Four horsewomen have launched the Equestrian Cooperative, an initiative aimed at making social activism and community involvement more accessible for horse people.
Adrienne Sternlicht, who rode on the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) gold-medal winning show jumping team; Lucy Deslauriers, a member of the 2019 Pan American Games (Peru) bronze-medal winning show jumping team; Paige Bellissimo, amateur rider and founder of the Great Charity Challenge; and Chronicle staff writer Tori Repole joined up to found the project.
“At the end of the day we were thinking, OK, we have this network of people in our industry at all levels who want to involve themselves in social activism. How can we use the organizations within our community and beyond to give people the opportunity to give back, especially because of how active the equestrian lifestyle is?” said Repole.
The four plan to act as liaisons between nonprofits and those in the horse community who would like to help. They’ve already reached out to more than 30 horse-related nonprofit organizations to see what their needs are. “We really view our place as more of a facilitator,” said Bellissimo, who is also the daughter of Chronicle publisher Mark Bellissimo.
The group also wants to identify professionals from different corners of the industry who are interested in giving back, whether that be via mentorship, volunteering or some other method.
“People in the equestrian community regardless of their role, whether riders, trainers, farriers, photographers and so on, have different assets that they can contribute to this community of social activism,” said Deslauriers, New York City. “I think listening to the organizations will help us find the people who might best be able to help them.”
When they launched the Equestrian Cooperative, someone sent a question about the diversity ratio within the organization: “Are there any people of color in that list of founders? People of color in leadership positions? Or is this another organization where white women want to do good but forget to involve BIPOC in the conversation?”
This led the group to explain further one of their core premises: “As four individuals, three white and one Black, in positions of privilege at the top of the industry, we are aware that the greater equestrian community is more diverse than top-level sport, and that our organization’s demographic reflects that disparity,” they wrote in a statement.
“The Equestrian Cooperative was founded organically by a group of friends with a shared desire to better the industry we love,” they continued. “We set the framework for the EC by accepting our role as the facilitator, not the authoritative, and we understand that there will be more times than not where we take a back seat and listen. Fighting for diversity and inclusivity at all levels of the industry is a collective passion of ours. It is, in part, what we want to address through our platform, where we will elevate a broad range of existing voices as we grow and evolve. It is through these individuals and organizations that the Equestrian Cooperative will take on a life of its own.”
Sternlicht, Greenwich, Connecticut, has had many conversations with her coach McLain Ward, who wants to give back more but worries that he doesn’t know how to effectively help.
“Conversations with him illuminated to me that individuals held in the highest esteem in our industry have a true desire to be involved at the most grassroots level but often don’t know where to look,” said Sternlicht. “We see it as our work to create this foundation and platform to forge these connections.
“Ultimately, we’d like to make the healing power of horses accessible to more individuals, and any way we can help facilitate that connection is the mission and vision of our cooperative,” she continued.
For more information or to get involved, reach out to the Equestrian Cooperative at email@example.com and follow the group on Instagram @equestrian.cooperative.