Like the stories of many riders who catch the horse bug early, Korraugh Francis of Pickering, Ontario, fell in love with the sport at a very young age. After a surprise riding lesson gifted from her mom when she was seven, she was absolutely hooked.

“Korraugh is the youngest of my four children and I often tell people she was born a rider,” explained her mother, Christine Hirschberg. “From the time she could talk all she wanted to do was ride a horse. When I surprised her with a lesson, I honestly thought she would be nervous and loose interest. But instead, a young coach opened the door to a whole new world for her.”

I Am EC: Committed Young Black Rider Pursuing Her Dreams Against the Odds

Korraugh and Danny Boy competing at the Pickering Horse Centre (PHC)
Photo Credit: Life with Horses Photography

At first, Korraugh enjoyed weekly lessons at Pickering Horse Centre (PHC) but not long after, she decided she wanted to compete. With the help of Gary Yaghdjian and his daughter Emily Wolff, she made the leap to join the PHC show team. That’s when things began to feel a little different for the biracial family.

“Diversity in the schooling lessons is very similar to other sports at the house league level,” Christine explained when discussing representation in equestrian sport. “When I look at hockey – that league has many different ethnicities, but if you look at higher levels – you can count almost on one hand the non-white players. Equestrian is very similar – when you get to a more competitive level – the diversity changes.” 

Through her marriage to a Black man, she has learned what many white people don’t understand about representation. “Growing up as a white woman, I never saw the world through any other lens than privilege. I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” she expressed. “But as I became the mother of four black children, what I saw and learnt was very different. There are every day, subtle stereotypes that most are not even aware of – both verbal and non-verbal. Whether intentional or not, they target people based on their race.”

A ten-year-old Korraugh didn’t seem affected by the lack of diversity around her. Riding a leased pony named Danny Boy, she competed in the Trillium Hunter Division and placed reserve champion in the cross rails. “My mom would sometimes ask if I noticed that I was one of the only Black riders at the shows,” she explained. “I would answer ‘yes’, but it didn’t bother me, I actually found it cool.”

Her mother’s show experiences have been different from her daughter’s. Similar to most show moms, she is Korraugh’s number one supporter, and there to watch her every time she enters the ring. “I love the fact that she wants to be the best at the barn, ride and compete in a sport she is passionate about,” the mom of four expressed, “but on several occasions, while watching her ride overhearing spectators refer to her as ‘the cute dark girl’ or ‘the little dark one’ is something I will never get used to.” 

The awkwardness doesn’t end with the comments. “There is a strong tense feeling walking into a show with my Black side of the family,” she shared. “There are stares and an uneasiness every time they come to see one of Korraugh’s shows.”

When she hears the racial slurs or is the recipient of the gawky stares, as a mom and advocate for her daughter, it has taken everything in her not to lash out. What she has realized, is that the equestrian sport world still sees Korraugh, and her family as different. “The overall environment is not welcoming,” she outlined, “and it is disappointing that there is little movement in addressing the under representation of riders of colour in the sport.”

Support thankfully has been there from their barn and coaches and change, though slow, has begun to happen. As she became a teenager, the young rider made the switch to the Jumper circuit, where she began riding a new horse named Midway and showed at .75m. “For my first year of Jumper I was so happy with how we did, getting a few ribbons, but most importantly having fun and learning a lot,” said Korraugh. “I did notice this past year that there were a few more Black riders showing. That made me feel really happy and less out of place.”

Besides the challenges as a spectator, her mother continues to do everything for her daughter to be successful in a sport well-known for its high costs. When people have questioned the family’s ability to afford the sport, Christine explains how it motivates her. “It is somewhat offensive, but it actually makes me work harder to ensure we can keep her riding – to the point where we have done GoFundMe pages and taken financial support from family members.” 

I Am EC: Committed Young Black Rider Pursuing Her Dreams Against the Odds

Korraugh Francis and Midway
Photo Credit: Christine Hirschberg

Still, the hurdles laid out before them as an equestrian family of colour don’t break down easily, if at all. “The colour of my skin has never been one of the reasons I was not successful,” said Christine. “I cannot say the same for my partner or my children.” In addition to the systemic barriers from unconscious bias, the lack of representation leaves young riders with few role models to lead the way.

“Children need to see what they can accomplish,” she outlined, “and at the more competitive levels of riding, we really don’t see the diversity needed for children to believe they can make it. Right now, there is nobody that looks like them achieving the same goals, teaching them the skills or even judging their ride.”

With deep seeded bias like what the family has experienced, many racialized families don’t even consider participating. But with Korraugh’s talent, passion and determination, as well as the unwavering support of her family, friends, and the PHC barn family, they have persevered and been successful.

“I am so thankful every day for the positive actions of others,” Christine articulated, “but also to be able to educate and help others recognize their own biases.” She is appreciative of those members at PHC for their support and dedication over the past five years because it has been imperative to them staying strong and committed to the sport.

Meanwhile, Korraugh continues to pursue her goals. She more recently moved barns and began riding at Pause Awhile Equestrian Centre (PAEC), coached by Michelle Johnson on a leased a mare named My Kind of Crazy. “My future goals have not changed in a few years,” she shared. “I would love to be on the GRIT team and I plan on working hard to become the first Black female Canadian Olympian on the Jumping team,” said the 13-year-old.

Given the unwavering encouragement of her parents and continued advocacy from the team at PAEC and others along the way, Christine remains optimistic that Korraugh can be part of the change they all want to see in the equestrian world. She also hopes that those reading their story can learn from it and commit to being a part of the solution.

“I know… these are very big dreams,” said Korraugh. “But I plan on working really hard to see how far I can go.”

Hearing the young rider’s commitment to her goals and perseverance against the odds, is an important lesson for everyone. It’s also an opportunity to ask how you can take action to help support diversity in your own sphere of influence. How far will you go?

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