On June 7, equestrians and their mounts joined thousands of pedestrian protestors for the Compton Peace Walk, marching from Gateway Towne Center in Los Angeles to Compton City Hall in Compton, California.
Announced just four days earlier by Compton mayor Aja Brown, the Compton Peace Walk was planned as “a show of solidarity to honor the life of George Floyd and the many others who have lost their lives due to racism, police brutality and violence.” The Compton Cowboys shared the event on social media as the Compton Peace Ride with this call to action: “Calling all equestrians let’s ride.”
The Compton Cowboys describe themselves as “a collective of lifelong friends on a mission to uplift their community through horseback and farming lifestyle, all the while highlighting the rich legacy of African-Americans in equine and western heritage.” Many are former members of the Compton Jr. Posse, an organization that has provided opportunities for Compton youth to learn to ride and care for horses since 1988.
Randy Savvy of the Compton Cowboys said it was important for the group to be part of the event because “we have to be out here for our people supporting the cause.” He continued, “We have been fighting these issues for a long time, many decades, many centuries, and it’s just time to get it right. We just wanted to be out here on behalf of the city of Compton and just to make sure that we are using our voice and letting it be known that we want to stand up against this stuff.”
The Black Lives Matter movement originated in 2013 to fight violence and racism against black people. The movement recently gained widespread energy following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis.
A wide grin spread across Savvy’s face when asked how horses can contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Horses contribute to the message because horses are peace,” he said. “They are that peace that keeps you grounded, rooted and centered. It’s like therapy being with the horses; they’re all things natural. This is what’s helping us, as far as our community, keeping us calm and cool and collected so we can speak our message without being tainted by violence and other things like that.”
Hunter/jumper trainer Bethany Unwin, who is based in San Diego, agreed that horses contribute to maintaining the peace. “I’ve been an activist for five years, and I’ve been shot at with rubber bullets and tear gassed,” she said. “So when I heard about this, something that’s part of this movement that directly affects me, it was nice to see that I could incorporate my horse and my equestrian friends in this too. Here it is really nice to be around people who are intending to be peaceful. I feel like everybody here understands that this is the intent, to maintain peace around horses. I can’t imagine it going the other way.” Unwin rode her Paint mare River in the peace walk.
The march started at a Compton shopping center and proceeded through the city, ending at the Martin Luther King Jr. monument near City Hall. The horses did not ascend the steps to the monument, but their riders gathered them at the base of the stairs and stood at attention while Mayor Brown spoke, before leading the trek back. CBS Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Times reported thousands of participants, including musician Kendrick Lamar and NBA star Russell Westbrook.
Grand prix rider Mavis Spencer also joined the march, borrowing a mount trained for TV sets from professional cowboy Tre Hosley. “I’m still finding the words to describe what an incredible experience yesterday was being a part of the Peace Ride with the Compton Cowboys and so many friends,” said Spencer. “All of us are close because of our love of horses, not the color of our skin, so to come together and ride for a cause we are all passionate about and use horses as a medium to spread our message of love and equality was very moving. Thousands of people came out to show solidarity and lend their voices, and I am so humbled to have been a part of it.”