My name is Olivia Tamburro, and I am a 17-year-old junior rider. Before my 18th birthday, I am required to take the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s SafeSport training. This is a good thing. I am so glad I live in a time where people are encouraged to speak about their experiences and help rid the world of abuse.
I wish a similar resource had been available at my school two years ago when I was forced to drop my engineering class. I could put up with some sexism—it’s pathetic that I’ve learned to do that—but when I found myself crying in my sophomore class counselor’s office several days in a row because of the song the boys made saying that I liked to suck my horse’s … you know, I couldn’t take it any longer. Unfortunately, young women are forced to learn how to face this, and it’s very important that USEF makes our showgrounds safe. I truly believe this program is a step in the right direction.
But on June 1, the rules became more restrictive with the addition of the Minor Athlete Abuse Protection policies. Although the additions were all added in good spirit, they’re destructive to relationships and are likely to be ineffective. Now I need written parental consent to get into the car with an amateur friend to travel to lunch, or even with my trainer to get a piece of tack when mine broke right before my class. If I need to text my trainer my class time, I have to do it in a group chat with another adult. If I’m brand new to Facebook and my amateur friend is helping me set up my account, I’d have to be the one to send the friend request and initiate any conversation, with a written parental consent form.
These examples are not extremes; this is the way they are listed in the rules. It is impossible for USEF to monitor what goes on at everyday lessons and home stables, and even if they could, whether or not these rules would hold up in court is still up in the air.
While I am disappointed that USEF is ignoring us when we ask for lighter rules, I mostly feel frustration with SafeSport and the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics Committee. USEF is too small to fight against the USOPC, and because of that we are stuck with this program. If you really think about it, this is not protecting children. This is protecting the organizations that make the rules. While I think it is important to add some rules to protect the youth, I feel like the governing body, designed to protect and speak for me, is just as helpless as I am. Instead of USEF monitoring and making decisions, they’ve been removed from the situation. This elimination of responsibility only makes me feel more helpless, as I am further separated from the source of the decisions.
The devil is in the details of the MAAP policies, such as the parental consent form. Often, victims are ashamed of what has happened to them. Their parents may be unaware or would be some of the last people they feel like they could tell. They fear disappointing their parents or that their parents won’t care at all. At times like these the best thing for that child might be a deep-rooted friendship with another adult. Without that, abuse may continue to be perpetuated out of fear and intimidation. Instead of trying to cut off all communication with non-family members, parents should encourage their children to develop strong relationships with dependable adults and to speak up about what they have experienced to any adult who could help.
I am lucky to have some amazing adult amateur and professional role models at my barn. I went to my amateur friends first when I faced my aforementioned sophomore year crisis. Jillian, a very close friend who works for Child Protective Services, was there to help me with any resources I needed. My friend Allison has faced sexism in her work place but has still managed to climb her way up the corporate ladder and is now vice president of a substantial company. My coach, Rachel, reminded me that I am strong and capable of any obstacles I face.
These women were the ones who helped me learn the skills to face these issues. Without them, I might not have ever had the confidence to tell my mother what was going on. I might not have been able to go to the counselor’s office and sob out my story when I was ready to talk about it. Forging these relationships helped me become who I am. They helped me learn how to face and deal with these problems and made me into the horsewoman I am today. I fear that with these restrictions, I might not be able to do the same for the girls growing up at the same barn now.
SafeSport training is important. I was shocked that junior riders were exempt from taking it. Juniors are the future of our sport, and the sooner they learn abusive actions are punishable, the sooner we can have a better, safer community.
However, that does not mean there should be no interactions between juniors and adults. Separating us will only bring about further problems. I know there is no straight path to success. In fact, that’s something my horse taught me. Now, it’s just a matter of time until we find a compromise that works for everyone. We only have one direction left to go: forward. This is what progress looks like. It is not easy; it is not smooth, and most of the time we will feel completely lost while we face it. One day we will emerge from the darkness and look back at all of the work we did with pride and accomplishment. Until then, we beat on.
Born and raised in Arizona, Olivia Tamburro’s love for horses started young. After annoying her parents with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron daily, she finally convinced them to let her begin riding lessons at the age of 7. By the time Olivia was 10, she found her home at Crossroads Farm in Gilbert, Arizona. Crossroads Farm specializes in bringing up young horses, so Olivia found her heart horse, Quinn, when he was 4 and has made it all the way to Junior Hunter National Championships. She is attending Arizona State University and majoring in chemical engineering with hopes that it will be enough to support her love for horses in the future.