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Progression key to improving diversity in equestrianism

H&H speaks to leading figures to find out out what work is being undertaken in ongoing attempts to increase diversity in the equestrian industry

PROGRESSION is key in promoting and retaining diversity in the equestrian industry, campaigners believe, as efforts to improve the situation step up a gear.

British Equestrian (BEF) has held the second meeting of its equality engagement group, which aims to help the BEF engage with people already working in the area to “help us provide equal opportunities for all to take part in equestrian sport, and to make what we do more accessible”.

One of those who has had input into the equality group is Sandra Murphy, founder of equine nutrition company Equidiet UK, who has recently been named as a finalist for the Black British Business Awards 2020.

Ms Murphy has also started the BAME Equine and Rural Activities Focus Group (BERF), which has been having regular committee meetings as it aims to “support, encourage, inspire, educate and progress members of the BAME community in all disciplines, in all areas of the equine industry and in all rural activities”.

Ms Murphy told H&H membership of BERF is currently through a Facebook group, which members have to be approved to join. They then share details of their involvement, helping connect opportunities with those who would benefit from taking them.

The committee is also working on ideas to boost diversity and inclusion, such as a BAME charter.

“This is for anyone from senior executives of businesses and governing bodies, to coaches and trainers,” Ms Murphy said. “They would have unconscious bias training, and be made aware of issues in equality and diversity, which they can then pass on.

“Once somewhere has got that mark, riders will know that’s somewhere that understands the issues they might have, and can recognise if they’re being discriminated against – and it means accountability for the yard or business.”

BERF would also like to see changes made to governing bodies’ social media policies to ensure any members making discriminatory comments online can be held accountable.

But its overriding aims are to provide ways into the industry, and then progression, for BAME people.

“There’s a hole people fall into,” Ms Murphy said. “You get to a certain point and there’s no progression. The talent is there but there’s nowhere to go.”

Ms Murphy praised the work of inner-city riding schools such as St James City Farm in Gloucester and the Urban Equestrian Academy in Leicester, which aim to make riding available to those who might not otherwise have had the opportunity. She would also like more opportunities for those who want to stay in the industry.

“These might be top riders, but also grooms, physios, farriers or business people,” she said. “We need to give them a stepping stone across the gap.”

Ms Murphy is to take on a PhD student to live with her while she completes her dissertation, during which time the student will be able to ride Sandra’s horses, and have training and competition opportunities. If the scheme works, she will repeat it.

She would also like to see a “centre of BAME excellence” set up for equestrians, at which people who might not feel they can take up college courses can progress in the industry.

“We’ll still have the same situation in 10 years, unless we get BAME people into the rural communities now, so they can be working their way up,” she said. “If we’ve got more than two or three people thinking the same thing, we can and will change things.”

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Jen Greenhalgh, head of equine at Myerscough College in Preston, told H&H she had been in contact with the Urban Equestrian Academy, to find out what the college could offer riders, before the pandemic. And although Covid has disrupted her plans, she is still keen to continue.

“I was hoping to get some of the kids up to us to see the things we do,” she said. “I think what the academy does is brilliant.”

Ms Greenhalgh said she wants to help “move the industry forwards”.

“There are more people out there than white ladies!” she said. “We just need to keep pushing it, and get the diversity. Once we have got it, we will end up with all sorts of other ideas and diverse thinking coming through from different cultures, which will make what we already have so much richer.”

She added that the college aims to showcase all aspects of the equestrian industry.

“It’s not just about riding,” she said. “The more people we can get involved in different parts of the industry, the richer it will be.”

A BEF spokesman said: “We had a productive second meeting but it’s still early days and we lost some impetus with Covid, sadly. The group will work towards putting proposals together for board approval and implementation with the member bodies.

“We’re working to get two dates in the diary before the year end so we build up momentum and hopefully have some tangible plans to share early next year.”

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