The Horses Were Racist, Too
I was going to wait to make this next D&I check in until the end of this quarter, but some things have happened lately that I feel are worth talking about.
First, in good news, Eventing Nation published the winners of their essay contest. Apparently everyone got a whopping $200 for sharing their stories. To the disappointment of my den mothers, I didn't end up entering because college has warped how I understand deadlines, but I've been scrolling through the 27 essays with both hesitation and glee. After harsh but fair criticism, it does seem like Eventing Nation/Nation Media is taking conversations about diversity seriously. From what I've been reading, there is a genuine effort to understand racism at more than a surface level. It's exciting to see the conversation shift from "We need diversity. Here's a Black person next to a horse," to a discussion about why existing socioeconomic systems factor into the lack of diversity and quite blatantly expose the horse world's new-ish issue of not relating to the general public.
On the other hand, some people
by the names of Boyd and Silva Martin don't fully understand the complexities surrounding D&I. As I scroll through comments, especially on Eventing Nation articles, I do feel hopeless. "Black people dominate basketball" "It's about money, not race" "This is just a hunter/jumper/big city problem. There are Black people where I ride" "I don't see color" "If Blacks wanted to ride then they would" I've been personally debating whether or not I want to continue supporting Annie's Equestrienne because, while they have posted those gorgeous photos of Bella in her Annie's coat, it does feel like they're milking those images for diversity points.
Every once in a while, I'm brought back to that horrific Friday in July when I was walking Lucie around the barn for hours, hoping that her condition would improve. There's a kid who boards with me, and I've been told he's 16. As we were walking, the topic of colic surgery naturally came up. He said to me, "Well, why would [Trainer G] spend $10,000 for surgery on a horse that's only worth $300?"
Maybe it has to do with where I'm from, who I ride with, where I've lived, the disciplines I've chosen, or the forums I've posted on, but it really feels like horse people genuinely lack true empathy. I'm not attempting to vilify this 16 year old because he's a child and children say dumb things, but he is a reflection of what the industry has taught him. Often times, I remember being a part of the Horse Grooming Supplies forum where fellow posters encouraged me to use hostility in order to make a point, and a good portion of them knew that I was a minor at the time. Did I learn a lot from that platform? Absolutely. Did I hesitate when sharing my own experiences? Absolutely. Have I continued to hesitate sharing certain experiences on my own platform for fear of aggressive criticism? Yeah. It's part of the reason why I had to chuckle when Missy "I know a Black person who I consider a good friend and he said he's never experienced discrimination from horse people therefore we don't have an issue with racism in this sport" Clark said "I don’t see hostility as any version of a factor precluding people of any race or color from our sport."
We are hostile, whether race is in the equation or not. It is difficult to be involved with horses without the feeling of constant judgement. God forbid you train or ride differently than someone else; you're basically asking to be put down and have your credentials ripped to shreds. Don't bring up whips, bits, or spurs, or the conversation gets nasty quick. Don't let your horse fall behind the vertical for even a second because if someone snaps a picture at that exact moment, you're a horrible rider and should quit immediately. Emotion is a sign of weakness and has no place in the saddle or the barn. You must always be "cowgirl tough." Also, don't mention that a well known trainer sexually assaulted you or attempted to murder you cause you're just out to get them if you do that. For a group of people who recognize that every animal is different and requires a different approach, we are very quick to demonize each other on the basis of doing things differently.
Reading the comments on Sophie Gochman's article feels awful, mostly because of the racism but also because of what people think is acceptable to say to a child, especially a child who is starting to unwrap their own life experiences and understand their place in the world. When I was maybe 8 or 9, I was one of very few non-White children in my "advanced" class, and couldn't understand why. When I was 12, a friend told me "I don't act Black," and it made me furious, but I couldn't understand why. Probably when I was 15, I began to notice that I was the only Black person at my barn, minus the older man who cleaned stalls. I was starting to get it at that point, but it wasn't until 17 that the realizations started to unravel. I recognize Sophie's privilege as much as she does, but I understand and can empathize with how difficult it can be to come to those conclusions right on the cusp of adulthood.
Horses are not easy. They are expensive, sensitive, require a lot of time and attention, and can be a bit too aloof for how large they are. No matter how hard we work (because we do work hard) it does not mean that other people don't face difficulties too. I've worked hard over the past (almost) decade to keep up with riding because it is truly my life long love. None of that hard work erases my own privilege, nor does my privilege mean that I haven't worked hard. Those two facts exist independently of each other. Despite my own struggles, at no point is it fair for me to ignore what others go through. Learn empathy, and I mean real empathy.