Uncomfortable Silence


As protests sprouted up across the country in the wake of George Flloyd’s murder at the hand of police, conversations around racism entered every house in America. And soon after, long overdue, the barn. 

In my time as Blog Editor for The Plaid Horse, I’ve participated in quite a bit of rabble rousing when it comes to highly charged topics and how they relate back to the horse world, but on this subject I’ve been silent until now. I write openly on many issues—suicide, body image, wealth disparity, mental health—but those all come from my personal life experience. As a person of privilege, I am unable to fully understand what’s happening in the world right now. I don’t know what to say. 

Sitting in my silence, I watched equestrian media pour out profiles and think pieces. Some raised the flag in the right ways. The Heels Down profile on Brianna Noble, written by Erin Gilmore, shared essential humanity on the overnight equestrian superstar of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others added their commentary on the BLM movement, but in my opinion missed the mark as I watched comments pile up expressing disappointment. I saw big name professionals threaten to block Black equestrians from social media accounts when they asked them to do better. Quietly, I watched.

That reading and observation got me thinking. I do not think we need more white apology right now. It feels performative, especially on social media. A flat message can add additional harm to people of color, who grieve at a level white privilege cannot understand as they witness so much of the world continue to dismiss their suffering. At the same time, we can’t rely on people of color to solely take on all of the emotional labor it takes to educate others. I can only imagine how emotionally exhausted they are enduring day after day of protesting, teaching, and enduring perforating racism. 

A while ago, I published an article a friend of mine wrote titled, “Dear USEF, You Have a Representation Problem.” I have been thinking about that article a lot. Though USEF is called out, it could easily be titled “Dear Equestrian Media and Advertisers – You Have a Representation Problem.” It’s been 17 months since The Plaid Horse published that article. I asked myself if the TPH blog showcased diversity any better than it did when that article was published. I didn’t have to think long to know I could do better. 

For me, discussing racism in the equestrian world is difficult because I am flooded by thoughts of the police brutality and the strict rules Black mothers enforce on their sons so they are not unjustly incarcerated or—what continues to happen—killed in the street. The horse world seems so far away from that reality which my privilege protects me from fully understanding.

But then I think about horses, the universal gifts they give us regardless of our upbringing, race, gender or sexuality. I think about the decades of systematic racism that makes our sport especially inaccessible for many people of color, and I realize how much more we should be honoring, celebrating and learning from equestrians of color. 

This is not an easy post to write. When I think about all the mistakes I’ve made being ignorant or complicit in the status quo, I am highly uncomfortable. But there is growth in our discomfort. While my goal here isn’t to tell you what to do or not to do, I will say that we should all be uncomfortable right now.

Change, even for something as colossal as systematic racism, can start with small actions. Donating to Black organizations makes me feel less complicit. My current choice is Black Visions Collective, a Minnesota based organization aimed at ensuring all Black people not only exist, but thrive. 

In the horse world, action can feel smaller and farther from the root of the problem, but they still create a positive future for our sport. Make an effort to get to know Black and POC equestrians, even if there aren’t any in your barn. Equestrian of color, adult amateur rider L. Williams wrote “So You Want to Be An Ally” with information, resources and articles from various publications highlighting equestrians of color. Another blogger and rider, Amanda, created a post highlighting Black excellence in equestrian sport with many instagram accounts to follow, and eventing blogger Holly created her own list of Black equestrian accounts as well. You can follow Black Reins, a magazine dedicated to Black equestrians, to have a continual source of new faces, stories and voices. 

I’ve been talking with Piper, publisher of The Plaid Horse, about our magazine’s steps for action and how we can thoughtfully pursue change. Sometimes those conversations feel quiet to those on the outside, and I know that I will not always strike the right balance on public versus private advocacy. But the only way I know how to feel hopeful for our community and peers of any race is to continue learning, listening and growing. It won’t be perfect, but it’s no where close now—we must change.

In the short term, I want to open a door to the equestrian community. I am open to feedback from our readers, whether it’s an equestrian we should profile on the blog or what I could be doing better. Contact me at lauren@theplaidhorse.com. While I am admittedly not the world’s fastest at getting through my email inbox, I will respond to you. 

And as a magazine, we continue to commit to showcasing diversity in our sport. With stories, photos and fresh voices we can make the equestrian world more inclusive. It’s one tiny part of the bigger picture, but a way to change silence into action.

About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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