Updated June 10: We recognize this content might be hurtful for some readers. For our explanation on why we published it, please read the Chronicle editorial team’s response.
I’m glad to be a member of our horse community. We’re a close-knit group of people, and, despite having shortcomings and moments of disagreement, one of our best attributes is our ability to come together when times are tough—whether it be amongst one of “us” or when adversity strikes outside our fold. And you know what? I’m proud of that fact.
Back before today’s younger generation was born, the world and our horse community came face to face with the AIDS epidemic. We didn’t turn our backs; we were there. We were scared too, but we didn’t hold prejudices against any of our horsemen who fell ill to this insidious disease. We lost many friends and colleagues throughout that very difficult time, and it was heart-wrenching. Our community, however, rallied together in an effort to support our fellow equestrians who bravely battled this disease.
The Equestrian AIDS Foundation was created during this haunting time, and many of us were there, both financially and emotionally for our friends and fellow horsemen. Anyone who intimates that we harbor discrimination towards minorities or gays is inaccurate in their assumptions.
[The Equestrian Aid Foundation was founded in 1996 by Robert Dover, R. Scot Evans, Gene Mische, Mason Phelps Jr., Robert Ross and Kim Tudor. Initially incorporated as the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, the organization’s original purpose was to financially assist people in the horse industry who were stricken with AIDS. Today, the foundation’s support has broadened to include assistance for people of all ages, from all disciplines, occupations and backgrounds in the equestrian community.]
To presume minority communities have been purposely excommunicated from our world of horses is like saying equestrians are not allowed as participants in basketball. Because you may not see a majority of certain presences doesn’t mean there have been purposeful exclusions. In our world, some choices are forced because they’re based on the cold hard fact most people can’t afford to do this. It doesn’t mean that it’s fair, but it also doesn’t mean that it’s discrimination.
One thing that surely factors into the choices available to many is indeed the reality of “white privilege” in our world. Amongst the many daily benefits afforded by simply being born with white skin, those who are fortunate enough to have been born into situations where their financial equation isn’t a prohibitive factor in obtaining the best of the best in life have a definite advantage over those who haven’t been born into that segment of the population. Many of these people, some of whom are deeply involved in the horse world, do great things for the less privileged in life.
In Sophie Gochman’s recent article featured on The Chronicle of the Horse’s website, she touched upon several points directed towards the horse community. The encompassing reason of her message may have been lost on many, and I won’t lie, it’s taken me more than a moment to digest all the nuances reflected in her narrative. I was mad at first read due to some of the direct aim at our world. Some of Sophie’s perceptions, in my opinion, are incredibly inaccurate, but nonetheless discussion has been initiated, and from discussion change has the chance to be born.
In her article, Sophie said:
“However, what the horse world fails to recognize is the prevalence of social injustice in our community. Trainers will support [President Donald Trump] and his racist comments and policies towards immigrants but hire undocumented workers from Latin America as grooms.”
I must say, I disagree with Sophie’s perceptions in regard to how many of us feel about the topic of social injustices. And personally speaking, in our establishment we value and appreciate our grooms more than I can convey. Additionally, we’ve gone through the endless governmental procedures and costs to obtain visas for our valued employees whenever possible. Our country makes this process incredibly difficult, time-consuming and costly, and that has been the case through all the administrations manning the helm in the White House since I’ve been roaming Planet Earth as a working professional in the horse world.
As for trainers supporting Trump, well, whoever they are, this IS the United States of America, and everyone IS entitled to their opinion. Sophie is entitled to her opinion too, but her statement in the above quote from her narrative is based purely on speculation.
In Sophie’s article she also stated:
“People of color are so underrepresented in our sport, but does anyone stop to consider that the hostility of the show jumping community towards outsiders is so great that it causes a loss of appeal?”
Personally, I don’t see hostility as any version of a factor precluding people of any race or color from our sport. To the best of my knowledge, everyone is welcome, and despite the fact there isn’t a more noteworthy presence of minorities, there are still people who participate, many of whom I consider good friends. Instead, I see financial constraints as the main reason many people are underrepresented in our world.
Perhaps a foundation could be started to assist those who aren’t as fortunate as those born under the umbrella of “white privilege” as Sophie referenced in her article. Maybe it’s something Sophie might consider as a step to address the problem of social inequality within our sport. With her interest in equality, perhaps Sophie might choose to lead her peer group in getting something organized. I’m quite certain many people in our horse community would support a cause such as this to the best of their financial capabilities.
Sophie also said:
“I’m tired of being one of the few who ever brings up civil rights. I’m tired of always losing my respect for the people I should look up to, such as our Olympians and prominent trainers when they refuse to talk about or silently support social inequity.”
Sophie’s perceptions of how our Olympians and prominent trainers allegedly refuse to talk about or silently support social inequality are off target in my opinion.
Many Olympians and trainers are proactive in ways that aren’t directly in the forefront. Change in thought and action can be achieved in both big and small ways, in loud and in quiet ways. Any vehicle towards change is a valid one. Some people seek change peacefully; some preach from the rooftops.
The Olympians and trainers who I know are absolutely outraged by the complete disregard for George Floyd’s life by the four police officers from Minneapolis. It’s clear there’s a vast divide, and our country is in a state of turmoil like never before.
Becoming an activist for a cause such as social injustice is admirable, and Sophie’s apparent passion to help influence change is noteworthy. I hope she forges forward in positive ways to pursue peaceful solutions in an effort to redirect the actions and thoughts of her peers and others.
I’m going to venture to say, (and readily admit this is MY assumption), it seems Sophie has possibly felt resistance from her peers on many of these sensitive and important topics when she states:
“I’m tired of being ridiculed by people I consider friends [when I] start conversations about police brutality, sexual assault, feminism, the environment, immigration and white privilege.”
Very often people’s viewpoints and interests can be frustrating when they differ from our own. The good news is with time we hopefully become a bit smarter, stronger, more determined AND more understanding of others. If the cause you’re fighting for really matters to you, just like thoughtfully training a horse, sometimes you have to figure out different ways to achieve a goal.
Some of the most influential leaders who advocated for equality, world peace, compassion and humanity made lasting impressions in history because they tried to influence in peaceful ways.
These people who came before us, those who made differences, and those who had plenty standing in their way never gave up.
– Martin Luther King, Jr
– Desmond Tutu
– Mother Teresa
– John Lennon
– Mahatma Gandhi
– Harriet Tubman
Sophie closes her narrative with the following paragraph:
“It’s so shameful that a community made of such wealthy and affluent people cannot riot together to fight police brutality. It’s an absolute outrage. So sign the petitions, take to the streets if you can, make the calls, donate money and speak up. I’m disgusted by your willful ignorance, and I refuse to accept anything but action. This country needs a revolution. This country needs authentic democracy. This country needs justice, and I’m demanding your help.”
I wholly recognize the main point of Sophie’s article as an effort to illuminate the real and palpable social injustices sadly occurring in our country today. However, taking direct aim at many in the horse community because some aren’t following a perceived roadmap of activism is unfair.
It’s unacceptable that racial profiling and inequality still occur in 2020. Many things need to change, I couldn’t agree more! However attempting to influence change by demanding certain behavior or by calling for our community to riot together against police brutality, well… that just isn’t the route I choose to take. And that’s my right.
Sophie’s indication of how she wants to devote herself to a life of service to help others is admirable. Good for her! I hope she never gives up. Her narrative on this important topic most definitely opened the floodgates of discussion amongst our community.
For all of us, presenting one’s self both personally and socially in ways that evoke respect is always a great way to start in an effort to influence people to hear your voice.
For each and every one of us: If you’re gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk.
I’m sure many of you know AJ Holmes who mans the in-gate at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida and at many other shows. I consider him a good friend. A few days ago, I thought to myself that I hadn’t broached the topic with him to hear his viewpoint on what’s currently happening in our country. And so we had that discussion. He made some incredibly valid points, one of which was pairing police partners to include black and white officers together. That was one of his observations, and he made an excellent point. I also asked him if he had ever felt any discrimination from anyone in our horse community, and he resolutely answered: never.
I’ll end by mentioning two quotes that have always resonated truth for me. One is a somewhat humorous quote a well-known horseman said to me about 20 years ago:
“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that counts.”
The second quote is from the inimitable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
I hope all of us can do our part, big or small in an effort to make the world a better place with equality for all people, regardless of their race or color. And at the end of the day, sometimes in life there’s a bigger message in front of us requiring us to read between the lines.
Missy Clark has been involved in the show jumping and equitation training ranks for many years. She and her husband, John Brennan, own North Run located in Warren, Vermont, and Wellington, Florida.
Missy grew up in East Aurora, New York, where she learned to ride under the watchful eye of her mother, Doris Clark, a locally renowned horsewoman. Together, they began their business, Fox Run LTD, before Missy started North Run. As a junior rider, Missy was a working student for Chuck Graham, a well known Buffalo, New York, professional. She went on to train with George Morris and Rodney Jenkins and spent some time working for Jimmy Lee.
Missy’s strong roots in the U.S. equitation system have helped her and the North Run team to produce a long list of top riders. Many have gone on to win at the grand prix level and have represented their respective countries in Nations Cup competitions.
North Run riders have won a total of 65 national championships or reserve titles in the equitation finals, with the most recent being Ava Stearns who won the 2019 ASPCA Maclay National Championship (Kentucky) and Sam Walker who won the 2019 WIHS Equitation Finals (District Of Columbia).