With discussions of racism dominating last summer’s headlines, it was impossible to ignore the reckoning the country—and the equestrian world—was facing. Diversity became a buzzword as the U.S. Equestrian Federation, and discipline-specific associations launched committees to promote diversity and inclusion.
While nationwide initiatives gained traction, Warrenton, Virginia-based trainer Greta “Jade” Krafsig wanted to create an impact a little closer to home.
“After the Black Lives Matter movement and a lot of the diversity discussions and articles coming out in magazines, I was like, ‘You’re right, we need to do more to encourage diversity in our sport,’ ” she says. “I was thinking about ways that I would’ve liked to have been encouraged. I know I was struggling to stay with the sport.”
After some thought and bouncing ideas off friends, Krafsig, 35, introduced a diversity program at her White Oak Stables to make riding more welcoming and accessible to underrepresented riders.
Creating A Welcoming Environment
Krafsig’s motivation to create a more welcoming environment spawned from her own experiences as a Black equestrian navigating long-ingrained biases. She also wanted to expose her daughter, Gianna Krafsig, to people from all walks of life.
Jade grew up in a single-parent household, and riding lessons were out of reach financially. By 13, she’d saved up enough of her allowance to pay for lessons herself and got involved with 4-H.
“[My mother’s] biggest issue was that an hour lesson was more than she made an hour,” Jade says. “That stays with me. I want to be the person people can say, ‘Let’s go because we can afford this.’ ”
Jade paid her way through college with the revenue from a horse-themed online game she created, and she now works as a technical architect for The Washington Post. Even when she could afford riding, Jade says she barn hopped for a few years as she struggled to find a place where she felt welcome. In her lessons, she felt she didn’t get the same quality instruction white children received. Instead of constructive feedback, she’d hear, “You’re doing great. Keep going.”
“I felt like I had to work harder than everybody else,” she says. “I felt like I had to be flawless to be recognized for my skill. The barn I worked with the most was very welcoming and supportive of me, not just as a woman of color, but also a plus-sized rider. At some barns I definitely felt like I couldn’t be my authentic self—if I was acting ‘too Black’ I would not be accepted or would be less accepted.”
Racist comments and microaggressions were prevalent from her teenage years through adulthood.
“I would get nasty comments,” she says. “I went to Kelly’s Ford [Virginia], and someone said to me, ‘Your kind don’t belong here. You need to leave.’ That was maybe 10 years ago, and I was like, ‘I can’t believe someone just said that to me.’ A lot of places I would go I would get what I call microaggressions: ‘Your saddle is too old. You need better stuff.’ ”
As a parent, Jade wants her 7-year-old daughter to not only see herself represented within the sport, but also to grow up around a diverse group of people.
“I was a barn rat; I was always at the barn,” Jade says. “I want [my daughter] to have that experience with people who are not skinny, who are gay and lesbian, who have different religious beliefs. I want her to have the experience I didn’t have. I was the only person of color, and that really stuck with me: ‘Wow, there’s really nobody reflective of me.’ ”
Taylor Clancy, whose 10-year-old daughter Hayden Fletcher has been riding at White Oak for five years, appreciates the exposure to people with different backgrounds.
“I think it’s super important for everybody—children and adults alike—to have [a diverse] experience,” says Clancy. “We live and work in a society where culture’s all around you, and if you’re not exposed to it, I think it can narrow one’s vision. She does a really good job at having everybody feel welcome there.”
According to Clancy, the diversity at White Oak isn’t just in the students—it extends to the horses as well.
“She has the horse that has Lyme; she has one who has one eye, and I think it’s cool for kids to see that,” Clancy says. “It’s OK for you to have a disability; the horse has a disability. My daughter wrote a book in school recently, and it talks about a little girl that has a disability, and I think a lot of that comes from being at the barn and riding and learning that that’s OK. You can do things even if it’s not common.”
Jade’s plan to diversify includes a two-pronged approach: reach a population subset that’s not usually targeted and then remove barriers preventing participation. In addition to typical forms of advertising, Jade is targeting Boys and Girls Clubs, different religious institutions and different Facebook groups.
“I think a lot of it is where people advertise,” she says. “In a lot of communities of color, they don’t think, ‘Oh, let’s go to a tack store.’ They don’t know horses are an option. They aren’t introduced because they don’t go to stores with $70-$80 Breyers, so there’s not as much exposure to horses.”
Jade keeps her lesson prices as low as possible, but the cost of required equipment, from boots and helmets to jodhpurs, can also turn people away from riding.
“I provide a helmet and require pants and a shoe that has a narrow toe,” says Jade. “There are a lot of families that could not go out and buy riding boots. And some of my clients, when they outgrow them, they’ll leave them for other people to use. I usually only encourage families to buy riding boots and pants if it looks like they’re really committed. Some people take two or three lessons, and that’s it. That’s a way to reduce cost for parents and clients.”
In addition, Jade has started scholarships for minority riders. One would cover division fees and entry fees at horse shows, and another would provide a free weekly lesson from May to September. (She recently started accepting applications, so no one has received one yet.) Lastly, minority riders can apply to be a working student in exchange for lessons. Jade is also ruminating on a “Ride for a Ride” program, in which clients could purchase lessons for underfunded riders.
“You can never say enough good things about Jade,” says Kristin Zimmer, who previously worked as an instructor at White Oak and now trains future lesson horses. “She’s always done her best to try to help everybody out and include everybody, and this is just another way that she’s been trying to do it.
“She always puts the kids first and her horses of course,” Zimmer adds. “She works with a lot of people that have a lot of anxiety, maybe some depression, and she really helps them work through that so that they can use horses as sort of a therapeutic outlet.”
Adding flexibility is another way equestrians can make their customer base more diverse without dropping costs, Jade says.
“People ask, ‘Well, do I have to make it cheaper because people of color can’t afford lessons?’ No. There are plenty of people who pay for four or more lessons at a time,” she says. “One thing I found is that getting the supplies is difficult if they’re working multiple jobs. Being more lax on those rules [regarding attire] is helpful. Having flexible times is helpful. I have very flexible lesson scheduling. You can schedule for this week at this time and next week at this time or for weeks at a time.”
For Clancy, White Oak’s flexibility and affordability made lessons feasible.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me—I was a single mom at the time and didn’t have a lot of money, and I felt completely at ease,” Clancy says. “She’s willing to meet you where you are, if you wanted to come out every once in a while or weekly. She’s really accommodating and takes the time to work with the kids, and it’s super clear that it’s a passion for her.”
One Step At A Time
Though national conversations have opened doors for change, Jade says she still meets a fair amount of resistance when she brings up diversity.
She recalls a Facebook post where a barn owner said they interviewed prospective boarders and turn away any they don’t like.
“So, I posted a question, ‘How do you think it affects your diversity?’ I had people calling me racist, saying I must not have a farm,” she says. “It was really nasty. It’s something you see a lot, that they only want people who fit the idea of who should be in the barn. There’s an unconscious bias in their mind, and it discourages people from continuing.
“There’s a lot of pushback and nastiness when I try to ask, or I don’t get any responses [happens] more often,” she continues. “[Diversity] includes gender. I have a lot of male riders. I have riders who are lesbian or gay, young, old. That’s what I mean by diversity, but the immediate response is race. They say they don’t care what somebody looks like. Maybe, but this is a barrier I first have to get through. They say there’s not a problem with race. That’s been a challenge.”
For all the negativity Jade receives, her posts have also led other equestrians to reach out about how to make their programs more inclusive.
“I think you have to meet people where they are,” she says. “Even if you reach one person who makes the horse world more welcoming, it’s better than no people. Yes, I meet a lot of resistance every time I post, but I’ve also now created another ally.
“Honestly, I sometimes think white people are more open to hear it from another white person,” she continues. “Sometimes when somebody who is Black brings it up, they immediately go to the defensive. But especially if it comes from someone who is close friends with them, they’re a little more reflective; they’re more likely to pause and take notice.”
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