“Ultimately, we want our sport to be a place welcoming to all,” said David Loman, a Black trainer and judge who was part of a forum today on diversity, equity and inclusion, working with educator and amateur hunter rider Hadley Zeavin, who is of Hispanic heritage, and white hunter/jumper trainer Sissy Wickes, who is also a judge.
“It’s time to change the white face of our sport,” Sissy declared during the session at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s virtual annual meeting. “You rarely see minority faces on teams. Let’s hand off a better sport to the next generation.”
For the sake of comparison, it was pointed out that aside from those who ride with the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association and the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (which do not list demographics of participants) USHJA has a minority membership of less than 1 percent. In tennis, like equestrian a sport that is considered elite, 9 percent of its players are Black. In golf, it’s 2.7 percent.
David, chairman of the USHJA diversity task force, advised, “We are at a point in history where diversity is mandatory for businesses.”
The forum offered scenarios about micro-aggressions that can be traumatic for individuals of certain identities who are getting involved with the sport, and offered advice on how to handle such situations. Education will help avoid confrontations, but in the meantime it was pointed out, “sometimes it’s better not to say something in the moment, but address it after the moment has passed.”
A USHJA action plan to address diversity issues calls for doing everything from providing unconscious bias awareness training for the USHJA board (and eventually officials) to working with competition managers on multilingual signs for showgrounds and creating a directory of BIPOC and LGBTQ-owned or operated equestrian facilities and businesses, so members can encourage and support equestrians from under-represented backgrounds.
“We have planted our first tree. We should have planted it 20 years ago. Better late than never,” stated USHJA President Mary Babick as the session drew to a close.
“We have so much more work to do,” she said, advising those who are historically under-represented on the equestrian scene to “find people who are willing to mentor and give back. Trust me, we are out there.”
Perspectives on the Hunter Discipline
Among the other forums offered this afternoon was a judge’s perspective on hunter competition, featuring Andrea Wells, who formerly ran equine programs at Centenary University and the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Connie Tramm, a member of the USHJA and U.S. Equestrian Federation’s licensed officials committees.
The hunter division has its roots in fox hunting, and many of the traditions such as braiding, attire and the type of jumps are reflected in that connection, the judges noted.
With that in mind, here are some top takeaways:
• The importance of a horse being a good mover stems from the fact that they cover more ground with ease. “If it moves like a crab in handcuffs, it’s not comfortable to ride for the several hours of a hunt,” Andrea explained.
• Thinking of hunt field protocol, a horse who kicks out could hurt another rider or one of the hounds. Kicking out that way in the show ring means a spectator on the rail could be harmed, and thus is heavily penalized.
• If a horse appears for a class in “a lot of equipment,” it’s a signal that he appears strong and if he were to be used for hunting, it would be a tiring battle throughout a meet.
• Good turnout shows respect for the landowners while hunting, and it is just as important in the show ring. “We want to see horses gleaming, well-muscled and fit to carry substance. Turnout is something everybody can do well,” said Connie.
• While judges in the equitation forum earlier this week said a rider should keep contact with their horse and not pat him until leaving the ring, Andrea and Connie don’t mind a horse getting lightly petted as it comes down to the trot after its round. But Andrea warned to “throw the reins down and hug its neck, that’s probably overkill.”
Check out more stories from the USHJA Annual Meeting:
• Wednesday, December 2: The new Outreach Program for grassroots riders and training tips for the equitation ring
• Thursday, December 3: Helmet Research and Advancements in Design to Improve Rider Safety