Equestrianism is not renowned for its egalitarianism – the costs of owning and training top-class horses are phenomenal and only the privileged could even think of serious participation in the posher horsey sports like dressage, three-day-eventing and show-jumping.
Nevertheless, what is notable about those posher horsey sports is that they make no distinctions between particpants on the ground of gender. Women and men compete on equal terms. And the women do well.
For example, take the Pony Club Games at this year’s HOYS. The games are fun, fast, furious and seriously competitive – the ponies and riders demonstrate remarkable speed, agility, athleticism and commitment. There is no restriction on who can ride – aside from the obvious point that only younger, lighter people ride ponies – but nevertheless I didn’t notice any boys or men at all. The competitors were, as far as I could tell, all girls and young women. They were terrific.
In the serious show-jumping events, there are numerous successful women too. The great Whitaker clan has produced Ellen Whitaker, for example. Aged only 20, she has already been selected to ride for Great Britain, and was at that time described as a “teenaged showjumping sensation”. She won the Speed Horse of the Year competition at this year’s HOYS.
Imagine then, if you will, a television interview with Ms Whitaker, clearly a serious contender in many of the prestige events of the show.
Perhaps alarm bells are already ringing when the caption flashes up to describe her as Britain’s leading “lady rider” (ugh). When the conversation soon turns to Whitaker’s alternative career as a model you know you are doomed. When she begins to make comments about how she has to worry if in training her hands get marked up by the reins, because when she is modelling jewellery afterwards her hands will not look good enough for the photo shoot, you just want to give up right now. I bet the male riders don’t have to worry about such things, models or not.
And she still wins the top level classes. Nice work.