Tom Bass Seminar Highlights Progress In Increasing Diversity

Nov 22, 2021 - 2:59 PM

Last year, the second annual Tom Bass Seminar on Diversity in Equestrian Sport took place in an equestrian community that had, like the world at large, seemingly been jolted by an earthquake. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the widespread racial-justice protests that followed sparked tough conversations about the lack of diversity in equestrian sports. The 2020 seminar, held via Zoom due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, included a presentation from the U.S. Equestrian Federation about its newly announced diversity and inclusion program.

This year’s seminar, held over Zoom on Nov. 20, offered an opportunity to discuss actual progress that has been made instead of just aspirations. Moderator Melvin Cox, managing director of SportsQuest International LLC and a lecturer at the University of California—Santa Cruz, steered discussion among panelists and fielded questions submitted from audience members.

The seminar had five main areas of focus: domestic efforts, youth opportunities, entrepreneurship and the business of horses, media and international efforts.

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Top row: moderator Melvin Cox, Elizabeth McCall and Jeff Chambers. Second row: Sally Spickard, Abriana Johnson and Randy Savvy. Bottom row: Sandra Murphy and Lydia Heywood.

Panelists included:

• Jeff Chambers of Legacy Multimedia Productions, director of “The Next 8 Seconds,” a documentary that chronicles the life and career of Black bull rider Neil Holmes
• Lydia Heywood, Jamaican event rider based in the United Kingdom, and founder of Cool Ridings Equestrian, an organization for UK-based riders from developing nations
• Abriana Johnson, co-host of the Young Black Equestrians podcast
• Elizabeth McCall, journalist, author and media consultant
• Sandra Murphy, equestrian and founder of Equidiet UK Ltd.
• Mia Rodier-Dawallo, international para-dressage competitor
• Randy Savvy, co-founder of the Compton Cowboys
• Sally Spickard, managing editor, EventingNation.com
• Ashley Swift, affiliate and communications specialist for the USEF

The USEF’s Swift provided an update on the organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Last year the organization announced the establishment of the USEF Opportunity Fund, which the board of directors voted to seed with $50,000.  The fund will provide grants to grassroots organizations that increase access to horses, horse sports and equine learning opportunities in underserved communities. Grants will be awarded through a competitive application process, with the first funds being awarded in 2022.

USEF also has completed a DEI training initiative for organization leadership and plans to complete a similar training for licensed officials before 2023, Swift said. A similar voluntary educational program is in the works for the organization’s members. 

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A portion of Ashley Swift’s presentation about USEF’s diversity and inclusion plan outlined the organization’s strategies for the next three to five years.

Swift noted that an update on the implementation of the USEF’s DEI action plan will be provided during the general session at the annual meeting, to be held Jan. 13-15 in Naples, Florida. (The general session will be livestreamed, Swift said.)

“This has been a long time coming,” Cox said. “USEF doing this is a very, very good thing.”

Among other concrete advancements, Eventing Nation’s Spickard, a member of the steering committee for Strides For Equality Equestrians, noted that the organization has awarded its first Ever So Sweet Scholarship.  The twice-yearly scholarship provides two months of training with Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Brian Murphy, covering expenses for full board and training costs for the winner’s horse and housing for the rider, as well as a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees and coaching at competitions. The scholarship is intended to provide educational and networking opportunities for diverse young people interested in equestrian careers.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of lifting up marginalized voices, whether by providing a sense of community and a space for riders of color to share their own experiences, or by elevating their stories in the media. Randy Savvy, co-founder of the Compton Cowboys, explained how he seized a pivotal moment in popular culture and organized a mounted demonstration during last summer’s racial justice protests that led to a major article in The New York Times. Likewise, Jeff Chambers is working on a documentary about Shayna Simon, who traveled to the Tokyo Paralympic Games to coach para-dressage competitor Beatrice de Lavalette.

Spickard noted the significance of this past summer’s Tokyo Olympics and the participation of more small Asian countries that are not typically known for equestrian pursuits. Cox also pointed out that Japanese show jumper Daisuke Fukushima finished sixth individually in Tokyo with two clear rounds.

This was the third annual edition of the Tom Bass Seminar, which was named for the legendary American Saddlebred trainer who died in 1934. Bass was born enslaved in Columbia, Missouri, and played a prominent role both in the establishment of the American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City and in the promotion of the city of Mexico, Missouri, as the “Saddle Horse Capital of the World.”

The first seminar was held in 2019 as part of the annual Day of the African Equestrian at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (North Carolina).

An archived recording of this year’s seminar is available on YouTube.

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