Eventers Anastasia “Stacy” Curwood and Heather Gillette have launched Strides For Equality Equestrians, an allyship program that aims to promote and encourage racial and ethnic diversity in equestrian sport.
Curwood, a historian, and Gillette came up with the concept after they were both interviewed by the U.S. Eventing Association’s Leslie Mintz for an article in Eventing USA about diversity. Gillette, an upper-level eventer, was dismayed to learn that few equestrian professionals were willing to publicly advocate for equality.
“I woke up that morning and was like, ‘Well, somebody has to do something about this!’ ” Gillette said. “And then went about my business and was finally like, ‘You better stop whining about it, and you and Stacy better do something.’ So we did.”
As the idea grew, they recruited five other equestrians to be part of their steering committee: Dana Bivens, Madison Buening, Catherine Reddick, Sally Spickard and five-star eventer Matt Brown.
The initiative has three main goals, which will occur in stages: allyship, supporting urban riding programs and apprenticeship opportunities. Curwood, who has experienced racial bias in eventing, felt making sure that equestrians who are Black, Indigenous and people of color feel welcome is the first issue SEE should address.
“‘It would be really great if we could know that there was some sort of signal and some sort of affirmation from people who were willing to stand with BIPOC folks,” said Curwood. “If there was just some way to know who was there for us, and who wants to be an ally, and who wants to cause change, and who wants to make sure that we are welcome in horse sports.”
There are educational materials on the SEE website about what it means to be an ally, as well as information about microaggressions, with more to come. In the future, the group will include profiles of BIPOC equestrians to promote visibility. Those who donate to the organization will receive a SEE pin, which they can wear at events.
“The immediate goal is letting people of color know they are welcomed and accepted,” said Gillette. “It starts at events, anybody who wants to wear a pin to say, ‘Hey, we’re with you, and we’re happy you’re here, and we acknowledge that it might be very hard to be here.’ ”
Curwood and Gillette hope to align SEE with a currently operating 501(c)(3) or eventually gain status themselves to make donations tax deductible. After they achieve that, they want to use some of their funds to support urban riding programs, and eventually pair participants from those programs with paid apprenticeships in their chosen field in the equestrian industry.
“I’d love to see some of the graduates from these programs and have the sense that they could have a career in the equestrian sports, as a rider, as a vet, as a trainer, as a shoer,” said Brown. “There are so many opportunities for people within the sport if they’re passionate enough. In some of my conversations, it was pretty clear to me that even minority equestrians who are involved in the horse sports didn’t feel like they have some of the opportunities that they could have.”
For more information, visit the Strides For Equality website.