By Carter Anderson
In a time when the world is confronting a pandemic and racial injustice that is deeply rooted in our country’s history, a lot feels like it has been turned upside down. Fresh attention to racial injustice has caused the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA), athletes and colleges involved with NCEA to take a deeper look into the lack of diversity in equestrian sport.
As a biracial woman competing in the NCEA for Sweet Briar College, Britt Larson-Jackson encourages riders, coaches, judges and anyone involved in NCEA to look beyond the color of someone’s skin in order to fairly assess them and to appreciate their value, talent and character. Intentionally treating minorities with dignity and respect and offering them the same opportunities will go a long way toward valuing and achieving diversity within the NCEA.
What’s your favorite part about being a student athlete at Sweet Briar College?
There’s a great opportunity to balance academics and athletics and academics. Sweet Briar is a small community, so our coaches and professors are invested in helping us to excel in both academics and athletics. Professors and staff are incredibly supportive of the NCEA team and cheer us on at our competitions. I also value the close friendships I have with my teammates and the ample opportunities to ride because the stables are right on campus!
How has Sweet Briar’s recent entry into the NCEA affected you and your teammates?
It’s been really fun, because we’re all figuring it out together! Our coaches were able to prepare through research and discussion with the NCEA, but once we were officially a part of the association, we learned so much so quickly and will continue to learn and grow. Since we’re getting our feet wet together, we’ve become very close as a team.
With Sweet Briar being a small, all-women’s college, entering the NCEA and being competitive is a great accomplishment and I hope it encourages other schools who may not consider entering the NCEA format to pursue the opportunity. Our team’s involvement in the NCEA has increased my competitive edge and allowed me to learn from and compete against a large variety of skilled riders.
Do you feel as though the NCEA upholds an inclusive environment to all equestrian athletes?
I believe that the NCEA does have an inclusive environment even though it’s hard to assess because there are only a few people of color on NCEA teams. I think there’s a willingness and interest to embrace and encourage riders who aren’t currently well-represented.
At this level of competition, however, the teams are going to be made up of recruits who are incredibly experienced and competitive in the wider equestrian industry which is not too diverse either. Therefore, it makes it challenging for the NCEA to have a diverse membership due to the environment in which coaches are recruiting. The NCEA does promote economic diversity in that it is affordable. Riders can show at a competitive level without having to worry about expenses.
What message would you give to your fellow collegiate equestrians about the absence of diversity in our sport?
Be aware of what’s going on around you. A lot of people may not consider the lack of diversity or may not consider it important. In many cases, the path to change is a boost in awareness.
It’s important to be informed and be considerate of others who face different circumstances than you. Being mindful of the privilege that we have, being collegiate equestrians, and knowing that others may not have had the resources or support to pursue this opportunity will help all of us to be more active channels for change.
Change won’t happen if people are neutral or opportunities are limited. It’s much easier to go through a door when someone opens it for you. So, supporting minorities in our sport is vital for creating a more diverse and inclusive environment.
How would you encourage riders to start having these important conversations with their teammates?
Begin conversations with the goal of understanding and empathizing — human to human. It’s ok to be uncomfortable and it’s ok to make mistakes! In an ideal conversation both parties would speak thoughtfully, with kindness and honesty. Speak with humility, truth and grace. The topic of racism is not going away, so it’s essential that we continue this conversation well to encourage positive change.
We’re in a day and age where stereotypes are the norm and people are shamed and discouraged from talking about differences or even having disagreements of any kind on tough issues. This is incredibly unproductive because it divides people. It’s important that instead of judging someone by what’s on the outside, we take the time to know what’s on the inside before we make a judgment. This is where we could take a lesson from our four-legged friends who don’t see humans as a color, nor do they judge or exclude, based on culture or appearance.
Don’t be afraid to get personal and talk to people in your life who likely experience discrimination. Check in on their well-being and to further inform yourself on what they go through on a daily basis. Be willing to accept that some people may not want to talk about it. If you see or hear something that is inappropriate, kindly make a correction and help put a stop to injustice. Celebrate opportunities and growth for all riders.
How would you suggest we continue this conversation throughout the upcoming school year?
My charge to all collegiate athletes is to embrace differences, recognizing that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. I would suggest taking personal responsibility. Never stop learning, and live a life spent building up people and not dividing or tearing them down. Remember that dignity and respect go both ways. Always consider people’s backgrounds and where they’re coming from when pursuing difficult conversations.
Not all people of color think the same way or have the same experience, background or beliefs. Make it your goal to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Educate yourself on different cultures to broaden your perspective, and then celebrate diversity. Everyone has the opportunity to build up others to make a true and lasting difference in support of diversity in our sport. I’m thankful to those who have helped me improve my riding and have treated me with dignity and respect. I will pay it forward.
Photos by Laurie Larson-Jackson