All my life I have always considered the barn to be my home away from home. It’s a place I can go to get away from reality and leave all my problems at the door. Riding has been an outlet for me to express myself and be who I truly am, and I will forever be grateful for that.
This being said, recent events in mainstream society, such as the brutal murder of George Floyd, have caused me to look at the entire equestrian community with a more critical eye. My barn and the circuit I compete on have always been an extremely loving and accepting environment, but now that I’m no longer looking through rose-colored glasses, I realize that the same can’t be said about our community as a whole.
I started riding at the age of 9 and was competing by 10. Some of the racial injustices that I saw as a young rider weren’t as apparent back then, but now that I’m older and understand our world a little more, I see just how prevalent white privilege is in our sport.
Flip through an equestrian magazine or scroll through Instagram, and you might realize just how underrepresented people of color are in equestrian culture. Growing up I saw very few people who looked like me, and sometimes this led me to feel extremely ostracized and out of place. I never saw anyone whose complexion was similar to mine, and I couldn’t figure out why this was. I began to wonder, “Why don’t I see more people like me?”
Even now I still ask myself this sometimes. It’s a hard idea to wrap my head around, and it’s even harder to find a legitimate answer. Many people in general, but especially those who are non-white, aren’t as fortunate as I am, and they would never be able to have the opportunity to take part in this sport that I have grown to cherish. I’m extremely lucky to be able to lease my wonderful mare, take weekly lessons with my amazing coaches, and show on the Central West Trillium Circuit.
White privilege doesn’t have to be seen as such a dirty phrase. After all, many people would do a lot to be able to experience it. White privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t have your struggles and battles, it just means that you will never face certain disadvantages or injustices based solely on the color of your skin. When used for good, it can have a profound effect, and you can truly make a positive impact on a marginalized group of people.
Equestrian is a sport built on wealth and luxury, whether we would like to admit it or not. It’s often easy to be so blind to the oppression and inequality that others face, especially when you can’t relate to these things. Some people find it easier to stay silent about the many racial mistreatments that happen all around the world—yes, even in Canada—but if you have chosen to remain silent you have chosen to contribute to such oppression.
Over the past few days, I have kept a mental note on who has spoken up about racial issues in our world. Something as simple as sharing an educational post or providing links for those looking to get involved is a great way to show support towards the Black Lives Matter movement. Sadly, many large equestrian corporations and professional riders who I had once looked up to have yet to say anything. Whether or not they have been personally affected by these ongoing issues, as models and leaders in the horse world it’s their responsibility to break the silence and use their platforms to raise awareness.
This has been truly disappointing and completely unacceptable in my mind. So many young people in the equestrian community have dared to speak up, so why is it that some of the most influential figures in our sport get a free pass?
As a black and white mixed female, I have always taken women’s rights and racism very seriously. I know what it feels like to be looked at funny and not taken seriously just because I’m a woman of black descent. Now more than ever I feel a personal responsibility to speak up on such issues that are deeply rooted in our society, even if that means I may be judged by those around me. There are more serious issues in this world than what a few people may have to say about me behind my back or through a keyboard. Although I may not have a large social media following, I continue to strive to provide educational and supportive resources to those around me. If I can influence even just one person, that’s one more person who is more aware of the oppression that is still present globally, and one more person who may be willing to help make a change.
The equestrian community has a moral obligation to strive towards creating a better environment for the POC within it. The world is rapidly changing right in front of us, and it’s time for the community to change with it. We owe it to the many non-white people who have helped and continue to help make our sport what it is. Whether it’s donating to a charity affiliated with Black Lives Matter, signing a petition to get justice for George Floyd and the many others who have been wronged by the justice system, or simply beginning to have those tougher conversations with those around us, change begins with one individual. I applaud everyone in the horse world who has already spoken up, and I encourage those who haven’t to do so. It’s time to break the silence. It’s time for the entire equestrian community to be as loving and accepting as the community around me has been.
Lauryn Gray recently turned 17 and is finishing 11th grade at Loyola Catholic Secondary School while managing to keep a balance between her academic life and riding. Gray started her riding career eight years ago at Parish Ridge Stables, where she still rides and shows to this day. From the shorties division to the jumper ring, she has continued to work hard to be the best rider she can be, all while keeping the center of the sport in mind: her love of horses. In 2018 she found her heart horse, Chelsea, and the pair has successfully competed in many jumper classes, earning many ribbons and awards, including bringing home reserve champion from the Trillium Hunter/Jumper Championships in Ontario.