Coca-Cola is a global enterprise, so when Coke went woke by encouraging whites to be less white, there may only have been a blip at the bottom line. It will be interesting to see if the US Equestrian Federation, which recently got woke, will be similarly unscathed.
As the purported governing body of most American equestrian sports, USEF has a full plate in the best of times. Horse owners and competitors are, to put it kindly, obsessed with horses, and trying to keep them happy is like herding cats. USEF members — from amateurs mucking their own stalls and bucking 50-pound feed sacks to glamorous international stars with entourages of grooms and supporters — all face a host of problems that can generally be attributed to sharply rising costs.
Many costs, such as the usage fees charged by posh venues, entry fees charged by shows, travel costs, purchase and training costs for competition-quality horses, etc., are beyond USEF’s control, but in recent years the federation has dealt with issues that have created new areas of complaint.
The first was SafeSport, which is mandated for any sport that participates in the Olympics. SafeSport requires investigations of allegations of sexual misconduct, particularly against minors, and levies punishments that may result in permanent suspensions and loss of livelihood. While no one could argue against protecting minors, the implementation of SafeSport by USEF was viewed by some as too far-reaching and draconian. Everyone who can be construed as a professional, even the owner of a small horse-boarding facility, must take SafeSport training every year.
The accused are interviewed in what seems like a due-process-deficient, star-chamber proceeding in which no evidence or legal arguments are disclosed. Judgments are made public. The gossip mill, always active in the horse world, goes into warp speed. A person found guilty may appeal, but there have been no reversals so far. A number of high-profile, even iconic figures in equestrian activities have been named and permanently suspended. One of them committed suicide.
While the human side is scrutinized, the horses, on which the whole enterprise rests, don’t always get the same attention. The sport of eventing, which is based on cavalry-training practices, is considered the most demanding test of horse and rider. Also called cross country, it is run over a course of daunting jumps and obstacles, steep hills, quick descents, and water hazards. It is run at a gallop and timed.
Many horse lovers think eventing has become too demanding. Every year, horses are fatally injured and must be euthanized. Riders also die. Requests to alter the format have gone unanswered.
Into this unsettled situation came two woke warriors. Dr. Anastasia Curwood is a black woman, a professor of African American studies at the University of Kentucky, and a BLM activist. Jess Clawson is a trans woman with a PhD in education and history, an LBGQT+ activist, and publisher of a digital magazine called The Plaid Horse.
As equestrians (Dr. Curwood has been eventing for 30 years) the two undoubtedly know that equine sports are already diverse . Men and women compete in the same classes. There are no barriers based on color or sexual identity. In recent years, equine sports have included para-equestrians, who were previously excluded because of disabilities. The only real barriers are the costs of horse ownership and competition.
Nevertheless, Drs. Curwood and Clawson pressured USEF into adopting a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. Dr. Curwood, who called herself an “external thought leader” in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) discussions, announced some of the plan’s requirements: “ . . . a directive to increased representation of diverse equestrians in advertising and news about USEF . . . a plan to support community riding centers, a new membership category, and an equity audit for USEF rules and regulations . . . .”
In fairness, USEF had little choice in submitting to DEI demands. Even those unfamiliar with Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton tactics could recognize that politely declining was not an option. Moreover, the University of Kentucky, where Dr. Curwood has organized disruptive black student activities, is in Lexington. So is USEF headquarters — at the Kentucky Horse Park where prestigious equine events are held — so protests could be conveniently arranged.
One person who understood the implications of the new DEI agenda is Peggy Fackrell, a longtime USEF judge and horse-show presenter from northern California. The 80-year-old Miss Fackrell expressed herself in colorfully-worded social-media posts and email to USEF officials. In an April 25, 2021 Facebook post, she wrote: “USEF has jumped on the BLM ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ band wagon . . . . If they get away with [mandatory training for licensed officials] I bet the entire membership will be next for the mandatory ‘training’ (as they did with Safe Sport!) This brain washing is nothing more than convincing us we are Racists! I refuse to do it! . . . Our sport is one of the safe havens remaining in the craziness of this world right now, please don’t allow it to be violated!”
Shortly thereafter, Miss Fackrell was stripped of her USEF judge and steward licenses. She claimed her freedom of speech was denied. USEF said she had violated the Social Media and Ethics Policy. Of course, the substance of her concerns was never addressed. Hordes of virtue signalers rushed to say, “Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences,” and alleged that Miss Fackrell had used the game-over N-word, although no screen shots or sworn affidavits have been produced.
The freedom-from-consequences crew may sing a different tune if DEI plays out as it has in other areas. It’s easy to imagine affirmative action, quotas, set asides, special programs, and funding for the “disadvantaged.” In order to be competitive, minorities may be provided with expensive, well-trained mounts, subsidized stalls at boarding and training facilities, and discounts on grain and hay. Standard dressage tests may be viewed as biased, and penalties for rails knocked down in hunter/jumper classes could be considered unfair. And heaven help any judge who fails to use proper pronouns!
Meanwhile, Peggy Fackrell is being excoriated by the outrage machine. She has been publicly humiliated for speaking out, but that is not enough. USEF has let her continue to run Let’s Show, the affordable, quality horse show she has organized for many years. These are family-oriented events of the kind that have always served as apprenticeships for young equestrians, exactly what the horse industry needs more of.
However, zealous and empowered wokesters would deprive Miss Fackrell of even that. In The Plaid Horse — the online magazine owned by Dr. Clawson — writer Piper Klemm asks, “Why would USEF want members to compete at a venue run by someone who has repeatedly and outspokenly made racist comments?” and suggests that her license should be revoked.
Miss Klemm, who doesn’t back up her claims of racism, seems willing to deprive countless equestrians of friendly, low-cost horseshows for the dubious reward of showing solidarity with the DEI agenda. And how likely is it that anyone would take up the work if Miss Fackrell is forced out, seeing how thankless and perilous the tasks can be?
The horse world is insular, resistant to change, and bound by tradition, so the longer-term effects of USEF’s decision will be interesting. The federation has effectively surrendered its autonomy, and henceforth all matters will be monitored, filtered, and determined by the tail that now wags the dog, or rather, swishes the horse.
As for USEF members, it’s worth remembering that horse obsession is paramount. Last year, a truck and multi-horse trailer was surrounded on an overpass in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Antifa protestors. Fearing for the safety of the horses, the driver stepped on the gas, tumbled protestors aside, sped away — and was not prosecuted. BLM protestors, be advised: Obsession trumps ideology.