The equestrian world can be a daunting place, especially for ethnic minority groups who often experience discrimination or acts of microaggression while simply trying to enjoy and succeed in the sport they love. According to British Equestrian, over 96% of riding centres are located in areas with lower-than-average ethnic diversity – and that’s just one of the many gloomy statistics in relation to diversity within equestrianism. Therefore, we find it so encouraging to hear about the work being done to help move towards an industry that is more welcoming for those from under-represented communities.
Jamaican event rider, Lydia Heywood, aside from her achievements in producing horses and competing internationally, is determined to change the demographic of equestrian sport and work towards an industry where everyone can feel welcome and wanted. Lydia is also kept busy with her role as DEI Consultant at the Royal Agricultural University and is impressed by their enthusiasm to make everyone feel welcome. She also has an exciting role at A-Plan Insurance as their Equine Development Executive — and the income helps her to continue competing!
Lydia is the founder of Cool Ridings, a foundation with one very important and wonderful ambition: to celebrate, support, and encourage diversity in the equestrian world.
Members of Cool Ridings receive support to help them perhaps one day represent a developing nation in equestrian sport. There are also opportunities for them to meet and have an exciting day of riding among like-minded equestrian athletes who are also overcoming the industry’s diversity and accessibility barriers.
Lydia supports several other organisations that are working towards similar goals, such as the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton. She also works alongside some major equine organisations to make plans as to how we can increase accessibility and create a more inclusive and diverse industry.
It was wonderful to hear from Lydia and we were lucky to hear more about her experiences while growing up in the equestrian world:
“Cool Ridings and I are grateful to work with brands that stand with us in an effort to celebrate and support diverse talent. When I started my equestrian career as a teenager it would be fair to say I felt alienated from my peers at Pony Club and on the showground. Hiding to put my hat on was the norm and I barely watched equestrian sport before the age of 20, which might seem peculiar as a fiercely competitive young rider. The subconscious reason for this was the fact it did not have a global feel as only a handful of nations were represented at the top of our sport.
In 2017 I began representing Jamaica in Eventing and that’s something I knew would inspire others. Ebony Horse Club in Brixton welcomed me to be a Mentor in the same year and the young people were both delighted and taken aback by the fact I represent a nation they resonated with. How do we forge a path for these talented riders to join me I thought… Diversity is lacking enormously, and time is of the essence so whilst not having all the answers I founded Cool Ridings!
I feel that equestrian sport must move with the times to stay relevant and find new sponsors that competition prize funds and event organisers can benefit from. Celebrating and supporting riders with the ability to represent developing nations is powerful. Feeling out of place isn’t a comfortable feeling and buying all the correct kit can be a struggle! I think it’s fair to say as equestrians we all take pride in our appearance and my Mother, Claire, worked all hours to try and cover the costs of having a competitive daughter! Underrepresented riders, in the UK and worldwide, have real buying power which benefits the brands that stand with us.
Incorporating a diverse range of models in marketing campaigns is a very effective way to increase a sense of belonging for underrepresented riders. Recently Cool Ridings aligned with Ariat on a training day with three-time Italian Olympian Vittoria Panizzon, which gave 12 members the chance to gain top tips and friendships. The camaraderie is so heart-warming to see and reinforces my belief that we should aim to have a base where we can all train together. Cool Ridings is in year two and growing quickly, contributions of embroidered team saddle pads from Le Mieux are worn with pride and enable us to have conversations about our community.”
We are so thankful to Lydia for providing such thought-provoking insights into life as an international event rider representing a developing nation.
We’re looking forward to virtually meeting with some member of Cool Ridings in June to have a chat about how they can best promote themselves as equestrian athletes and build relations with sponsors. At the very minimum, equestrian businesses must ensure they provide a safe place for everyone and do not give off any non-intentional exclusive messages. We hope that everyone will join us in celebrating diverse talent so we can build a sport that resembles the world we live in!