Dear USEF: You Have a Representation Problem

BY LYSSETTE WILLIAMS

Every time I open a US Equestrian or In Stride magazine, I quickly scan it. I dog ear articles for later, note recent achievements of riders across the country, and catalogue the faces in every editorial and ad. As I do this, I pause and ask myself: “Do any of them look like me?”

The answer is usually no. And frankly, I have learned to not expect to see myself in this medium.

Lyssette W – Photo © Rosy Cheeks Photography

I am a thirty-year-old, middle-income, mixed race woman (Black/Latina). Less than 5% of the US population identifies as two or more races, and I’d venture that number is even less in the horse industry.

Aaliyah W. Photo © Andy Cloke

When I flip through US Equestrian/In Stride’s pages, I see nearly identical images of beautiful, well groomed, and show ready horses and ponies and their very Anglo- riders, trainers, owners, and adoring family members. This lack of representation doesn’t anger me – but it does dishearten me.

Altaira D. Photo credit: Pat Michaels

I live in California, which is the most diverse state in the union. Everyday at lesson barns and at horse shows across the state I’ve seen the bright smiles, and happy faces of both children and adults representing every race, class, neurological and physical ability that we have variation of. And I know this diversity isn’t limited to California. 

Diana B – Photo credit Bella Fernandez

Across the country, and the world, the love of horses and horse sports doesn’t stop at one race. People of color (POC) may still be a minority representation in the industry but we are still here participating and supporting the many equestrian sports. There are Middle Eastern show jumpers, Para-dressage riders, Latinx reiners, Black dressage riders and Asian eventers. We are not only grooms and support staff, we are farriers, vets, and technicians, trainers and students, owners and everyday equine loving enthusiasts.

Andre W – Photo © Melissa W

As we globalize, our neighborhoods, families, and friends grow more unique and beautiful with diversity. But that hasn’t reached our equestrian magazines, or the equine related advertising that sponsors are putting in front of us.

This must change.

Peony W – Photo © Andy Klaiber

I strongly believe we need to push for increased inclusion in our equestrian media. But those in charge won’t know we want a change unless we the constituents let them know. So, I encourage equestrians of color, disabled equestrians, LGBTQ equestrians, and their allies to take the grass roots approach by sending personal letters requesting better representation in USEF/USHJA Equestrian Media to Mary Babick and Murray Kessler. Send Facebook messages to companies like Ariat, Smartpak, and Dover. Request an audience with your local tack store on being more even handed with representation on their social media and snail mail advertising.

Nicole – Photo credit Deb Lytle

This is my first step. What will be yours?

Erica S – Photo © Kat Cloke
Photo courtesy of Mariko P