It is not very often that I feel disappointed in our horse community. Frankly, you are far more likely to find me shouting from the rooftops about how you would be hard pressed to find another group of people so willing to help out when the call comes. I’ve seen total strangers drive into actual hurricanes to help evacuate horses, friends rally to find a kid a last minute ride at Pony Finals when a pony was injured, and a general overall sense of “what do you need?” at almost every show venue I have attended. As a whole, equestrians put on a unified front. We look out for our own with the same veracity that we look out for our horses.
Perhaps that is why I was completely floored after reading some of the truly insensitive and hurtful comments directed at a fellow equestrian who was willing to be brave and vulnerable to share her experiences (both positive and negative) as a queer member of the horse community.
There certainly were a ton of responses in support of the article, but there was an awful lot of responses that read something like “I’ve been showing for a million years and I have never once seen this kind of behavior,” or “Why don’t you just keep your sexuality to yourself and then it won’t be an issue?” These kids of responses come from a place of privilege.
The idea of privilege (be it racial or sexual or whatever) is one that I struggled to wrap my head around for some time. I am white and straight/cis and female, which makes me the overwhelming majority at any horse show I attend. I can’t help but fall under those labels—I was born that way. In the same way, I was born with parents that worked hard every day of their adult lives to make sure they could afford to let me ride, put me through college and have every opportunity in life to be successful. I’m incredibly grateful, but it was beyond my control… just as I cannot control it for those who did not have the opportunity to grow up as fortunate as myself.
For a long time, I felt that if I acknowledged my privilege then I had to apologize for it. Apologizing made me feel like I didn’t deserve what I have. But I’ve come to see that acknowledging privilege doesn’t mean apologizing for it. It means that I have an empowering tool I can use to help others. That same privilege also means that it is very easy for me to be oblivious to ugly or homophobic things that might be said.
Because of this, I have to work extra hard to notice comments or actions that can be hurtful. I will be the first to admit that I have been at hundreds of horse shows, and I have genuinely not seen or heard an instance of hatred against LGBTQ people. I am sure that it happens, but I have never needed to tune in to be aware of it. Reading many of the comments on the article shared last week was quite the “ah-ha” moment for me.
A common thread was: “I have never heard someone use a homophobic slur at a horse show, so that must be the way it is for everyone.” That could be true for an individual, but to dismiss someone who has heard something is ludicrous. I imagine it’s actually more likely that you haven’t heard something said because you didn’t have to listen out for it to be aware of your personal safety or welcome participation in our sport. Being straight (aka straight privilege) means we don’t have to be on the lookout for hate at every corner—including horse shows. But just because we’re not on guard, doesn’t mean it’s not so.
To use a horse metaphor, it would be like saying “I have a Thoroughbred who doesn’t need shoes,” and having someone respond “All my Thoroughbreds had to have shoes, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That kind of response is patronizing, and it minimizes an individual’s truth.
If you feel that sexuality doesn’t need to be a part of the horse world, you’re correct—in part. In an ideal world, the horse show would be a place where we only see the horse and rider, but we all know the reality is bigger than that. I’ve never had to think twice about my husband coming to a show, offering a congratulatory kiss, or cheering on PonyKid. But that is displaying my sexuality. To say it’s fine for my partner to be at a show supporting me but suggesting someone who identifies as LGBTQ should keep theirs under wraps is hypocritical. Either we all can openly be ourselves, or we keep everything hidden. We can’t have it both ways.
Say you’re someone who, like me, hasn’t personally witnessed a homophobic event at a horse show. What do you say instead of, “Well I don’t think that happens.” I would suggest something along the lines of, “I am so sorry you had that experience. I’ve got your back if you need me.” Or perhaps say nothing at all, and read (or listen) to the experiences of others instead.
I used to say “I don’t care” when it comes to discussions of anyone’s sexuality. In fact, when our trainer came out to me that she is gay, I am pretty sure I said something like “Okay. So do you want me to do a 5 or 6 in that outside line?” But the truth is, I do care because I care about her as a person. I care that she feels safe. I care that she can focus on us and our horses at shows, and not ever need to worry about what someone else might say, or what kind of uncomfortable position she could be put in. Goodness knows we give her enough to worry about without having to be concerned about other’s judgements.
And this, my equestrian friends, is where our community comes in. Our great, “I’ve got your back” community that I usually brag about. We are better than being part of the problem. Pretending there is no problem is perhaps just as damaging as actively putting down one another. We can do better.
We can ask what would be helpful. We can teach our children that putting our heads in the sand and ignoring hate is not a solution. Recognizing our own mistakes is a tough thing to do. After all, no one likes to think they are wrong, but that’s how we grow.
A few months ago, my child was riding in the backseat with a friend. This is often one of my favorite times because they are so candid with each other and it opens the door to some truly open and honest conversations between us. That day, the friend told PonyKid about this teacher at school and how he “Went out on a date, like with another man” (said with much drama and conspiracy).
PonyKid came back with, “So what… is that a bad thing?” And y’all, if that child had just won the Kentucky Derby, I don’t know that I could have been more proud of her than I was at that moment. It took guts to call her friend out on her hurtful comments, but she did it anyway.
We have a responsibility to exercise our privilege and stand up for our fellow equestrians; for our fellow humans. I know we have the capacity, because we exercise our empathy for our equine partners every day. We need to rise up and be the community that I have always known us to be.
Sometimes we don’t do the right thing—not because we intend to cause hurt, but because we don’t know better. But we’re learning. When we know better, we do better. Be the group of people that makes me want to shout from the rooftops about how when one of our own is in need, we will flaunt our loyalty with wild abandon, and always, always have each others backs.
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, perpetual amateur, and accidental co-owner of Black River Show Stables in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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