Instagram’s Black Equestrians brings needed representation and social justice to the community

Imagery is powerful. It can be the window into a new world. For Jeaneva “Jen” Spencer, seeing beautiful photos of horses in a coffee table book as a child sparked a love and a passion for equestrian sport that is still vibrant today.

Imagery has also been the catalyst to a social movement that Spencer started on Instagram in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020 called Black Equestrians. She started the page to act when she felt something needed to be done. “At the time I was reflecting on what more I could do,” said Spencer when she explained the idea of the page. “I wanted to promote social justice content and I thought, what if I combine two of my passions – social justice and horses?” And with that, the account was born. 

Seeing is believing

Jen Spencer with her own OTTB gelding Piper, who turned 11 on Valentine’s Day.

Spencer, a Canadian biracial woman who has spent the last 17 years in a predominately white sport with few representations of athletes of colour, at first had apprehensions that there might only be a limited following. To her surprise, the page amassed thousands of followers from around the globe relatively quickly. “The whole experience has been very eye-opening to me,” she said. “I was blown away by the response and the engagement from such varied groups – polo players from Kenya, vaulters from Denmark, many Black riders from the U.S., people of diverse ethnicities and non-equestrians too.”

The account has been noticed. It has given followers and the broader online community a platform for representation of riders of colour that has been void in equestrian sport. “Seeing Black riders and enthusiasts represented, it can also be an important symbol of awareness for everyone,” Spencer explained. “For the needs of social justice, seeing is believing and empowering.”

Spencer knows firsthand the importance of awareness and representation. “I wanted to promote Black riders, but also to help foster the next generation,” Spencer reflected. “If we can show people of colour are already actively engaged in the sport, it can also stand for something. It’s a big deal because if people see themselves, then they will feel welcome.” For a sport she loves so much, she’s committed to being a part of helping it grow and thrive. Welcoming spaces, she believes is a good place to start.  

“If a child like I was riding at summer camp at age 10, sees someone that looks like them participating in high level training,” she explained, “then they can be inspired to go for it.” In addition to representation, sharing the history is just as important. 

Seeing is believing

The @blackequestrians page has 15.5k followers on Instgram and features Black equestrians and engages in conversations about social justice.

As the page has grown and made connections around the world, Spencer has expanded the shared knowledge in surprising ways. “Seeing how far back Black culture is intertwined with horses, the history is immense,” she expressed. “I mean at the beginning I wasn’t even sure there would be enough content to share. But there is so much history! As an example, I learned a quarter of cowboys in the American West were black and some of the best riders, ropers and wranglers. And – many Black riders ran stables during the time of slavery.”

Black equestrians that have connected with the page have shared their journeys and discoveries too. Some have shared how their connection with horses goes back for generations. “It has been fascinating!” said Spencer. 

Seeing is believing

The page has received attention from a variety of publications for the work it is doing in raising awareness and changing attitudes – including this article published in Horse & Style Magazine

But it hasn’t all been positive. Social media can be a place where behind a keyboard, individuals don’t hesitate to boldly express their views, including racist ones. “Some ignorant, distasteful comments have been posted,” said Spencer. “It actually was my first personal experience with the N-word because the schools I went to, racism like that wasn’t really prevalent.” But dealing with it proactively, she feels those individuals are already losing and tries not to let it bother her.

Education, she believes is key. “People might not really be aware of what they are doing – like with microaggressions,” Spencer explained. “My suggestion is to learn how to be an ally and create a welcoming environment no matter where you are in the industry. From an organizational level down to the tack room.” 

She also suggests an action-oriented approach and being willing to stand up to those behaving with ignorance or indifference. “If you see something, say something,” she continued. “Don’t let things go unchecked, call them on it. They will stop doing it.” Spencer feels engagement can be straightforward. “People want to be treated equally and respected. It’s that simple – treat people the way you want to be treated. That really is it.”

What prompted the Black Equestrians page ̶ taking action ̶ is just the beginning. The success of the account exemplifies how action creates connection. And connection makes change. Spencer has proven the formula can be simple but not without work. “The page grew bigger than I expected, and it happened fast. I couldn’t keep up with all the messages,” she explained. “I had experience with a blog and social but this was different, the engagement was much deeper. I needed help to stay on top of it.” She now runs the account with help from two other Black equestrian women where they split the content creation, DMs, and planning between the three of them. “It’s great that we are diverse. I’m in Ontario, Steph is in BC and Maya is in the States.”

Spencer personally has set her sights on a career where she can help women and people of colour, not surprisingly, in a proactive way. After studying at the University of Toronto, then working towards her paralegal license, she is heading to law school in September to study technology and corporate law. Sadly, that means she’s had to lease out her beloved horse Piper, an OTTB gelding who turned 11 on February 14. “I miss him so much right now. Gosh I love that horse.”

With the heart of an equestrian, she hopes to see the page grow and foster other pages for diversity in the sport. “I am so proud of what the account has accomplished. I’d love to see others start a page for further representation, like Asian riders,” Spencer said. “We would love to help and share our experience with it.”

For now, she and her co-managers plan to continue to share the important images and inspirational messaging and moderate the Black Equestrian page with their motto: “Do good and be good for the equestrian community.” 

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