After the announcement that future events, including trials in future years, at the site had been called off, anger exploded across equestrian social media, including calls for a boycott of Eventing Nation for its role in contributing to the termination of the celebrated horse competition. But other riders and fans have criticized Walker’s decision to shut down instead of changing the name, saying whatever the origin, the word’s painful connotation means it must change.
For some Black riders, the estate’s refusal to consider a name change is another example of people in a historically white sport being out of step with change in society. According to data from the United States Equestrian Federation, the organization that governs American horse sports, almost 90 percent of its 185,000 members identify as white.
“The fact that this was met with blame, ridicule and misplaced anger shows one, they’re not ready to change,” said Abriana Johnson, who in 2019 started Young Black Equestrians, a podcast to discuss issues of representation in the sport. “And change is on the horizon.”
It’s not the first example of a call for inclusivity in the sport. In June, a series of articles across multiple equestrian news sources, including Eventing Nation and The Chronicle of the Horse, shook the industry with demands it reckon with its issues of diversity and inclusion, including from Sophie Gochman, a prominent young hunter jumper rider. The sport is “an insular community with a gross amount of wealth and white privilege,” Gochman, who is white, wrote.
Some Black riders say they recall instances in which people in the sport asked if they were grooms, rather than competitors, or expressed surprise about their riding skills or asked if their hair could fit into helmets. “You can allow people in and repeat these microaggressions, which eventually make them not want to do the sport anymore,” said Caitlin Gooch, a co-founder of the Young Black Equestrians podcast.
In response to public calls for addressing racial inequity, the Equestrian Federation and Eventing Association each formed plans to address diversity and inclusion, including committees and trainings for staff.