Meet Anabel Barnett!
Anabel Barnett is currently a sixteen-year-old Junior at Westtown School and is already riding her way to victory as a nationally ranked young rider in the United States.
After riding for about 11 years, Anabel now competes on the A circuit, which is the highest level of competition in the hunter-jumper world. She travels up and down the east coast to compete in the Equitation, which is considered one of the hardest disciplines in the Equestrian world (“...which is why I do it…” she says). In the equitation, Anabel is judged on her position and how easily she can make a course.
“My mom rode when I was younger.,” Anabel explained to me. “and she quit before she went to college and picked it up again after we moved back out to Westchester and I picked it up with her. So after my mom introduced me to it, I started to take lessons in Chester Springs with a woman named Melanie McCartney who is older and very tough. I was a bit afraid of her when I was a kid. But she definitely built up my confidence after two fairly big accidents where I broke both of my arms. She built up my confidence and then I started training with a local show trainer named Jen Berry who built up even more of my confidence and got me in the A circuit when I was still out on a pony. Then, at the end of freshman year, I moved trainers and I began to train with Kevin Babington who is an Irish Olympian. He's the one who helped me find my horse (whose name is Hippa) and who got me started in the Equitation.”
As someone who has never been NEAR a horse, I wanted to learn the dynamics of the riding community and what it is like to be a competitive rider.
“I think people tend to view different sports as either completely one-sided (some sports are only for one gender) or completely equal,” Anabel told me. “and I think riding falls somewhere in between. It gives females a fantastic platform to showcase their athleticism and their entrepreneurship. There are tons Female entrepreneurs in the riding world which is super exciting.”
This was absolutely amazing: too often (in athletics) women are ignored or seen as not as good as men, but, in riding, young women are able to explore their passions and make connections: I was ecstatic. It is rare that I hear about women getting these opportunities, and I was so excited that an entire sport was beginning this trend. However, I later found out that riding does not include everyone.
“Minorities are 100% excluded from the riding world,” Anabel explained. “There's a lot of white people. It is a lot of white wealthy white people and a lot of wealthy white gay men. Maybe some Asian Americans. We will see them once in awhile, but honestly, it is a pretty exclusive just because of what it is based on. It is really hard for me to partake in the sport because it is so exclusive, but it's also something that something that I love dearly.”
As an activist for social justice, Annabel has wrestled with her love of riding versus its exclusion of minorities. Despite riding being an amazing opportunity for women, it has to be acknowledged that it gives amazing opportunities to white women, and often excludes people of color, especially women of color.
I later found out that riding also presents its other challenges to Anabel and many others within the international riding community:
“It is typically very politically conservative, and most of the people who compete are very wealthy, and have the political views aimed to protect that wealth.”
“It is very interesting," Anabel continued. “Coming from a place like Westtown and then having to be next to those people who have those very different opinions. Constantly. And it is a shifting battle. But luckily enough, American Riders, particularly American female Riders, do not face a lot of problems with equality within the sport because there are so many of us. We get chosen to be on teams, we get to go to Europe, that sort of thing. It’s really great...but you see the majority of European riders, for example, the British riding teams, and they are all men…”
Despite its amazing opportunities that American riders, many international riding communities focus on male teams, and push other female teams to the side. And despite the fact that riding is a great outlet for many female riders, it has its challenges against people of lower income or of other minorities.
Being a Girl
In all of my interviews, I like to ask our interviewees when was the first time they realized they were a girl, and I typically get a range of responses, but they all sort of tie back into a larger societal idea that Anabel articulated quite beautifully:
“I always sort of knew I was a girl but the degree of femininity I had I always questioned. I had always questioned, like...what makes me a girl? I was never super feminine ever And I'm still not super feminine. But I really just hated the idea of girliness. I hated skirts and I wouldn't really, until probably 8th grade, ever admit to enjoying clothes and I would never admit to enjoying beauty products and it was very much in my mind I said I would ignore those things because they were weak….”
With almost every young woman I have interviewed, there has been a consistent element of not wanting to be seen as “girly” in early childhood. Almost every young woman whom I have talked to has explained to me or told me a story as to why they did not want to be feminine when they were younger, and it all tied in as seeming WEAK. So many young girls reject the idea of skirts and fashion because it as seen as weak in the eyes of society. Only later, if they are lucky, do girls begin to develop the idea that they should be able to articulate themselves in whichever way feels best for them, and that was Anabel’s main message to younger girls
“Young girls are super cool people. And I want them to express themselves to the fullest extent and to understand that anger gets you very far, but at some point in time, you have to negotiate. That's not always fun or what you want to do, but sometimes you have to communicate with others that you don't want to do something.”
Inspired by self-expression
Written by Sabrina Schoenborn
Transcribed by Sabrina Schoenborn
Photographs courtesy of Anabel Barnett and Sabrina Schoenborn