowgirl Camryn. She also launched Black Unicorn Creative dedicated to the creative development of Black-owned horse businesses.
Patricia da Silva of Heels Down asked:“White Privilege” we think we are open minded but it comes as a shock. Where do we even start?”
“I think it stars with admitting that you have probably said something racist at some time. Middle aged white people have to understand the horse industry is a reflection of society.
“ What should we do?”
“Do your research, there are plenty of resources. Seek them out .That is the first place to learn. Then you can implement what you have learned into your life.”
Abriana also spoke about social media. “There has been a lot of focus on social media. Nobody posts their down days. As someone who is that ‘on the ground person’ who acts first and talks about it later I want to know what you are doing in your community not just did you post a black square. A lot of the conversation centers around the competitors. We need to be creating something to help people take part; scribing in dressage or being on the gate.. They can understand more about how the process works from watching. Grass roots, start from the bottom. This is a priority for us. Make it a priority and you’ll see things change.”
“People don’t go where they don’t feel welcome. Entering a space where you are stared at, where you put your stuff away and come back to see it has been tampered with. Nobody here wants me here. Unpacking this situation is one of the first things we have to do. That is also something that happens in the workplace. This is a life thing for people of color.”
One question from those listening to the meeting was from a young black man who is the leader of an equestrian team at a college.How could he advocate for black riders?
“Sit down and have that conversation with your people. Remember that as a person of color your safety is of utmost importance. Change has not been long enough. Approach cautiously. See if anybody is interested in making a difference at the level you are at in the college.
Shaquilla Blake Is an adult amateur equestrian. She created theblackequestrain.com blog.
What are some of the misconceptions you have had to deal with?
“People look at me and assume I cannot afford lessons or my own horse. Or people think it is a hobby. But I have shown I am dedicated and I’m all in. A hostile work environment cannot be allowed. Like any other organization we must advocate for that. Some sort of governing body has to advocate for that.“
“Everyone has to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not under taking this whole thing on my own but being the advocate for a person of color. Language is important .Think about the word rider vs protester. “
Another question from the audience was about how we get brands online to represent people of color.
“Tell the company that they are missing a large subset of people in their campaigns. How can I get it out there that there are different people out there. Not just young white women. You may need a white person to say “you need a black person in your catalog.”
Mavis Spencer CA is a Grand Prix show jumper. She mentioned that she had sustained an injury that had kept her away from riding and was just now coming back.
“The FEI pushes the equality aspects what has been your experience with equality?”
“Everyone’s experience is different. Race is not something that holds you back once you have got there. The conversations are beginning now as to how to help people get into the sport and move up. I did not experience a huge amount of discrimination. I was very privileged. I grew up in a privileged environment.
Who is the most influential to break down the barriers?
“US Equestrian have reached out to me and want to get involved. They are interested in how they can help affect positive change in our community. Bringing more awareness to local level trainers. In most situations you want to start at the top and hope it will trickle down.
“This has been going on for hundreds of years. We have to change a lot of things to bring kids into it. The foundation must be changed before you can think about bringing more kids of color into the sport. There is only so much you can do on a personal level and that is why the other girls here are saying there must be repercussions as there are in other sports and workplaces.”
“People run their hands through my hair. That shows a lack of common courtesy! “
“Saying that this is a racist sport isn’t fair. To say it is elitist is.”
Brianna Noble is the founder and owner of Mulatto Meadows. This is an equestrian business dedicated to making riding and horsemanship more available to those who have historically been excluded. She believes that horsemanship is a language that transcends all disciplines. Recently she rode her horse Dapper Dan at an Oakland California Black Lives Matter protest.
“ Where are we at and have you seen any differences in the last month?”
“We are in a very unique time. We can open a dialogue. It is sparking up a dialogue and I’m excited about that.”
“I can only speak to my own experience. There are people who cannot get involved in riding. Many programs like the Compton Junior Equestrians, and others that will address this at a grass root level. There are middle class black people and poor white people. Socioeconomic problems are not just race problems. Horses are ridiculously expensive. These programs can help to bridge that gap.
“We need to figure out how to make a hostile work environment not an OK thing. I have personally missed out on an opportunity. I am all excited and when I turn up and they see how I am and then they say “You seem nice but we just don’t like black people.”
“Hard work ethic in the equestrian world is 100 percent necessary. For my community here it is socio economic. You can work as hard as I want and if I don’t have the right equipment, I may not get the job. If I’m a businessman and I go for an interview in jeans and a t-shirt because I don’t have a business suit I won’t get the job. “
“If we could get it to a serious repercussion if there was a hostile environment. I do not want any of the kids in my program to have to deal with this. Can we make it so our environment is not so hostile? We are in a time when people can express their opinions and that is a scary time. For expressing an opinion, a job or opportunities can be lost.”
“Wow I’ve never seen dreadlocks they say and they want to pet me. I am not a farm animal. I do not want to be petted. “
“ There is a multitude of reasons why this sport is not accessible for everyone.”
There were many more questions and I was not able to get them all down before the time was up. But I think that what I have shared here will give you an idea of the complexity of this subject and some of the things that the panelists see as imperative if we are to find a way forward. Thank you to Heels Down and Patricia Da Silva for making this discussion possible. I have used the photos from Heels Down of the panelists. I do not have photo credits available.