Categorisation is dangerous!
I had the experience recently of being asked what I do. When I replied “I’m studying Horse Management” I received a knowing smile and the remark of “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”
“In what way does it make sense?” I wanted to shout. But I held myself back and said something generic and mundane instead. Seriously though, how does it make sense that I am studying horses? This person did not know me (hence the asking what I do thing) and therefore had no idea how old I was, what I’d done before now, what kind of person I was or what horsey experience I had (or didn’t have, in my case). So how could they think it made sense when I said I worked with horses?
Is it because I am slim with long blonde hair? It’s a ridiculous thought in this day and age to suggest that I was considered to fit in the equestrian category because of the way I look, and yet much as I hate to say it, that is more than likely what happened. This lad looked at me when I said I studied horses and thought “yep, she looks like the type.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t bother me that he thought I should be working with horses or anything like that. I don’t give two hoots about whether or not someone else thinks I look like I’m an equestrian or not. What does bother me, however, is that this same young lad would probably look at some of my friends and express disbelief that they too, were equestrians. Why? Because they have dark hair, or short hair. Because they’re only 5ft 2ins or because they’re not a size 8. And yet all of them belong in the stable. You can see it in the way they work around the horses and the focus and sheer determination on their faces when they’re on horseback. But because they don’t have long blonde hair, it doesn’t make sense for them to be there?
I cannot claim to be entirely guilt free when it comes to judging people in the horse world, but then isn’t it always the case that the minority cast the colour the rest of the world sees a group in? The only ‘horsey’ people I had previously come across were the mothers of pony club members. Mum and I used to take the piss, “Oh Tallulah stop whining, your new pony will be here tomorrow just like we promised. You’ll just have to cope with the old one for today. Come along, we have to go to Waitrose and buy some unnecessarily exotic foods just to show everyone how posh we are”
I can only apologise to anyone named Tallulah reading this, and anyone who’s ever been in a pony club. Of course, we knew it wasn’t everyone who behaved like that, but some of the mothers shopping at Malvern Waitrose really were rather conceited. So when I entered the horse world, I was not entirely sure what to expect.
I think I was probably quite fortunate to land on my feet and not be surrounded by any snobbery. While I think some of my fellow students may have looked at me and thought “what the…?” when I first arrived with no experience whatsoever, none of them actually voiced it to me. Instead, they gave me the odd compliment when I achieved things and encouraged me on. Which was a very nice thing for them to do, and certainly made me feel less like a sore thumb.
At no point, however, did I expect anyone to look a particular way. The fact that there are several small blonde girls on the course did not come as a surprise, but nor was I surprised to see taller dark haired girls either. It is so incredibly redundant to expect someone to do a particular thing because they look the part.
I know it can be hard not to. But I think a lot of the time it is down to sheer ignorance of the real world. This lad who said it made sense that I was a horse girl, had no idea of the implications attached to that throwaway comment. At no point did he think “Maybe I shouldn’t judge this young woman on her appearance, maybe that’s quite a sexist thing to do, maybe it would be inappropriate and lead her to write a mildly pissed off blog post about it”. While I wouldn’t expect someone of his age (around 17?) to have a thought process like that, I would rather have hoped that at some point society would have told him that it really is not appropriate to judge people on how they look. It never was really, but it sure is frowned upon now.
So my question of ‘What Are Equestrians’ can be answered thus:
Equestrians are not all small and blonde. They are not all women. They do not all come from money. And not all of them own their own horse. Equestrians are people with a passion for horses, whether it is riding, grooming or providing day to day care. An equestrian will always put the horse first to the extent that they will not holiday abroad because they can’t take their horse with them. Equestrians are people of all ages, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicity. None of them are the same, there are no pockets to put them in. The only thing shared between each and every equestrian is the love and respect they hold for horses.
Next time someone tells me it ‘makes sense’ that I study horses, I think I shall have to say something. Maybe something along the lines of, “Just kidding. I’m actually a plumber”?
Just to see the look on their face.