My name is Reece McCook. I’m 18 and my passion is equestrianism. Picture me riding and jumping my beloved bay mare Rose, helping the younger riders on the yard with their horsemanship skills and volunteering with a local equestrian charity.
Now I’ll tell you I’m black and from inner-city Coventry. Did the picture you have in your mind match my reality? Probably not but that’s not your fault as I’m not your stereotypical equestrian participant. But I’m making it my mission to facilitate change, tackle discrimination, encourage acceptance and breakdown barriers in my equestrian community.
I’ve recently launched a campaign to ‘Ride out racism’ and have been overwhelmed with the response already. I’ve experienced and been subjected to racism in my equine education and employment but I’ve also had a great deal of support and encouragement and I want to use what I’ve experienced to bring riding to more young people like me.
Horses are amazing animals – they don’t judge who’s riding them, they’re incredibly tolerant and if you treat them with respect, they’ll love you back. And that should reflect equestrianism as a whole but sadly, at present, it’s not the case. There is work going on at the top to make improvements, British Equestrian and equestrian bodies are driving for their equality standard for sport but it’s on the ground where we need to work harder.
Young people from urban environments, particularly those from minority ethnic groups, simply just don’t feel riding is a sport that’s for them. Cost, access to facilities and stereotypes are barriers. I was ashamed to tell my non-equestrian friends that I rode for fear of what they’d think about me but in reality, they were pretty cool about it and really intrigued. I want to make sure that none of these are barriers to taking part in future.
As part of my campaign, there are ‘Ride out racism’ rosettes and pin badges for all riders to proudly display, post pictures of them riding with on social media and show that they believe in an equal and diverse equestrian world. They’re available on www.etsy.com – just search on ride out racism. There’s a small profit from each sale which will be donated to organisations that are already doing some amazing work with young people from ethnic minorities and underprivileged backgrounds.
‘Ride our racism’ is just the first step for me, an initiative to raise awareness of inequality in the equestrian world, but I’d like to develop it into something where we can actually make a difference and help anyone experience riding and horses. Getting new riders involved regardless of race, religion or background can only be beneficial for everyone. I need help to spread my message and challenge perceptions so we can effect change. If the campaign means all those in the equestrian world take a look at their own actions and behaviours and think how we can be more accepting and encouraging to all.
On a horse, we’re all equal. There is no race, there is no gender, there is no class. But having the opportunity to get on a horse is beyond the reach of so many and it needn’t be. So, I’m asking everyone to support ‘Ride out racism’ as a start toward building a more diverse equestrian world where black faces are the normal, riding in hijab is standard and acceptance is automatic.