This week in her story “#MeToo: The Story Of A Trainer, A Trophy And An All-Too-Common Betrayal,” Mollie Bailey brings the viral movement of solidarity against sexual misconduct to the realm of horse sports. We are honored to provide a platform, long overdue, for the women courageous enough to come forward about their abuse.
Some readers may question why we would write about someone who is dead or why we would “bring politics” into a magazine about horses.
Because while the horse world can be isolated in many ways, it can’t escape the fact that it is, in fact, part of the larger community and culture. How women or children or aspiring athletes are treated by those in power affects us whether we’re in Hollywood or gymnastics or equestrian sports. Because when a few people start to speak out, others tend to follow them and realize they are not alone, that they will finally be believed. Because there is power in telling truths that have long been hidden.
Over the decades, this magazine has published more stories on Jimmy Williams and his riding accomplishments, the successes of his students, and his induction into halls of fame, than I can count.
Yet the U.S. Equestrian Federation found his alleged crimes egregious enough to rename the trophy that was once their highest honor (although they originally did so quietly, without a statement). While no one can take away the man’s genius with a horse, there should be an asterisk in the history books by his name and achievements, and there is no equestrian accomplishment that overrides the serious nature of the very credible allegations against him.
The “Mad Men” culture of the 1960s and ’70s may have changed, but anyone who thinks this kind of behavior is a thing of the past is sadly mistaken. Flintridge Riding Club is not the only place where there was or is an “open secret” that involves taking advantage of those who are vulnerable.
We as writers and editors have nothing to do with making or ruining reputations. That decision—in fact series of decisions—was made by a trainer decades ago, and those choices would impact the lives of his victims forever. While the details you will read are sometimes graphic, we believe they are necessary and that they should not be sugarcoated.
There’s no reason to look the other way because of “reputation” any more than there was for Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby or the many others whose misconduct has come to light in the last few years. In fact, Williams’ fame most likely prevented many from questioning him sooner, and the situation highlights the power imbalance inherent between a student, especially a minor, and a trainer. And for far too long, no one has been looking out for those minors. Even today, in equestrian sports, unlike in many other sports, trainers do not have to complete background checks or undergo SafeSport training.
The women who so powerfully shared their stories with us survived and overcame their abuse, but how many others did not? Very few victims come out the other side to ride in the Olympics—which makes it all the more important to share their stories for those who can not.
For decades, Jimmy Williams was an icon to equestrians, but today, we at the Chronicle stand in awe of the five women who survived inexcusable abuse and are now boldly addressing it. We hope their stories contribute to a new culture of awareness and support among equestrians.
This article appeared in the April 9 & 16 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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