Our Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit is almost upon us! I can hardly believe how quickly that has come together. From talking to Elizabeth McCorvey one day about how often we were the only people of color presenting at industry conferences, to deciding that we would take the plunge to create this summit, and pulling together a line-up of presenters, I feel as if I’ve been swept along on a wave of enthusiasm and excitement for this event. What began as a one day live gathering soon extended to providing attendees the option to immerse further into the experience with pre-recorded presentations and conversations with industry leaders.

When Elizabeth and I first talked about creating this summit, our motivation came from a desire to highlight practitioners of color in the field who are doing some incredible work in their communities. Our hope is that by increasing representation, we can encourage a new generation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to enter into the field. We also wanted to support people in the equine industry who want to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in their barns and programs to find creative strategies to move forward. Most importantly, we want to help challenge, change, and create organizations to be more welcoming of difference. Our hope is that by offering a space where people can come together to listen with curiosity about each other’s experiences, we can begin to dismantle systems of oppression and build a more diverse and equitable industry.

We are aware that for many people, talking about racism and systemic oppression is uncomfortable. We also know that we need to have these difficult conversations in order to find a way forward. Part of being an ally for diversity, equity, and inclusion is about taking a stand to say that we believe that this issue is important, and that we’ll fight alongside those who feel oppressed. That’s risky and vulnerable to put yourself in a position where you might stand out from others. For organizational leaders who are willing to take that risk, it may result in criticism from their members, staff, and/or potential customers. It’s about choosing courage and integrity over comfort and status quo. It’s about leading from the heart and not the bottom line and standing strong in the face of resistance.

For these reasons, we want to recognize the risks that our sponsors have taken to be visible allies in our quest for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We are so grateful for the support and hope that your leadership will encourage those within your organizations to embrace the call to action to challenge, change, and create organizations with DEI in mind.

Thank you, to Kathy Alm and PATH International for embracing change. In addition to taking part in the Industry Leaders Panel Discussion and continuing a conversation with me about the challenges of navigating change as part of the summit, Kathy has spearheaded an organization wide effort to address DEI issues. From the Board of Trustees and Staff development, to creating a Diversity working group, she is modeling what it means to be an ally through her commitment to dismantling systemic racism in the industry.

We are excited that State Line Tack took the initiative through their Diversity Equestrian Project to highlight people of color in the equine industry, and for promoting our summit through their network. When corporations stand up to become visible allies through actions like these, it gives hope for those of us on the front lines of activism that things can change. With State Line Tack standing up and taking the lead, we are beginning to see other organizations within the equine industry embracing the message too. This, in turn, makes it safer for us to speak out and engage in these difficult conversations.

When I first launched The HERD Institute®, I was clear in my mission that our community would be one that fostered a spirit of abundance, acknowledging that there are many ways of working with horses in psychotherapy and learning settings, and that not “one-size-fits-all”. I have intentionally collaborated with other training providers over the years, and nurtured relationships around the world, knowing that our mutual support is essential for the industry. As a result, I am thrilled that Bettina Shultz and Natural Lifemanship have made a donation towards sponsoring the summit and have also generously provided some bonus materials for our attendees. These bonus recordings are from Natural Lifemanship’s Interconnected 2020 virtual summit and offer an embodied perspective of racism, implicit bias, and racialized trauma.

I’m also grateful to my friends, new and old, who have supported this project through their visible allyship. Elisabeth Crabtree of A Stable Connection, Dr. Anastasia Curwood and Sally Spickard from Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE), and Dr. Louis Hoffman at University Professors Press, who have all put their weight behind this project in different ways. Your continued support means more than you know.

So, it is with giddy excitement and gratitude that I invite you to join us for the Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit next Saturday, February 6, 2021. You can find out more and register here. In addition to the LIVE sessions, there are over 20 hours of pre-recorded presentations and conversations, as well as bonus materials for those who want to dig deeper. Join us to stand up, stand out, and stand strong for a more inclusive world.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Veronica Lac
Executive Director