As I write this, International Women’s Day has just passed, and with it a whole host of tributes in all spheres of the celebration of moves to equality across the genders. The hashtag promoted was #balanceforbetter to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness of bias and to take action for equality. My chosen image that I used to acknowledge this day on our social media channels was an image of the eventing legend Lucinda Green showing that neither gender nor time has dimmed the grit and determination that made her an idol to so many, myself included.
In equestrian sports we are in the unique position where women and men compete on a completely level playing field. However, just as in business, politics, education and other sports, we should take a moment to sit back and recognise how far we have come and acknowledge the amazing contribution of the women who have gone before us. It’s easy to forget that women were first permitted to ride at the Olympic level in 1952 and even then, it was just in dressage. The first female showjumpers were included in 1956 and the eventers followed in 1964. The first female medallist in dressage was Lis Hartel in 1952, in showjumping it was Marion Coates on the super pony Stroller in 1968. Interestingly it wasn’t until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that a female made the eventing podium, with Karen Stives taking silver and Ginny Holgate the bronze. However, in 2004 all individual medal winners were women, finally reflecting the fact that women were not just as good as men, they’d been dominant at the top for some time. Lucinda Green has won the iconic Badminton Horse Trials 6 times, the next most prolific winners being Sir Mark Todd & Captain Mark Philips on 4 wins apiece.
I was fortunate to grow up with a horse mad older sister and because of that and where we lived, I met Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd as a young child. Yet the posters on my wall were Lucinda & Ginny Holgate. I’m not sure if it was a conscious thing or not, but the fact that they were women beating men was definitely inspiring. It did help that I met New Zealand’s first professional female jockey, Linda Jones through a friend at primary school, just when she was breaking barriers there. Whatever the trigger to the thought process was, I simply accepted it as fact that gender would play no part in whether I was successful or not.
Yet we can’t get complacent. Just last year Jonelle Price made comment on the fact that she had slipped down the world rankings simply because she took time off to have a child. Ultimately that won’t have a huge impact on her as she is quite simply extraordinary, but it potentially could be a factor in team selections or sponsorship deals for another rider. I also remember my sister quite clearly planning a pregnancy to have minimal impact on her riding. Fitting a baby in between the two three day events that were available in New Zealand at that time and were six months apart, just wasn’t feasible!
Yes, it’s amazing that we are in a sport on equal terms with men and we absolutely should promote that fact to the world at large. We just can’t forget the incredible work done by the women who preceded us and shattered that glass ceiling, and we’ve got to crack on and continue to break down the barriers that remain to inclusivity.
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