Building opportunities and expanding the reach of equestrian sport.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STRIDES FOR EQUALITY EQUESTRIANS: Above from left to right: Elizabeth Morier. Anu Joshi.

Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) is a groundbreaking organization committed to promoting equality and diversity within the equestrian community. Its mission is to support organizations that provide access to equestrianism for young people who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Horse sports of all kinds have a rich history tied to non-white equestrians, from the Black cowboys of the American West and the Blackfoot of the western plains to the Kazakh nomads of Mongolia and the Bedouin of Arabia. Yet, in America today, the number of white equestrians tops 75 percent, according to recent U.S. Census data. Black riders make up less than 5 percent of that number.

SEE emerged as an initiative in July 2020, driven by Heather Gillette and Anastasia (Stacy) Curwood. Recognizing the lack of diversity within equestrian sports and inspired by discussions on racism and equality, they began to discuss what could be done. An eventer, as well as a Ph.D. in history and Director of African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky, Stacy offered a unique perspective bolstered by her own experience and her academic understanding of racism in this country.

She emphasized the need not only for allies but for active supporters. “We need people to stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for equality and justice. Not quietly, not anonymously, but loudly and proudly,” said Stacy. Heather, a longtime ally of BIPOC equestrians, called Stacy and proposed creating a project to inspire this change. With that phone call, Strides for Equality Equestrians was born. They started by asking, “What can we do to move the conversation forward? What needs to happen to make this time different? What would actually help?”

At first, the goal was to promote inclusion and allyship in the eventing community, amplifying the voices of BIPOC equestrians and building partnerships with local organizations. The group also recognized the importance of education and awareness to address systemic racism within the equestrian world.

SEE established the Ever So Sweet Scholarship in partnership with the United States Eventing Association Foundation. It aims to provide fully-funded internships to riders from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to train with upper-level professional rider Sara Kozumplik Murphy. The scholarship, funded by Edy Rameika, supports recipients in a comprehensive, high-performance training program at Overlook Farm Equestrian Center in Virginia for three months, followed by two months of training with Sara in Florida during the winter. Covered expenses include board and training for the horse, regular lessons, housing, living expenses, competition fees, and coaching. Through this immersive experience, participants gain valuable skills, make professional connections, and contribute to fostering inclusivity within the equestrian sport. The scholarship is unique in its scope, offering unprecedented access to passionate and talented riders who most likely would not have had the opportunity. This kind of representation and inclusion creates ripple effects throughout the industry.

A new addition, SEE’s Leg Up Scholarships offer a variety of opportunities for riders from diverse backgrounds to train with top professionals and advance their equestrian goals. Scholarships typically cover the cost of instruction for two to five days or event entry fees.

Ever So Sweet Recipient Helen Casteel

Access Grants and the national Access Directory are other crucial components of the organization’s mission. By offering financial support and creating a comprehensive directory of equestrian access programs, SEE aims to create equitable opportunities for BIPOC equestrians. These initiatives not only provide social and economic support but also foster a sense of community among like-minded organizations.

SEE also established the Professional Pathways Program, which supports those aspiring to pursue careers in equestrian sports. The initiative aims to advance economic justice by ensuring equitable access to professional advancement opportunities. It works from the ground up to increase diversity among equestrian professionals by connecting qualified BIPOC individuals with like-minded professionals. Through internships, apprenticeships, working student positions, and other opportunities, SEE helps applicants gain valuable skills and establish meaningful connections within the industry.

The organization’s commitment to building a more inclusive equestrian culture extends beyond financial support and access programs. They also engage and educate through the development and publication of educational content. This content covers a wide range of topics, including anti-racism, informed allyship, organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion work. The organization also celebrates the history of BIPOC equestrians and strives to elevate their visibility in the equestrian world.

To learn more about SEE checkout their website.

Read the entire September/October 2023 issue.