The state or fact of existing, occurring or being present in a place or thing
a person or thing that exists in a place but is not seen
a group of people, especially soldiers or police, stationed in a particular place
the impressive manner or appearance of a person
When one considers the theme of Engaging African American Presence in Horsemanship, all of the above definitions apply. Matters of existence, visibility, place, impression, and appearance enter the imagination and dialogue. And because a sincere discussion of African American presence, in any context, necessarily directly or indirectly involves African American history, we make our first consideration there.
We do this admitting that Americans across all demographics are generally woefully ignorant of African American history. The telling of the story of America usually contains a skeletal African American narrative, which gives the impression that African American history is secondary, not central, to the whole. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and such treatment obfuscates facts and ultimately betrays a sense of full citizenship and of a place in society to African Americans.
This sort of dismissive approach to history (which has prevailed in our schools and public discourses) sustains a view and place of subordination and inferiority to African Americans. The broader effect is that the nation lacks agreed upon, cohesive historical wisdom and is left with a fragmented national identity. This is the matrix in which discontent, division, and disarray on racial matters have thrived. The results are not only destructive to African Americans, but also to the society at large.
The history of African American presence in horsemanship has followed the pattern of historical treatment described above, and so we must objectively start by acknowledging it too, as a history that has been unknown, neglected, and underappreciated.
In these pages, we will ponder the history of African American participation in equestrian sport as an example and type of the larger story of African Americans vis-à-vis what is commonly deemed as American history and culture.
In this context, we recognize in the horse industry and its development a characteristic pattern that excludes, omits, dismisses, disavows, or replaces African American presence. We consider that in light of the historical record, these deliberate and persistent practices are without merit, distort realities, create and sustain a destructive false narrative, and limit possibilities.
We humbly yet boldly share these observations with no intent of blaming, shaming, or malice, but for the sake of healing, opportunity, and quite frankly, love of the industry and its potential.
And so, while we hope to give an accurate and objective historical and contemporary account, we will not linger unnecessarily on unpleasant past realities. Instead, we will tell the history, highlighting a dynamic African American presence in equestrian sport and space.
African Americans were present at the genesis of equestrian activity in the United States and central to the development of the industry. Even so, the historical footprint of African Americans in the industry is undetectable or at best, obscure. To fill the void of accurate historical knowledge, in these pages, we present the untold history of African American presence in equestrian space not as “revisionist’ or “Afro-centric history” (as African American history is often pejoratively characterized), but with stories of real people, places, events, and activity.
At present, African Americans are considerably underrepresented in the industry. Any sincere consideration of presence not only makes the telling of a history presence requisite but also engages questions concerning the currently limited participation and/or invisibility of African Americans in equestrian sport and industry. Hence, we will look at what has been, what currently is, and what can be the future of African American presence in horsemanship.
Reader, you are invited to imagine and ponder the notion of Equestrian Equality. Let us think of inclusivity as an achievable possibility as we read Langston Hughes’ poem I, Too
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.