Welcome to the Para Equestrian Digest from the FEI.
A monthly look at the incredible stories around the people, athletes and horses that make up the world of Para Equestrian.
The Para Equestrian Digest is the FEI’s online Para Sport magazine. Every month we bring you first-person stories from athletes and the people connected to the sport.
In this edition of The Para Equestrian Digest, British Para Dressage athlete, four-time British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Dressage Champion, aspiring Paralympian and TikTok (@teganvincentcooke) star Tegan Vincent-Cooke talks about race in equestrian sport.
“Whether I win or not, I’m a face that is a role model for people of colour”
“I’m often the only black person when I go out to train or compete at national events.
"While I’m frequently stared at with a mixture of curiosity and judgement, most of the time I’m so in the zone of competing that I choose not to notice. When my family are attending events, they also feel that all eyes are on us. But this is unfortunately part of a black person's normal day-to-day life.
"As well as being judged for my appearance, I also feel that I’m judged for my ambitions. I do have high goals that some believe are not achievable. I’ve been told by many, including some high names in the sport, that I won’t make it. I’ve been spoken down to, talked about, and my parents and I have had doors physically slammed in our faces.
"All of this has just reinforced my drive to change perceptions, to hold my head up high and prove people wrong.
"What has kept me going is the love I have for this sport and that feeling when together, my horse’s movement and mine become one as we ride. When I’m off my horse, my body is stiff like a tree. Yet when riding, my body is free.
"It’s difficult to stay motivated sometimes, especially with other commitments like university and work, but I have a nagging (loving) mother! She’s thankfully drilled in a ‘get-on-with-it-attitude’ that’s built up my resilience and determination to stay solution-focused to reach my goals.
"One thing that always motivates me is being an ambassador for other black equestrians.
Photo Credit: Mia Benton Equestrian Photography
"Whether I win or not, I’m a face that is a role model for people of colour, inner-city young people and beyond. I promote the sport through a variety of media platforms that speak directly to the black community. I welcome requests, such as this article to share my opinion and those of many young black people. I build effective connections with coaches, riding organisations, governing bodies and fabulous riders who are all striving for positive inclusive change. I shout loud about the sunshine this sport can bring!
"The UK is an island filled with a diaspora of people and in reality, white people are in a global minority. So why is there still an obvious discrimination and lack of inclusivity in our sport?
"My friend Lydia Heywood, who is an International Eventer from Jamaica, said recently, “There’s no Lewis Hamilton or Serena Williams of equestrian sport!”
"I feel that black people currently lack the opportunities, support and representation to make it in equestrian sport.
"If equestrian sport is to become diverse and inclusive, we must take a closer look at our practices and make some changes. For example, those athletes who compete with a headscarf for religious reasons in national competitions, find it difficult and uncomfortable to wear a stock, and it’s pretty impossible to wear both. And from my experience, I can tell you that Afro hair is very difficult to wear in a bun, which is custom when competing at events at home. Thinking about ways to make the riding uniform more adaptable will help to open up our sport to a more diverse group of people.
"To make our sport more attractive and inclusive, I also feel that sponsored partnerships with Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and able-bodied riding schools would help to create more opportunities.
"There should be more communication and cooperation between the RDA and riding schools. Shared expertise and knowledge should be sought to build better cultural understanding, awareness, competency equality and plain fairness in all equestrian disciplines. This should be done alongside inner city and regional funding pathways which offer training for localised youth coaches and competitive development for riders, particularly for people of colour. Cool Ridings Equestrian and The Urban Equestrian Academy are great UK examples.
"Many people know that my goal is to compete in the Paralympics, but my ultimate dream and aim for the future is to build my own equestrian facilities. I want it to be a place where anyone and everyone is welcome, and inner-city children can be introduced to the sport and connect with nature. I also want it to be a place where equestrians from developing nations can come to train together. For my part, I want to provide as much knowledge and support as I can and as needed.
"I love this sport and I know there are other like-minded young people out there who would thrive if only given the opportunity.
"I have two aims. The first and most important is to coach and run my own riding school. And the second is to get to the Paralympics.
"While the financial struggle is real, I will get there no matter the hurdle that is put in my way!”