What an interesting and eye-opening session we had discussing diverse communities in equestrianism.
Ruth opened the evening, introducing us to Sandra Murphy. Sandra set up BERF – BAME Equine and Rural Activities Focus group – just after the George Floyd incident. BERF were represented for the first time ever at the National Equine Forum a few weeks ago.
Sandra posted a message on an equine forum asking how we can increase equality and diversity in the equine industry. She received hurtful racist comments in return, so Sandra set up BAME – BERF social media group, not just for equine but rural activities too. BERF is a working group for people to discuss issues and hopefully make progress and move forwards. Its aim is to bring together people of colour that didn’t necessarily realise other people were in the same situation. She said the number of people of colour riding/working in the equine industry was very low. Sandra herself has been in the equine industry for nearly 50 years but only now does she feel able to speak and have support from others.
Membership of BERF has increased hugely since they started in July 2020. Initially around 25 members started with Sandra, by March this year they were up to 367. They also have links with similar organisations abroad, including the USA, Switzerland, St Lucia, India, South Africa, Kenya and France.
They have created a proposal for a specialist Centre of Excellence to bridge the progression gap, ideally to produce the much-needed BAME role models in the next 10/15 years. We take for granted our white role models in the equine world – BERF members need role models too.
We then heard from Katie Hyde. The family have had horses all their lives but only when her youngest son, Rupert, wanted to start competing she realised how much people of colour are made to feel punished and abused, to the extent many give up. Rupert quickly became aware he was the one of colour competing and that there was no-one else like him around. Luckily for Rupert he is at Millfield School and has lots of support from them and from BERF and so can go out and compete successfully.
We then heard from Sue Gibbon. She has also ridden all her life and is in a mixed race marriage. Both Sue’s children rode, her daughter had a successful showing career but felt she had to give up due to the nasty remarks and finger pointing she suffered. Her son was training to be a farrier but sadly gave this up in his final year, again due to the comments he was receiving about his colour.
Sue, as a white woman married to a man of colour, feels really strongly that she doesn’t want others to go through what she and her children suffered. She wants everyone welcomed to the horse world, not shut out because of the colour of their skin.
Next we heard from Linda Greening, Head of Inclusivity at Hartpury and also BERF Education liaison officer. She helps them, advertising career options and promoting non-traditional entry. She networks with land-based colleges.
We heard from Imran Atecha who runs an inner city riding school in Gloucester. It wasn’t easy for him as he didn’t know anyone in the industry. He has trained to be able to teach the mostly beginner riders who attend. The riding school is part of a charity and so the lessons are cheaper to encourage inner city children to have the opportunity to ride. Imran wants to encourage more BAME children for them to see the benefits horses bring to people.
Neesha Khan re started riding as an adult. She is now unfortunately more aware of the subtle racism aimed at her. She doesn’t want any child of colour to experience these. Neesha is studying for her BHS qualifications at College. Even here she feels disrespected, especially by younger students as they may not have seen Asian riders.
We came back to Sandra who also said her daughter had stopped riding at 15 after suffering discrimination at Pony Club, asking her mum what she had to do to be good enough even though she had been competing BE since the age of 12. She felt social pressure in school and riding so gave up.
We had discussions about what terms were acceptable, some things we may say would make BAME people feel uncomfortable. We need to have conversations, be confident as a white person to ask what they want to be called – what term they want to be known as.
It is also a common misjudgement that BAME riders are generally classed as beginner riders even when they are quite capable. Again these little subtleties can be quite upsetting.
Irma Sutton commented that she runs apprenticeship programmes. Generally no people of colour apply as they don’t know anything about them. Maybe this needs promoting further to show the wider community their value.
As F & I level coaches, we teach/coach people that come to us, regardless of skin colour. Maybe more junior coaches need help and support with this. We all need to be aware of potential racism, how it can be a safeguarding issue, and how it can lead to mental health problems – along with many other issues that come up in people’s lives. Talking about issues helps, we need to be open about discrimination. BERF are very happy to help and point people in the right direction.
Many F&I members are already involved in coaching riders from a variety of communities. Mandy Luesley spoke about riders of colour who she works with in East London and Sam York spoke about coaching the event team in India and coaching elsewhere abroad. With this in mind, Sabrina Jones asked the BERF representatives what we can or should be doing to help their cause. The response was that there is not much that can be done on a purely coach-based level right now beyond being inclusive and encouraging. We must speak out if we do experience racist language or behaviour in the sport. BERF also mentioned what they can do for us, such as helping with re- sources showing people of colour as role models in all disciplines if we are speaking in schools where diverse communities would benefit from role mod- els they identify with.
Generally many people of colour feel they have to work 10x harder to be accepted with white people. We need to have a breakthrough with racism through education. BAME riders are not yet up to the same level as white riders but they need the support to achieve equal opportunities and need role models. The equine industry must be inclusive to all to make the industry sustainable.
Report by Ann Peate BHSI