Laura Tomlinson: Our sport is rife with privilege *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist shares her thoughts on ethnic diversity and ways to bring about change

    As the country prepares to reboot and lockdown eases, at home we are starting to look ahead to impending competitions. In training, I am focusing more on test sequences again and the entry and halt have become a regular exercise incorporated into my daily work. It’s amazing how important that first impression can be.

    We are all getting excited about gearing up again; finally things might be returning to “normal” but what will the new normal be?

    Polo has started up again with many players in face masks, though luckily the dressage warm-up arenas don’t require “ride-offs” so we shouldn’t have to worry about competing in masks. Saying that, some of the warm-ups I witnessed back in the day between Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth felt pretty close!

    If we want to make a safe transition back to sport without risking a second Covid-19 wave, we all share a responsibility to use our common sense: washing hands, chatting at a two-metre distance, doing so in the open air and having enough hand sanitiser with us. And of course, no matter how desperate you are to get out, don’t go if there is any reason to believe you could be a risk to others.

    At dressage competitions all this shouldn’t be too hard. Let’s hope we still have enough venues that can afford to open and enough competitors who can afford to keep their horses and get out to shows. We must be grateful to the venues that are risking a lot to get competitions started and support them however we can.

    Long-term impact

    What worries me most at the moment is not the virus itself and going back out into the world, but how our sport might look in a few years’ time when the long-term economic impact of the virus will be felt. If the unrest is bad now, before the full extent of unemployment and economic low has hit, what will happen over the next five or 10 years?

    The concept of social distancing has also made me think in the context of the social distance between the “haves” and the “have nots”, which is now ever increasing, and the relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Our sport is rife with privilege and I am a prime example of that, but we should be thinking as a sport about how we can promote accessibility and inclusiveness to everyone.

    When I opened my copy of H&H on 18 June, I was delighted to read the very interesting and positive article entitled “The barriers to ethnic diversity and how to pull them down”.

    Education first

    Many riders supported Blackout Tuesday on social media a couple of weeks ago, but how many of us since then have genuinely thought about how to help bring about a positive impact?

    I for one have not done very much, being busy in my own life of children and horses. But a big part of making a positive change is through education, and so I am planning to start with my children.

    There are some great online tools and books for helping children and their parents address the issues of race and how racism is expressed in different ways, including through lack of equal opportunity.

    However, as a sport we need to have a serious think and be inspired by those who have already begun to lead on this subject. As lockdown eases and we are all excited about being busy again, let’s make sure that we are not too busy to forget all the lessons we have learnt over the past few months, from the environmental to the social.

    We need to brace ourselves for tough times ahead, but also the opportunity to do better.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020