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How a teenage Canadian equestrian decided to speak out against racial inequality

Lauryn Gray wanted to spark conversation.

The 17-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native had seen an article fellow equestrian teenager Sophie Gochman, of New York, had written imploring “the insular community with a gross amount of wealth and white privilege” to speak out against racism.

Gray had also seen the response from renowned American trainer Missy Clark, who argued that “to presume minority communities have been purposely excommunicated from our world of horses is like saying equestrians are not allowed as participants in basketball.”

And so Gray, a Black and white mixed rider, was inspired to say her peace.

“I think the main message that I was really trying to drive home is that we just need to start speaking about these things because so often stuff is ignored,” Gray told CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey.

“People say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable’ or ‘I don’t know what to say, I’d rather just stay silent,’ but one of the main points I tried to make is if you’re staying silent, you’re doing more harm than good. You’re contributing to the oppression.”

The Canadian teen wrote an article about her experience as a person of colour in equestrian on Tuesday for The Chronicle of the Horse, a “horse news and equestrian lifestyle” publication. Gochman’s and Clark’s articles had been published there previously, too.

Gochman posted the first piece after seven days passed following George Floyd’s death without her hearing about it or the police brutality and racism issues it resurfaced being discussed at the stables.

Gray sits on her horse at a meet. (Submitted by Lauryn Gray)

Gray began her riding career eight years ago at Parish Ridge Stables in Burlington, Ont. She continues riding there to this day and says she has never experienced anything but acceptance at her barn.

“The hardest thing I think growing up was just looking around and not really seeing that many people that look like me,” Gray said. “No one ever judged me for the colour of my skin but I’d always wished that there was someone with curly hair, someone that looked like me that I could maybe look up to.”

Gray and her horse, Chelsea, have earned multiple awards riding together including the title of reserve champion from the Trillium Hunter/Jumper Championships in Ontario.

The Canadian said that if she and Gochman, a pair of 17-year-olds, could take a stand against racism, then those with larger platforms and bigger followings should be able to follow suit.

“You have a responsibility and an obligation to your fans to deliver this message, to speak about these issues because for me personally, if I see someone that I once looked up to and they’re not saying anything, it’s like why should I look up to them if they’re not willing to do anything for me? If they’re not willing to speak on tougher issues?,” Gray said.

Privilege in equestrian sports

Both Gray and Gochman make no secret that the equestrian community is predominantly white. Gochman acknowledges her white privilege, while Gray admits she is fortunate to be able to afford to train in the sport.

“I might not have white privilege, but I know that I do have privilege and I’m fortunate to be able to ride and we need to say something because otherwise we look like no one cares. Like our community doesn’t care,” Gray said.

The next step, both say, is for the community to recognize the systemic injustices that cause the racial inequity within equestrian and to make changes toward fixing that problem.

“I’m disgusted by your willful ignorance, and I refuse to accept anything but action. This country needs a revolution. This country needs authentic democracy. This country needs justice, and I’m demanding your help,” Gochman wrote in the address to her fellow riders.

Gray suggested a more community-based approach: “Whether it’s between two friends, before a professional and a fan, no matter what it is, we just need to start having the conversations. It all starts with a conversation because one individual can help to make a change whether they realize it or not.”

Gray also wrote that equestrians have a “moral obligation” to create a better environment for people of colour.

Equestrian Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment by CBC Sports.

Clark, meanwhile, pointed to the Equestrian AIDS Foundation created in the 1990s to show that the community does not discriminate against minorities.

The trio of opinions has ignited online fervour. Gray said hers and Gochman’s pieces generally received favourable reviews, while Clark’s was met with more pushback. It is clear the conversation about racism in equestrian has begun.

“I think that my article has sparked a change in the equestrian community and people are speaking out so I hope that continues on.”

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