To recap the unprecedented year that was, we asked horsemen and women from all spectrums of the industry to write a holiday letter to the year 2020. This is the second one, courtesy of Young Black Equestrians podcast host Abriana Johnson.
I hate your stinking guts, You make me vomit. You’re scum between my toes.—Alfalfa
If you look back on 2020 and don’t think of Alfalfa’s letter to Darla, you are truly missing out on some 90s humor. Let’s be honest here, 2020 has been the best and the worst to us, and has shown the best and the worst of us.
In the wake of the largest push for social justice reform in our lifetime, this year has shown us where many of our favorite equestrian brands and professionals stand on topics such as racial injustice, equity, and economic and healthcare disparities. Not only has the pandemic brought these ideas to the forefront of global conversation, but it has brought it to the attention of the horse industry. Many positive conversations came out of this year and many revelations followed.
To put this year in context, let’s play a game of High, Low and Where to go. This is a reflection technique I use with my Black Unicorn Creative clients when we review operations and systems in their business, but it is also appropriate for annual reflection and goal setting. Let’s give it a go!
High: Conversations surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged a huge wave of support from companies in the horse industry to share their solidarity for the movement. Many companies released statements of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work and actively highlighted their people of color (POC) customers and support systems.
Low: For many of these companies and platforms, the “Black Square” performance they received standing ovations for in July did not receive an encore. Their support was trendy at the time and now, they have returned to their monochromatic, on-brand governances since the hype has died down. There were also those that released very vague and placated language surrounding DEI to the disappointment of many of their customers.
Where to go: Continue to hold brands, governing bodies and equestrian professionals accountable for the actions and commitments they agreed to in the summer. Continue to advocate for structural change in rules, executive boards and marketing because it is truly making a difference. For those who choose to remain on the wrong side of history, call them out and leave them there.
High: Many POC equestrians have been highlighted in mass and social media. Even our podcast, Young Black Equestrians, received a wave of support we didn’t have before. We have been featured on other podcasts such as Rein In Your Herd and even won an award at the EQUUS Film Festival.
Low: POC, their likeness and their labor are continually sought after by companies and brands that do not have any intention on compensating them for their work. When was the last time exposure paid for hay or grain? Modeling is a job, influencing is a job (although it does not deem you a professional rider, duh), and writing is a job that should be properly compensated for. (That’s not even touching the conversation on intellectual property.)
Where to go: Pay people for their work. Period. If you are truly dedicated to changing the diversity landscape of the horse industry, put your money where your black square was. I want people to know this is work you can be compensated for. Yes, if it is an initiative or group you want to donate your time/work to, by all means do it, but clicks and views turn into dollars for many companies, so payment for your work truly supports DEI missions.
YBE takes over FEI today. Go show us some lovin!! https://www.fei.org/stories/lifestyle/my-equestrian-life/voice-young-black-equestriansPosted by Young Black Equestrians The Podcast on Monday, December 7, 2020
High: Many programs and social groups were started to help serve DEI efforts in the industry. Programs such as Black Equestrian Network, OYES Equestrian and Strides for Equality Equestrians have missions to create true impact on the DEI front. Groups like the External Thought Leaders assisting with the USEF Diversity Action Plan utilize a community of diverse equestrians to make calculated steps to a true impact in the horse show community.
Low: Despite programs like these pulling away from the pack, many initiatives and associations that made the most noise during the summer are silent now. From a digital real estate perspective, these entities snatching up domains and online spaces that lead to dead ends for people looking for ways to support is quite the travesty. Speaking of real estate, can you believe we had to entertain arguments over the nuance behind the word ‘plantation’? That was a wild time.
Where to go: Continue to hold these groups accountable for their missions and actions because 2021 is the year for delivery of the plans that were deliberated repeatedly until now. Actions will forever speak louder than words.
High: Representation for POC in equestrians sports is higher now more than ever. We are starting to see more books, movies and social movements that support this lifestyle and it is amazing to be a part of this charge.
Low: Many people will read this and feel like we continue to beat a dead horse. Imagine working to spread the message of diversity in this industry and being involved in conversations in November that still tote the Gochman article from June as the pinnacle of change when that very act is an example of privilege and proves the point that POC voices aren’t regarded at the same level.
Where to go: Allyship is a commitment. Change is a commitment. This year has taught us that no matter how hard we plan for our lives, it can change in 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It may not be a hot topic anymore, it may not be driving the clicks and the likes that it used to, but advocacy isn’t supposed to be sexy. It’s dirty work. It requires us to address our own biases and work on a daily basis to make this world a better place.
If you are reading this and thinking you missed your opportunity to make an impact in this industry, you have not.
Equity and inclusion is a large initiative, but it starts with small acts of kindness. Smiling at new faces in the barn or in the ring. Offering a hand when you see someone in need. Sharing the posts of local organizations working to make a difference so they can widen their reach. Change doesn’t start at the top of the pyramid. It starts in everyday life and with you and me.
Dear 2020. You have stripped away the fluff and showed us what truly matters. You have connected me with passionate and loving allies that I now call some of my dearest friends. You have amplified the work I have and will continue to do to give people their flowers while they are here. You have given me clarity in my passion and stripped away everything that was not for me.
A lot of 2020 sucked. I know that going into the next year with compassion and resilience will be required to make the best of these lessons.
Dear 2020, I hate your stinking guts.
Hey 2021, I’m ready for this ride, are you?