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Equestrians, We Need To Do Better

Equestrians, We Need To Do Better

By Bethany Unwin

A need for solidarity brought thousands of people with a common thread together in the streets of Los Angeles on Sunday, June 7. Nearly two weeks after the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer, the social justice movement continues to dominate the national conversation.

Rather than brush it off, the equestrian world has largely engaged in the debate. Whether or not we care to admit it, white privilege and riding horses goes hand in hand, and until now, an “it’s always been that way” indifference has permeated. No longer.

Black equestrian voices have always been here, and they’re now stepping up during a powerful moment to show the horse world that they are present. Black equestrian and hunter/jumper trainer Bethany Unwin rode her own horse in the peace ride with the Compton Cowboys, fellow black equestrians Mavis Spencer, Courtney Allegra, and several thousand others.

She had this to say.

I became an activist about six years ago. My first protest was during the march for Michael Brown in 2014. All this last week, I attended protests and dealt with dodging clouds of tear gas and rubber bullets. I understand the necessity of chaos when fighting for change. But the peace ride with the Compton Cowboys was so important to me. I have never experienced anything like it in my entire life: being able to be involved with something peaceful, to ride with my friends as well as on my own horse. It was an experience that I won’t forget.

The Compton Peace Ride in Los Angeles with the Compton Cowboys. Photo by Kristin Lee
The Compton Peace Ride in Los Angeles with the Compton Cowboys. Photo by Kristin Lee

Finally, for the first time, I felt full support from the equestrian community, because every single person surrounding us with their horses, and those on foot who knew someone with horses, they all valued the same fight that we are fighting.

Horses offer us such a unique escape from life — this is why they are so necessary in communities where they might not be common or easily accessible. This is why we need to discuss and bring awareness to the systemic racism in the sport.

I think a lot of people hear the term “systemic racism” and interpret that as the sport being intentionally racist. Many equestrians hear the world “privilege” and assume it means they didn’t work for what they have. No! We all work hard! But privilege and systemic racism go back farther than any of us have been here for.

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The Compton Peace Ride in Los Angeles.  Photo by Kristin Lee
The Compton Peace Ride in Los Angeles. Photo by Kristin Lee

There are so many kids out there who never get the opportunity to work with or spend time with horses due to the systemic racism that has been so engraved in our equestrian community, as well as in society at large. As a black woman who can acknowledge her own privilege growing up in an adopted, white conservative household, this is something that I am still learning about and trying to understand. I can easily see that my privilege opened doors that many black children do not have the opportunity to open.

I’ve been reading so many ignorant comments, uneducated opinions and blatant hate coming from within our own equestrian community. Granted, our equestrian community at large includes caring, passionate people, but I didn’t really know how much the opposite existed until this week. This is why riding the streets with a bunch of like-minded equestrians was so necessary. It was so healthy for me to finally be in an environment full of equestrians who share the same passion that I share. I saw people that I knew from horse shows, whom I didn’t even know were passionate about this cause. I felt heard, and I felt understood.

As much as we are finally, slowly starting to see things change, police brutality happens way too often and as these protests start to die down over the next couple weeks, it won’t mean this issue goes away. I hope that those in the equestrian community who have been openly discussing this both on social media and in person will continue to do so. It’s still an uphill battle.

Photos by Kristin Lee

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