Opinion: Pride Belongs In Equestrian Spaces

Jun 17, 2021 - 7:55 AM

Pride Month feels like a lot more work this year than it usually does.

As a queer, trans equestrian (my pronouns are they/them), I’m delighted to see more and more equestrian brands posting Pride-related content this month—especially when they’re donating a portion of proceeds to LGBTQIA organizations.

The comments sections, though. They make galloping down to a Weldon’s wall seem easy.

JessMoXC
It’s great to see equestrian brands openly supporting Pride Month, but transphobia and homophobia are still very much present in the horse world, says amateur eventer and dressage rider Jess Clawson, shown here on course with Go Big at Loch May Horse Trials. GRC Photo

Here’s the thing about being a queer person in the horse world: A lot of non-queer people will tell you:

  • “There isn’t homophobia or transphobia in the horse world.”
  • I’ve never seen it.”
  • “What does this have to do with horses?”
  • “Why can’t we keep politics out of it?”
  • “My trainer is gay, and he’s never had a problem.”
  • “People just want to make an issue out of nothing these days.”

All of that is homophobic, even if people don’t want to think of themselves that way.

I have had plenty of first-hand experiences with direct homophobia and transphobia in the horse world, but I know that not everyone has seen that sort of thing happen. When we go to horse shows, most people are polite to each other and save the gossiping for the truck ride home. If you know queer people in the horse world who have never told you any stories of discrimination, it’s possible they just don’t feel like you’re someone they can trust to tell.

Reading the comments on these posts is like turning over a rock and finding the bugs. It’s the evidence of the homophobia crawling around in peoples’ brains that they’re not showing us in our day-to-day lives. Some brands choose to delete nasty comments and others don’t, but the reactions are always there. We can see which trainers, breeders and riders are choosing the “angry react” or posting their homophobic comments. It’s also why we need these brands to keep posting Pride-related content, ideally not just once a year on June 1.

Non-queer people like to say that we shouldn’t bring sexuality to the barn, but they come to the barn to talk about their hetero relationships all the time: “My husband is coming with us to the horse show,” “I just got engaged,” “my wife is such a talented braider.” Straight people can say any of these things without being accused of bringing their sexuality to the barn or shoving it down anyone’s throat.

Everyone brings who we are to the sport. That’s part of it. We might not think about every other element of our lives while we’re in the saddle or cleaning tack, but no one is a completely different human being at the barn than they are at home. Our home lives, work lives, social lives all swirl around to make us who we are.

Riding is so challenging that even the most privileged, least marginalized people have to work very hard to succeed. So, when people are being systematically oppressed for their sexuality or race, it comes into play in all areas of their lives. Going to the barn and not knowing if people are going to accept you, let alone support you; or if they’ll think you’re hitting on them when you’re making basic, polite conversation; or if they get weird when you bring your queer partner around their kids can be like an ankle weight to riders who just want to enjoy the sport like everyone else.

On a wider level, there have been 250 anti-queer and anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, with a record-setting 17 enacted into law already. This is officially the worst year since 2015 for queer rights. If a person can be denied medical care, employment, education, housing, accurate identification, a restroom or a store because of their identity, their ability to participate in this dangerous, expensive sport will be severely affected.

The rates of queer homelessness and self-harm are both disproportionately high because of familial rejection, religious discrimination and the difficulty in finding safe housing and adequate employment in many parts of the country. That’s not about politics, that’s just how life is for a lot of us.

So seeing Pride posts from brands we’re familiar with and are part of our lives as equestrians is wonderful, because despite objections about rainbow capitalism (and it’s worth remembering that a lot of horse brands are still pretty small businesses in comparison to, say, Target), we’re still not used to seeing the horse industry show open support to us. It’s new and very exciting.

Reading the comments can be hurtful, but it’s also enlightening.

I would encourage everyone reading this and feeling uncomfortable, or agreeing with unkind comments on those posts, to make it their Pride Month project to ask themselves why that might be. What is it about an equestrian brand posting Pride content that offends you? Why do you think that being queer is just about sexuality, when it’s about identity? Really take some time with it, and consider how you might become a more compassionate, empathetic person after listening to the voices of queer people.

Pride started as a protest, and it seems it still is one.  I’m glad to see that more and more equestrian brands are celebrating it in one way or another—I can only imagine how happy a 13-year-old version of me would have been to see that. But for anyone who denies the homophobia in the horse world, a quick scroll through the comments sections will show you why we still need Pride.


Jess Clawson is an amateur event and dressage rider based in Virginia. They work as a freelance writer, digital media marketer and professional cat snuggler. They have a doctorate in education and history from the University of Florida. 

Categories: Columns, Voices
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