I am writing to add my voice to the conversation on racism in this country and its relevance to our horse community. This is not a one- or two-dimensional conversion that we need to have, but I think I have a specific perspective as a black, lifelong professional horseman. I’ve been in the horse world for 44 years going back to my first lesson. I have held jobs as a groom, barn manager, rider and trainer for others as well as operating my own barn for many years. I’ve been a course designer, and I hold a U.S. Equestrian Federation “r” hunter/hunt seat equitation judges card.
I was raised by a single mother in a modest home in a mixed-race neighborhood in what was known at the time as the “Chocolate City.” Those first lessons were arranged between a junior high school teacher and Bob Douglas, the African American operator of the Rock Creek Park Horse Center in Washington, District of Columbia. In my lifetime, that city has burned more than once over the killing of people of color. This issue of race in America is not new, but maybe, at this time, as a nation, we can have a real discourse about it.
The public schools I attended taught me the history of a country that demanded to be heard and seen with a protest that was said to be self-evident: “All men are created equal.” A declaration that was written by a man whose half brother was attending to him as a slave while he wrote it. Yet, I still stand and put my hand over my heart and face our flag when the anthem of this country is played, despite the fact that our constitution was signed by 25 slave owners. I do this because this is my country in spite of its flaws. I do this because I know that freedom is not free. It has taken the coming together of men and women of all races, creeds and nationalities under one banner to gain freedom through the ultimate sacrifice. I hope the sacrifices made by Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and four young girls in Birmingham, sacrifices made on Bloody Sunday in Selma, and by the freedom riders, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others, will also be steps towards true freedom for all.
One of the lessons I learned playing team sports as a youth is that if one of us has a problem, then all of us have a problem. And if you are not part of the solution, then you are the problem. We have a problem in this country. A problem that we have had since 1619 when 20 enslaved Africans were offloaded in Point Comfort of the colony of Virginia.
Growing up black in America is different than for any other race, no matter your status. We African Americans know the truth of our history, and we can still feel its remnants today. I was taught to be respectful to all but to never turn my back to a cop and keep my hands in sight. That being said, I grew up in a barn that was right next door to the U.S. Park Police Mounted Division’s training facility. I got to see white cops and black cops and Asian cops, male and female working together and being respectful to each other and welcoming to people of all colors.
I was told that I would have to work twice as hard for half as much. In some respects that has turned out to be true. I have had to knock on, sometimes kick down doors that are held open for others. I take pride in having done this, but there has always been a “What if?” that I carry based on our country’s history with race. Not the “What if?” of what could I have accomplished if those doors were held open for me, but the “What if?” of, is the next person that I have to interact with going to be a racist? The “What if?” of, did that decision have any basis in race? I am ashamed to admit that I watched the final round of the 2019 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final several times to justify Jordan Allen not winning. That is an example of the conditioned “What if?” that I have to resist. (I mean no offense to Kip Rosenthal and Cynthia Hankins. I do believe their decision was not biased, and that they got it right. The point that I am making is that it crossed my mind.)
For those of you that say, “But I’m not one of those…,” I believe you. But it only takes “one of those” families in a comfortable neighborhood for a jogger to get shot. It only takes “one of those” cops along with apathy from others for George Floyd to be handcuffed and on the ground with a knee on his neck for being suspected of a crime. I know that there are more good people in this world than bad, but it only takes one, so, “What if?”
I know that this is not an issue that the members of this community want to think about, much less confront, but we should not isolate ourselves from the issues around race. If we do, then we are the problem. Most of the people in the horse show world will never be affected by this issue, but racism (direct or indirect) is a communicable disease, and eventually this sickness will infect us all, so we should all confront it.
Given the economic, social and political connections within our community, we can do a lot to effect change on this issue. But only if we are willing to see, hear and be compassionate towards those who feel its weight, and intentional in reaching out and supporting those who are affected. We can help eliminate it in the world at large by setting the example if nothing else.
We need to educate ourselves on and lift our voices against modern-day Jim Crow laws and practices such as restrictive voter legislation and redlining, which is still being done by some lending companies and farm bureaus today. We can advocate for increased funding for our public schools and changes in our college entrance processes, which are designed to evaluate how well you test rather than what you know. We could look into the effects of limitations to health care and social safety net systems on economic mobility in underserved communities. We can call out businesses and companies over discriminatory hiring and promotion practices.
If this community speaks up about these things, people in power will listen.
And yes, we as a community can be more inviting. Our governing bodies can do a better job with this. Pull up the U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Hunter Jumper Association websites right now and count the number of non-white faces you see. Our stories should be told also. (And there can be more USEF officials that look like me.) We all can pitch in on this. We can invest in and expand on programs like David Silver’s Horse Power program in Detroit and R. L. Jacobs’ opportunity clinics in North Carolina (which the Gochmans support, by the way). I’m sure there are others like them all over this country. We just don’t know of them, and that’s a problem that can be fixed.
The African American community is an untapped market for our industry, and not just as clients. Yes privilege, or should we say money, makes it easier to play this game, but it takes more than money to be successful. You can be successful in the horse world in more than one way and at more than one level. Lack of money can be overcome with education, dedication and opportunity.
It also takes more than talent as a rider to be successful. Every top rider has a support system that is miles deep. The African American community is a potentially deep pool of talent for that support. We need veterinarians, blacksmiths, human and equine physios, chiropractors and nutritionists, etc. We can advance with more leather craftsmen and jump builders and turf managers. Maybe someone can develop more advanced footing options or better helmets and body protectors. The options are plentiful.
We can do with more horse handlers who have empathy born from the struggle to fit into what seems at times to be a strange land. And YES we could use more riders. Riders who can move these horses that spend too much time in box stalls. And who knows, from that pool of talent we might find the next Sonny Brooks, Chummy Horsey, Shachine Belle, Junior Johnson, Richard Coward, or dare I say the next David Loman.
For you young people, of any color, that don’t think you “fit in,” you have to stand up before you can stand out! You have to find the gumption to ignore that group of “mean girls” and do what you must to get better. Work smarter, longer and harder. You don’t have to look down on yourself just because someone else does. Don’t let anyone steal your dream or your joy! Your voice is the most important voice you will ever hear. You are the author of your story; don’t let some else write it.
Most aspects of the horse industry are skills that can be learned, so learn them. One of the best gifts my mother gave me was the courage to forge my own path, and one of the important things she taught me was how to teach myself. You don’t have an excuse. There are books galore, and you have Youtube. Go get it. Don’t wait for it to come to you.
“If you want to be excellent, be excellent!” – Anne Kursinski (I’ve heard it a thousand times.)
Lastly, let me add this. There are amazingly generous and helpful people in our horse community. I do not want to cast aspersions on anyone, but I want to point out that in this time of national upheaval let us all recognize that we can do better and be better. The Gochman family is one of the beacons of generosity within this industry, and we should all try to emulate their examples of giving back. I thank them for all that they do.
Thank you, Missy. You are full of class, and I appreciate you!
We are all affected by the plight of others, so we should lend our voices to justice.
My life matters.
David Loman was first introduced to horses at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center in Washington, District of Columbia. He worked as a groom for Olympic medalists Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld at Sandron Farm in Virginia, for Eric Hasbrook at Belle Herb Farm in Bedford, New York, and for Eddie Huber in Cazenovia, New York, as well as spending three years with David Hopper in Amenia, New York.
In 1991 David started what became Cornerstone Show Stables in Edgewater, Maryland. Over the 15 years of owning and operating Cornerstone, his accomplishments included numerous regional and national year-end championships in hunters, jumpers and equitation.
David spent many years working with Kim Clark at Thoroughbred Placement Resources and was one of the 26 horsemen selected to participate in the Inaugural Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium. He also served as a member of the Maryland Horse Show Association board of directors. David, his wife Laura, a physical therapist specializing in both equine and human equestrian athletes, and their son Austin have settled in Bluffton, South Carolina, where he works as the assistant trainer at Rose Dhu Equestrian Center with Katie Maxwell. He is also a USEF “r” licensed judging official.