Two young showjumpers aspire to be first mixed-heritage British Olympic riders

  • TWO young showjumpers have ambitions to be the first riders of colour to represent Britain at an Olympics – as British Equestrian (BEF) has pledged to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.

    The BEF and its 18 member bodies have signed the “unity pledge”, which commits to making equestrian “representative of the diverse communities around us”, to grow a welcoming community for all united by the love of horses, and to promote the physical and mental benefits of equestrianism.

    BEF CEO Jim Eyre said: “Equestrianism and the passion for horses is by its nature hugely diverse and open to all, regardless of age, gender, religion, ability or background. However, we know ethnically diverse communities and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are under-represented across equestrianism and may not feel it is for them.

    “If we are to thrive as an industry and open up participation for everyone to experience the unique joy horses bring, we have to do more to embrace our differences and recognise what can be possible when equality, diversity and inclusion is woven into our culture.

    “While this is a strategic imperative for the federation, it’s more about working to break down those barriers and creating a community where everyone truly feels they belong.”

    H&H has reported that the BEF had initiated research into understanding barriers to participation, focusing on ethnically diverse communities and lower socio-economic backgrounds. Another project will focus on urban riding schools.

    Two riders also hoping to break down barriers and encourage other people of colour into the industry are Darcey Williams and Myrtle Hallion, both 12.

    Darcey’s mother Samantha told H&H her family is “not horsey at all, but life’s all about horses now”.

    Darcy, whose heritage is white/Afro-Caribbean, had a ride at a party aged three and was hooked. Her talent was clear to those who taught her and, after her family moved from Bradford to the Yorkshire countryside, she met showjumper Guy Williams, with whom she is now based.

    “You don’t have to be born into a horsey family,” Samantha said. “I think that’s a perception; there aren’t many Black families that are riders, and even Darcey’s nan asked if she’d be accepted because she’s mixed-race. She’s happy now and wants Darcey to do well and encourage more diversity. And Darcey wants to encourage more people to take it up and get the love for it like she has.”

    Samantha was pleased to hear of the BEF initiatives, as was Claire Hallion, who is married to showjumper Mark and whose mixed-heritage daughter Myrtle, also 12 and aiming for the Olympics, is following in her adoptive father’s footsteps.

    Myrtle (pictured) was placed in the top 10 at the London Global Champions Tour leg last summer, and jumped in the main ring at Hickstead, and has been invited to the GCT in Monaco in July.

    Claire told H&H her daughter, who is also a successful model, wants to be a role model for other young people of colour.

    “It’s good for British showjumping to have young people of colour coming through; it is such a white sport but it should be accessible to everyone,” she said.

    Claire said Myrtle and Mark had heard comments about “the Black girl” at shows, and that Myrtle felt more accepted once Mark and Claire married and she took his surname, adding that Myrtle is already inspiring other riders.

    “A couple of younger mixed-race girls coming through have come up to speak to her and say they follow her on social media, which is really good,” she said. “She feels passionate about it, she wants to make a difference, she wants to show the sport’s open to everyone, of any colour or race. It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

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