New ‘vision’ to help diverse young riding talent progress

  • GREAT strides are being made in improving equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the equestrian world but more must be – and is being – done.

    H&H has reported on work carried out across the UK racing and wider industry, as well as in other areas of rural and agricultural operation.

    Sandra Murphy, who set up the BAME Equine and Rural Activities Focus group (BERF), told H&H its members have been working hard behind the scenes, including with universities and colleges offering related courses, and towards Sandra’s vision of a BERACE centre, to offer opportunities for talented young riders from underrepresented communities.

    “I wrote the proposal for the centre three years ago and some things in it have changed, but not the concept,” she said.

    Sandra explained that the centre is to be the next step for riders, many of whom may have learned at inner-city riding schools but need to go on to gain experience at a higher level.

    “We don’t want to take them to elite level as we can’t do that,” she said. “But we can take them, for example, from jumping 70cm or doing prelim dressage to jumping 1.10m or riding at elementary. It’s not just the competition experience they need to have to progress to the next level, it’s everything, and we’re going to try to bridge that gap.”

    Sandra said she has had meetings with British Equestrian, and her council has donated time with one of its business development officers. The plan is to develop a community interest company to run and secure funding for the centre, then start with shorter courses. Sandra said a local school has also agreed to be involved, and the long-term aim is to roll the project out across the country.

    “It’s the vision, and it still is that but it can start moving forwards now,” she said, adding that she has also been appointed as a Pony Club trustee, and EDI advisor.

    “In general, things are starting to change,” she said. “A lot of effort is going in but there needs to be consistency as it’s all a bit fragmented.

    “I’m the first Black person to be on the Pony Club board, but I’m still often the only Black person at events. Things aren’t changing at all levels but that takes time. They asked us to do a photoshoot for their ‘join us’ page and we took 15 Pony Club members from ethnic minorities and we had a fantastic time. They got lots of pictures and made a fantastic video, and they’re using some of the pictures to revamp the website.

    “On other sites, there is still little representation of young Black people doing the job; we want to work with organisations, and brands, to make progress.

    “I need to push this now as if I don’t, it will take years to get the ball rolling, but we can’t do this on our own; we need support.”

    Ashleigh Wicheard, a work rider for Neil Mulholland, has been shortlisted for the Equipe moment of the year and HorseDialog inspiration of the year categories in the 2022 H&H awards, for winning the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood.

    Before the race, Ashleigh took the knee, and all 11 of her fellow jockeys followed suit.

    The long-term campaigner for increasing diversity in equestrianism said although her presence in the paddock on racedays is a good start, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

    “The fact that the others did it with me made the whole image so much more powerful,” she told H&H. “Had it just been me, which I thought it might, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. There were people of all walks of life in that line-up and it created a powerful image everyone could relate to.”

    Ashleigh said it feels like more action is being taken in racing, and that more time is being given to considering EDI, and “more people are willing to listen”.

    “People seem to accept that there is an issue, which is great as it means it’s being acknowledged,” she said. “I’m not as aware about equestrianism as a whole but there seems to be more representation in the media.”

    Ashleigh believes one thing that would help is unconscious bias training for more equestrian organisations and people such as coaches.

    “If people at the top have certain beliefs, they filter down,” she said. “A friend of mine asked if I’d come in to talk to the young people and I said fine but don’t tell them what I do and I’ll ask them to guess, and I guarantee riding horses won’t be suggested. That’s a thought-provoking type of exercise that I think will help.”

    Pony Club CEO Marcus Capel told H&H it is “really exciting” to have Sandra on board.

    “She is helping us develop our EDI strategy, with first steps being to ensure our images represent a diverse range of members,” he said. “The participation photoshoot was a great, fun-packed day. The resulting images and video are being used in our current and future marketing materials as we promote the organisation as being more accessible and diverse.

    “We have a long way to go, but being proactive and having Sandra on board is a great first step. As a former headteacher, I am passionate about accessibility, inclusion and diversity, and am thrilled that we are moving The Pony Club in the right direction.”

    British Equestrian head of performance pathways Davd Hamer told H&H: “Sandra has an ambitious vision to develop a centre that will offer riding opportunities and equestrian workplace experience to riders from Black and mixed ethnicity communities. Sandra reached out to British Equestrian for advice on the requirements to set up the project and we have provided information on the steps that are necessary to be able to apply for funding to help develop the project further, as well as contacts within other agencies that can provide advice and support. British Equestrian will continue to provide Sandra with advice where it can and commend her for her dedication and commitment to making her vision a reality.”

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