BY LAUREN KARDEL
It has been impossible to ignore the responses of the horse community to George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. From my home in Eastern Holland, I am broadsided with opinions on social media daily—not least of which were two hotly contested articles in The Chronicle of the Horse. While I commend publications that have broached the subject, one thing about our community’s approach is glaringly apparent to me: the lack of honest communication with Black people about their experience in our sport.
Something odd happens to a person who is brought up in communities primarily populated by people who are different from them. I know, because I am one of those people.
I grew up, learned valuable lessons and was formed by the horse community. I was made strong, independent; I was taught to persevere, and problem solve. Most of the parts of my personality that I’m proud of are ones I learned from horses and horse people.
Most days, I do not even notice that I am different from most in our insular world. In fact, as a kid, I told myself that our differences did not matter. I was sure to speak clearly, to not sound at all Black. I was frequently called the whitest Black person people had ever met, and I took it as a compliment. I was a chameleon in their culture—I fit in and felt liked.
Then came a day when I was leaving The Oaks, and the police pulled me over. They asked me to sit on the curb while they looked around the car and figured out if I, in fact, owned it as I told them I did. Looking back on that moment, the thing I was most afraid of was that someone from the show would see me there with the police and think I was a criminal. Me who had fought so long to fit in. I was not afraid of the police, who kill unarmed Black people with staggering regularity. I was afraid that the peers I wanted so badly to blend in with that I had hidden my difference as well as I could, would see me on a street corner, in police custody, as a criminal.
I would love to say that that was the moment I stood up, and embraced who I am—but it was not. As a young dealer based in Europe, I thought it was in my job description to be universally likeable. All things to all people. Not so urban that I might scare people, not political, and never radical. In my free time I devoured history on slavery, the civil rights movement, and the criminal justice system. But to the horse world I was militantly careful to be non-threatening.
Every day I would scroll through Facebook and Instagram and see racist memes and posts from people who helped raise me—people who were there to clap when I won and pick me up when I fell. Had they created an exception for me since they clearly had little respect for people like me? Am I ok because I am known and not a “thug” while the rest of us Black Americans are dangerous? What would they think if they knew the pain the things they are saying causes me, a kid they helped raise into a professional in their industry?
I believe one thing our sport needs in this time of upheaval is honest conversation. So, though many of you already know me, I would like to introduce myself as I wish I had possessed the strength to do so many years ago.
My name is Lauren Kardel. I cry when I read about Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and so many more that we have lost. I swell with pride when I think about the Black women that engineered NASA to the moon, and the #BlackGirlMagic of Serena Williams and Simone Biles.
I have been cuffed when I committed no crime. I have been followed in a store. I have been told by a salesman I cannot look at a product because I look like I cannot afford it. I have been called the N word at a horse show. I have been told I am lucky to “not be like other black people” at a horse show. I have had “does not fit my ideal picture” written on my judge’s card after a beautiful equitation round.
I have carried the weight of racism in the United States just as my ancestors have, but I hope my children do not have this burden.
I hope you understand that what is happening now in our country is not a sudden upheaval, but the product of more than 400 years. I hope you understand that there is no such thing as a silent ally, and that we need to shout together as one for freedom—because no one is free until we all are. I hope you know that I would be proud to answer any question you have about who I am and where I come from, just as I know you would be proud to answer those questions from me. I hope that as a community we can begin to speak with one another, and see one another for who we are with empathy, understanding, and respect for our differences. I and I hope you understand why my heart is screaming the words you hear right now across our country and the world: Black Lives Matter.
Lauren Kardel is the owner/director of Kardel Global Equine, the ultimate experience in sourcing, acquiring, and delivering your ideal horse. Growing up in California, Lauren began her European career in Belgium riding with Axel Verlooy and world #1 rider Harrie Smolders. She transitioned to sourcing full time and established Kardel Global Equine, earning a reputation for a special eye matching horses with riders and a professional approach. Lauren travels home to the US often (with her dog Logan) and when she’s not working with horses she loves talking politics and baking.