What Do You Do When Your Safe Place Isn't Safe?

What Do You Do When Your Safe Place Isn't Safe?
Stephanie Kallstrom was born in Peru (Afro-Peruvian) and lives in British Columbia where she competes in the hunter/jumper ring. Steph is speaking out with a powerful message about racism both inside and outside of the equestrian space. Follow her @stephkall to learn more. 

I have been riding since I was 8 years old and have owned several horses during that time. I currently own two Oldenburgs - both bays, both geldings, both with white on their faces and with some/all white legs. Both are hack winners and winners in the hunter ring. It's funny because I'm actually a mare person - I like horses who make you work for their love - but both my boys are my horses of a lifetime and by far the two best horses I've ever had. I ride in Langley, BC at Thunderbird Show Stables with Laura and Brent Balisky and Laura-Jane Tidball. This has been my barn family for the last 10 years.
Photo by Totem Photographics.
Horses and riding have always been such an escape for me and a place of well-being, mental reprieve, social connection and a safe place. Horses were such a big part of allowing me to survive childhood trauma that I'm still working through today. But what do you do when your safe place isn't safe? And contributes to radicalized trauma? This is unfortunately the experience in the equestrian world, due to such a lack of diversity. I have usually been - if not always been - the only black rider at the barn, at the horse show or at a clinic. Outside of what I call my safety net of my barn family, I get a sense of overwhelming anxiety about when I will be subjected to the next racially insensitive or racist comment.

View this post on Instagram

I’M EXHAUSTED OF: - hiding my blackeness - explaining why ‘All lives matter’ is offensive - people sliding into my DMs to harass me - of people condemning riots, when peaceful protest hasn’t got us anywhere in centuries (we are still being murdered, hunted, modern day lynched and assaulted) #MyStory - yes you may share, in fact I’d be honored if you shared. I am a black Canadian. I was born in Peru (Afro- Peruvian). I am a descendent of an enslaved west African and also have some South American heritage. My family is white, they have never been able to understand what it is like to live in the color of my skin. They have white privilege and have never had to feel uncomfortable in their skin or try and prove themselves better because of their skin color. Someone told me once that they were so uncomfortable at their community center class because they were the only white person. That is what I feel like every day. I grew up in a very white environment my two hobbies are oh so white. Discrimination and racism has not been absent from the equestrian world nor my yoga life. Today a black equestrian posted a picture of her and her horse in a horse group on social media. She hashtagged #BlackLivesMatter and then came the racists. Screaming “white lives matter”, laughing at a black woman being threatened to be lynched and condemning riots and singing all lives matter. I no longer feel safe, because after reporting it the admin attempted to harass me by DM. I cried, because enough is enough. The only place I have ever really felt safe in the equestrian world is wrapped tightly between the amazing people of my barn family. The only places I feel safe in the yoga studio is in classes with teachers I know well and love. What can you do? Call out racism immediately and publicly. Be an ally. Ask questions (which I will gladly answer if you hold space and listen). Share black stories. Support black businesses. And answer the following questions? - when did you have your first black teacher? -Have you ever had a black physician? 🖤✊🏾🖤✊🏾 #equestrianlife #blackequestrian #horsesofinstagram #horsecrazygirls #yogisofcolor #blackyogi #yoga #yogi #horsebackriding

A post shared by Steph Elizabeth (@stephkall) on


The reason the barn and my barn family is safe is because in 10 years I have never ever experienced racism at the barn. It is just not something that would ever be tolerated and that makes me feel safe. I also find my barn family extremely protective of each other and they would never allow racism to happen without calling it out. However, at horse show when you have no idea who is there and what kind of people they are, you never know. It always looms in the back of mind, whether or not the judge will see past the color of my skin, or when I have to smile and nod at a radicalized question or comment.
I was genuinely hurt that very few equestrian organizations, show facilities and equestrian businesses spoke up about racism. I can count the number of them on my hands. When questioned some said, 'I don’t want to get political' and others condemned riots and spewed other uneducated opinions. What this told me is that in the equestrian world, black lives don’t matter, diversity in the sport doesn’t matter, profits over people matters and what doesn’t directly affect them doesn’t matter. It was a sad realization that I always suspected.
View this post on Instagram

Check on your black friends. Ask questions. Take a loud stance in solidarity. Walk along side us. 🖤 When you says “this is not the way to protest” that is hurtful. We have been peacefully protesting for centuries and you didn’t like that either. You didn’t change you behavior, your actions or the systemic oppression. Riots and looting is a direct result of massive build up of oppression and racism for centuries that has now exploded. 🖤 My first encounter with racism that I can remember was when I was 4/5 years old. I was at the playground, playing with other children. They told me I could play castle, but “only if you’re the slave and live in the basement”. At 4 years old I learned that the color of my skin meant I would be subjected to oppression for the rest of my life. 🖤 At 8 years old I was singled out at a birthday party and wasn’t allowed to play “because you’re black”. 🖤 In Sparks and Brownies over night camp the camp leaders favored the blonde kids. Me and the one other child of color was blatantly ignored and ridiculed by adults. Both of us cried to go home. 🖤 When I was a teenager I was blatantly told racism doesn’t exist “no that did not happen to you”. So I stopped speaking and stopped sharing. 🖤 In highschool there was always the assumption that things I owned that were brand name were fake. Because all black peoples live in poverty. I spent most of those years proving the handbags were real and over indulging in luxury to prove normalcy. Then people found out my mom was white, and then it was clear to them why I had nice things. “It’s because her mom is white guys” the Ooohhhhh okay and nod ... 🖤 Lastly the horse world- I don’t know how many times it has been assumed that I am the groom, because of the color of my skin. 🖤 #blacklivesmatter #racialjustice #racialequality #mystory #nojusticenopeace

A post shared by Steph Elizabeth (@stephkall) on

How can this change? The industry needs to be more inclusive. We need to see black riders in equestrian attire ads, we need to see black riders on prize book covers, and we need to normalize the fact that there are black equestrians. We cannot be seen as an anomaly or a spectacle. There need to be anti-racism policies and people need to call out racism loudly. There need to be consequences for racist remarks, jokes, comments or actions and black people need to be involved in this conversation. This sport, which is such a privilege to be part of and so healing, needs to be a safe place for black people, not a place where you could be exposed to racial trauma.

Looking to learn more? Want to know how you can help and support the black community? Stephanie has compiled a number of educational resources on her page. Follow her on Instagram @stephkall. 

Written by Editorial Staff

Brought to you by a pack of horse-crazy creatives across North America... and all of their rescue pets.