Real progress being made towards increasing equestrianism’s diversity

  • Real progress is being made to improve the industry’s diversity, as a long-term change that cannot happen overnight.

    As British Equestrian (BEF) announced “six months of change, achievement and progress” in its #Horses4All research project on underrepresented communities’ engagement with equestrianism, campaigners for change have told H&H of the progress being made at all levels.

    H&H reported last spring on the results of a survey commissioned by the BEF to “discover the barriers to participation in equestrian sport and activity from the perspective of ethnically diverse communities and or those from a low socio-economic background”.

    Six months on, the BEF released an update stating that it has made progress with commitments it made in response to the report.

    The main action was to create an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy; an outline of this is under review and it is to be published this year, to act as a blueprint for BEF member bodies or a basis for their own EDI strategies.

    The BEF has been working on a diversity and inclusion action plan, which it expects to implement early next year, and is revising its member rulebook to “incorporate elements of #HorsesForAll’s recommendations around conduct and behaviours, alongside other integrity matters”.

    “The strategy will help to shape culture and values, and we’re backing that up with an education programme,” a BEF spokesman said, adding that this 18-month programme will be delivered across the BEF and member bodies. Other action includes over £100,000 distributed in financial support, and working with faith and youth groups to promote equestrianism in underrepresented communities.

    “The progress by the teams in a relatively short space of time is certainly testament to our collective commitment to tackling inequalities in our industry,” said BEF CEO Jim Eyre.

    “While there have been some tangible short-term outcomes, what’s most rewarding is the amount of foundation work completed or commenced, which will ensure the required long-term change. We are under no illusions as to how long this will take, but the progress in six months is hugely encouraging and has set us up well to ensure horses really are for all.”

    Ashleigh Wicheard, who was shortlisted in the inspiration of the year and moment of the year categories in the 2022 H&H Awards, having led her fellow jockeys in taking the knee before she won the Magnolia Cup charity race at Goodwood, told H&H that at the awards ceremony, she became aware of sponsor Tommy Hilfiger’s equestrian range. She contacted the brand, and was invited to the Netherlands to model.

    “I explained to them that the images they had of people of colour with horses were very casual and riding school,” she said. “What I loved about them was that when I said you don’t often see people of colour in competition wear, they took shots of me like that.”

    Ashleigh said such imagery is important, as if young people do not see other people of colour competing, as well as riding, they may not realise this is something they can aspire to.

    She has also completed a placement at Racing TV through the Racing Media Academy, and has presented at Goodwood, although she said she would rather have the chance to present behind-the-scenes documentaries on the equestrian world, to appeal to the public as well as insiders.

    “Someone at Blenheim asked me about box-ticking, and that people might feel they’re only being asked to do things as they’re people of colour,” she said. “But I thought if you want to make a difference for future generations, it’s all about ticking boxes. I want to represent in as many ways as possible, so young people can have the images and representation, and if ticking boxes is what we need to do, that’s the gateway. You could see it as a negative but I choose to see it as positive. If me doing something ticks someone’s box and a young person can feel, ‘That could be me’, that’s what needs to happen.”

    Ashleigh said change will not happen overnight, but things are moving in the right direction.

    “Five people will become 10, and then 20,” she said. “But if numbers go up slowly, it’s more likely to be sustainable. I take time off work to do things and fund them myself but that’s my purpose and I’m happy to do it as it’s making a difference. Slow and steady wins the race.”

    Sandra Murphy, who set up the group BERF, the British Ethnic Riders Foundation, told H&H she is in the process of registering the group as a community interest company, to allow fundraising for its plans to help riders from diverse backgrounds progress in the industry. The group’s plans for a residential training centre for these riders are still in progress, and Sandra has been working with the BEF and the Pony Club on EDI.

    “Everything is ramping up and it’s all good,” she said. “Things are starting to happen and we’re getting fantastic feedback from different sectors.”

    Sandra said BERF hosted a training weekend this summer; sisters Shanice and Sheneka Reid from Ebony Horse Club in Brixton spent time with her, riding her stallion Monet for training with a British Eventing accredited coach, and competing at a showjumping competition where both riders were placed.

    Sandra has long said that progression is key; riders who may have learned at urban riding schools then need the opportunity to progress to the next stage to allow them to move up further.

    “The girls rode Monet beautifully and it was so good,” she said. “It showed what they could do with a level playing field; a competition horse and good training and access to competition was all it took. Sheneka burst into tears when she found out she’d won; we all cried like babies.”

    Sandra said the training and the centre are key to giving riders the opportunities they need.

    “As a Black person, coming into the industry can be daunting as there’s no one who looks like you,” she said. “We’re going to bring this forward, we’re going to help.”

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