An aspiring Paralympic dressage rider has spoken out about the challenges faced by black equestrians in horse sport.
In the latest edition of the FEI’s Para Equestrian Digest, British rider Tegan Vincent-Cooke said she felt that black people currently lack the opportunities, support and representation to make it in equestrian sport.
The four-time British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Dressage Champion said that if equestrian sport was to become diverse and inclusive, changes need to be made.
“I’m often the only black person when I go out to train or compete at national events,” Vincent-Cooke said.
“While I’m frequently stared at with a mixture of curiosity and judgment, most of the time I’m so in the zone of competing that I choose not to notice. When my family is attending events, they also feel that all eyes are on us. But this is, unfortunately, part of a black person’s normal day-to-day life.”
The 21-year-old noted that “the UK is an island filled with a diaspora of people and in reality, white people are in a global minority”.
“So why is there still obvious discrimination and lack of inclusivity in our sport?”
“My friend Lydia Heywood, who is an international eventer from Jamaica, said recently, ‘There’s no Lewis Hamilton or Serena Williams of equestrian sport.’
“If equestrian sport is to become diverse and inclusive, we must take a closer look at our practices and make some changes. For example, those athletes who compete with a headscarf for religious reasons in national competitions, find it difficult and uncomfortable to wear a stock, and it’s pretty impossible to wear both. And from my experience, I can tell you that Afro hair is very difficult to wear in a bun, which is custom when competing at events at home. Thinking about ways to make the riding uniform more adaptable will help to open up our sport to a more diverse group of people”
Vincent-Cooke, who was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy when she was born, said she has been told, “by many, including some high names in the sport, that I won’t make it. I’ve been spoken down to, talked about, and my parents and I have had doors physically slammed in our faces”.
But this has reinforced her drive to change perceptions, hold her head up high and prove people wrong.
“What has kept me going is the love I have for this sport and that feeling when together, my horse’s movement and mine become one as we ride. When I’m off my horse, my body is stiff like a tree. Yet when riding, my body is free. I shout loud about the sunshine this sport can bring!”
Another motivation is being an ambassador for other black equestrians. “Whether I win or not, I’m a face that is a role model for people of colour.” She is indeed influential, and has more than 500,000 followers on various social media platforms.
Vincent-Cooke would like to see more communication and cooperation between the RDA and riding schools. “Shared expertise and knowledge should be sought to build better cultural understanding, awareness, competency equality and plain fairness in all equestrian disciplines.
“This should be done alongside inner city and regional funding pathways which offer training for localised youth coaches and competitive development for riders, particularly for people of colour. Cool Ridings Equestrian and The Urban Equestrian Academy are great UK examples,” she says.
Vincent-Cooke’s goal is to compete in the Paralympics, but her ultimate aim for the future is to build her own equestrian facilities. “I want it to be a place where anyone and everyone is welcome, and inner-city children can be introduced to the sport and connect with nature. I also want it to be a place where equestrians from developing nations can come to train together.
“I love this sport and I know there are other like-minded young people out there who would thrive if only given the opportunity.”