Reading the prompt, my immediate thought was, oh I know where this is going. We are still racist. We are still sexist. Women are treated as inferiors, but feminism is a trigger word for debates and piss-poor attitudes. And I will certainly agree that we are not all equal, not in terms of race or gender, religion or sexuality, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. As you can tell from the posts, we’ve all seen it ourselves. I could tell you the typical stories of being advised not to travel without men whilst abroad, of higher auto insurance rates for men (read an article on anti-discriminatory insurance rates in the UK here), of being afraid walking outside at night. But I’ll leave that to my classmates. Instead, I’ll use this time to talk about horses! (Are you sensing a theme in my conversation habits yet?)
I am a three-day eventer – a good basic explanation of eventing can be found here. I have ridden for 14 years, across just about every riding discipline you can imagine, and finally settled on eventing 7 years ago. I’ve ridden all four collegiate years on Bucknell’s equestrian team, serving as secretary and then captain for the years before I went abroad, and now serving as (the unofficial) show team manager. I also ride three days a week at another barn in Milton, and while I’m home, I am at the barn every single day. Horses are truly my life. Laugh all you want, but when you find the one thing that motivates you to get out of bed every morning, that gives you hope for your future when everything seems to be going wrong, you know what I’m talking about. So what does this have to do with our blog post?
In the Olympics, there are only two sports where men and women compete against each other: equestrian and sailing. And there is only one sport where men and women compete against each other on equal terms: equestrian. Don’t believe me? Do some research on the Olympic sports site. While sailing, shooting, and badminton all feature men and women competing against each other, each of these three sports also features single-gender competitions as well as the mixed competition. All equestrian competitions are mixed-gender, even outside of the Olympics; any discipline, level, location, etc. is entirely sexless.
I love that I am an athlete in a truly gender-neutral sport. Great riders are equally likely to be men or women. I know that in thoroughbred racing (think The Triple Crown), there exists threads of sexism; women jockeys are often discriminated against by horse owners, who are too afraid to give women jockeys the ride on their horse. But three-day eventing is actually entirely gender neutral. My various working positions throughout my riding career have given me the opportunity to meet more than a few eventing greats; one of my life highlights was spending the night in an Olympian’s house. Twice. (My 2010 summer job was pretty freakin awesome.) But as I said, one of the greatest things about what I do is that I do not feel like I would ever be denied the chance to ride or succeed because I am a woman. I am just as likely to be good at riding your horse as one of my male counterparts. And in the fourteen years I’ve ridden, through hundreds of barns, thousands of horses, the many competitions, the trainers, the friends, the enemies, the gossip, the wins and the falls, I can honestly say to you that I have never been discriminated against in this sport because of my gender, and I don’t know anyone who has.
Rare? Yes. I also play Ultimate Frisbee. I’ve played for years, having been exposed to it at birth by my lovely father, who has played for 30+ years and competed at Worlds (aka Nationals) twice. Yep, Ultimate does get that serious! Ultimate has men’s teams, women’s teams, and co-ed teams. I play on Bucknell’s women’s team, I play on co-ed summer teams at home in Baltimore, and I’ve coached kid’s leagues with my dad for years. Ultimate is all about the spirit of the game – there are no referees. If you catch a disk out of bounds, you make that call. After every single game, you line up and slap hands with every player on the other team, and most times you’ll cheer them, even if it’s a simple “great game Bucknell! Good luck with your other games!” (although Bucknell’s team is famous for changing the words to famous songs and singing them to our opponents). Ultimate is one of the most equal, anti-aggression sports I can think of. Yet, on co-ed teams, I certainly feel the difference. 99% of the time, I cannot run as fast or throw as far as my male teammates. And I will tell you that I touch the disk far less than the men on the team.
It might just be that I’m not that good – I accept that fact. But I know great women players, women that my dad played with and that I’ve grown up with as my second mothers, and they say the same thing. Until the men know you personally, they don’t trust you on the field. Certainly that’s just my experience, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow after coming from the barn, where no one would ever not trust me with their horse because I’m a woman.
Riding has, no doubt, changed who I am, and shaped me for the better. How lucky is it that I grew up completely immersed in a sport that really, truly does not care what gender I am? Additionally, I was raised by the best stay-at-home dad I could think of, who taught my sister and I from a young age that we were always as good as the boys. “If I ever tell you that a girl can’t do something, you’re supposed to punch me!” was a common line in my household. My dad and I grew up simultaneously amusing and horrifying teachers, mothers, and bank tellers, as my dad would joke that girls can’t do (fill in the blank), and my sister and I would immediately turn and punch him. That kind of treatment has made a huge difference in who I am. I’m more confident in my femininity than a lot of my friends, and yet I tend to think that I’m on par with the boys no matter what I do.
So, I consider myself lucky. Lucky for having grown up with such positive influences, and lucky that the thing I love most – riding – will never discriminate against me for being a woman. Can you say the same?