By Nadia Aslam
As an avid equestrian and person of color, I’ve always been more than aware of the underlying racism and biases that exist in our sport.
Through my experiences, I have come to learn this: Good exists in the equine industry, and bad exists. The only way to change the bad is to take it seriously and admit that it exists.
The year 2020 was a challenging one for many reasons, with the global pandemic keeping us isolated from one another; it was a time of loneliness, financial struggle and fear for many.
The pandemic wasn’t the only thing to hit us hard last year, and one haunting tragedy that swept the world with sorrow was the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, MN.
This terrible tragedy was a catalyst in kicking off greater discussions about race, discrimination, and accessibility in our world—including within our sport.
Today, almost exactly a year on from George Floyd’s death, I want to discuss what might seem taboo—the fatigue of the fight.
I’ll admit, I am currently struggling with this, and it has taken me weeks to put pen to paper and write down my thoughts and feelings about it.
A feeling has continued to gnaw at me: There’s still so much that needs to be done, still so many deaf ears that our words fall upon, and still so much injustice in the world.
The idea of changing the horse world can be incredibly daunting. Still, I’m confident we can do it. Sometimes, we just need to take a breath, take a break, and remind ourselves that we’re not alone in this.
Could I Be Doing More?
I ask myself on an almost daily basis, and it can be a toxic thought: Could I be doing more?
For much of the second half of last year, I dedicated every waking minute to developing a movement to forward equality in our sport. I called it, “Equestrians for Equality” (or “Eq-for-Eq” for short).
I ran at this at a million miles per hour, rallying people to work on the project with me, planning out grand schemes, and having meeting after meeting…and then, I hit a wall.
Compassion fatigue is not only real, but it’s really hard to deal with—and, coupled with general burnout, it hit me hard.
Those feelings of exhaustion, of having nothing left to give, made me feel like a terrible human being, selfish even. Considering the immense privilege I was lucky enough to have throughout my life, surely I could muster the energy to help others.
I now know that I’m not alone in these feelings, and I think it’s important to remind those who might also be struggling that you are not a bad person if you feel that you simply can’t do more.
We’re All Human
It’s easy to see others doing incredible work. We see the social media posts, the perfectly polished announcements, and often we don’t consider the countless hours of work that have gone into achieving those goals.
That Instagram post that makes changing the world look easy could have been a project three years in the making; that announcement could have been from a team who has poured its hearts into the page time and time again until they got it just right.
I wish that I could say that I’ve learned everything there is to know about this or how to come out the other side as a new and energized person, but the fact is, I’m still working on myself.
But I do have some advice to share, and that is that it’s better to do a little for the long run than a lot for the short run.
If you’re anything like me, your mind may jump to, Well, what if I just do a lot for the long run? But that’s not necessarily the best option.
Unless you’re an actual superhuman, working on these emotionally draining causes at full speed, with no time for yourself, to spend time doing what you love to do or to recharge your batteries, is bad for both your mental and physical health.
If you take anything away from this blog, I hope that you’ll add these five self-care practices to your life as an equestrian activist:
1. Take Rests
The best riders in the world don’t school their horses for hours upon hours. They allow the lesson to sink into their horses’ minds with plenty of rest time, and they allow their body to recover from what’s demanded of them.
Please treat yourself with the same respect we all know you’d treat your horse with and take breaks. I cannot stress how much better of an ally you will be if you do this.
2. Don’t Feel Guilty
- I’m awake – I should be changing the world.
- I’m watching TV – that’s selfish, I should be changing the world.
- It’s the weekend – I have even more time to change the world.
Wow, does this one hit home for me.
If you’re guilty of this, I want you to try something; Set specific days and times that you’ll spend energy on diversity and accessibility. Try starting with an hour twice a week, and please comment on how it made you feel and whether you could get just as much or even more work done!
3. Keep Going
When I say keep going, I don’t mean never take a break. I mean don’t give up. Is it OK to have a busy period at work and know you don’t have the mental capacity for the next month? ABSO-FRICKIN-LUTELY. And hey, this doesn’t mean that all bright ideas in that time go un-used. Buy yourself a cute little notebook and the fanciest pen you can find, and jot down any ideas that you have during that time.
4. Surround Yourself With Great People
This one is almost a no-brainer. You should be around people that lift you up, not the ones that tear you down. And in the age of social media, that can be hard; I get it. I can’t tell you the number of messages we’ve gotten on Eq-For-Eq saying that we’re not doing enough, and that can be hard to hear.
But I do have one sure-fire way to snap me out of feeling bad about those comments.
I am one of the biggest fans of Brene Brown, and if you don’t know who she is, I encourage you to go find her TED talk and watch it. In one of Brene’s books, she talks about the kind of people that hurl these hurtful comments, and she has a quote which is a play on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote, and it goes, “If you’re not in the arena getting you’re a$$ kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
The way I take this is that if someone is telling me that I’m not doing enough to change the world, but they’re doing precisely ZERO, then I won’t even take that comment on board.
5. Give Yourself Permission to Feel Joy
When so much bad is happening in the world, it can make you feel so incredibly guilty to feel happiness in your own life. But you must know that having those respites, those moments of belly laughter, or those evening walks in the sunshine will only help serve you as you continue this challenging journey of doing good.
This article isn’t supposed to have all of the answers; in fact, I don’t know that it even has one, but I do hope that it’s the reminder you need to take care of yourself.
I hope that as you near the end of this article, you feel a weight lift from your shoulders, you take a deep breath in, and then release all of that tension out as you exhale.
If you’re doing your part in trying to make the horse world a better place—whether you call out people who use inappropriate language, are doing your bit to encourage diverse representation, you volunteer at a youth riding academy, you allow someone to ride your horse, support BIPOC owned equestrian brands, or simply click like and share on the posts from your favorite diversity charity—you ARE an equestrian activist, and you should NEVER be ashamed of talking about the emotional weight of this work.
I want to end by saying that I value each and every one of you, and I know that we’ll all endeavor to our best for improving and encouraging diversity and accessibility in equestrianism to the extent that we know we’ll be able to. On this journey, having boundaries is necessary and healthy!
Hugs and Cookies,