On Pain & Growth

Photo courtesy of Lauren Kardel


I wish I had the dexterity to explain to you the week of anguish that accompanied writing my TPH blog post “I Would Like to Introduce Myself“. The feeling of isolation that came with opening those old wounds and sharing what I’ve experienced as a person of color in the horse world was astounding to me. It forced me to look at racial justice completely differently. It forced me to look at myself completely differently. Constantly acknowledging my pain would make it impossible to go through life, so those horrible moments became like stones piled into a bucket. It was heavy, but I was accustomed to carrying it. I looked around me and thought: others have heavier burdens, so carry yours and do not complain. It is only now, after shedding my burden and sharing those words that I realize that it was the most liberating thing I could have ever done. The outpouring of support was a reminder of one thing about the horse community I had allowed myself to forget: we are strong.

So how do we as a community tackle racism, become anti-racist, and grow ever stronger? I genuinely am not sure if I am the best-positioned person in the world to answer that question, but I can approach it from a perspective that most in our industry cannot. The Plaid Horse taught me that when we show our wounds and speak our truth earnestly, the horse community has the strength and desire to help heal. I think we need to create more opportunities for people to shed their burdens and be heard. We need to create space for people of color in our sport to discuss the racism we meet every day, weather they are grooms, riders, owners, or anyone in between. Just as Emmet Till’s face on the cover of Life Magazine brought outrage and empathy, so can our individual stories. We are at an inflection point in American culture—and I believe it is time for our stories to be heard. There will be friction, there will be discomfort, but it will also foster greater understanding.

I wish I could say that all I think our sport needs right now is honesty, but I do not believe that to be true. We have a tremendous capacity as a community to accept and excel under intense criticism. We pay trainers to scrutinize us, and judges to judge us—we know what good can come from constructive criticism. We need to apply this same constructive criticism in analyzing what we say, and what our friends say. It is time for us as a community to own the way some of the things we say make other people feel. We need to have the capacity to either hear from people, or tell people, that something that was spoken aloud is racist—and why we believe it to be racist. Rather than pushing these tough conversations aside, I believe we should bring them front and center. I do not believe that people should be ostracized or cancelled—but I do believe that we as a community have the capability to have these conversations civilly, without broad stroked or insults. Just as we have the capacity to change our riding, we have the capacity to change our perspective.

There is something in most people’s lives that makes them feel different, or makes them fear ridicule. Because of this we all have the capability to meet one another with empathy, and find a way to have these hard conversations. Harder still, we can find a way to interrupt hate speech, or even more subtle racism, and make our sport a more inclusive place. I hope those with influence in our sport can give the next generation space to share both their triumph and their pain, the ability to be seen and heard as equals. I hope to look at the next generation of our sport and see many more faces like mine.

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.

Originally from the August 2020 issue.