Letter From The Editor, Re-Published from the Fall Issue of The Carolinas Equestrian

By Jennifer Barker 

With a camera slung over my shoulder and a stack of magazines in my arms, I had stopped to chat with a group of friends at a horse show recently, when I overheard a young rider whisper to her mother; “Is that Jen Barker?” 

I spun around at the sound of my name. “Yes! Do you want my autograph? Am I FAMOUS?” I feigned. 

“Uh huh,” the little girl giggled. “You’re like Usher.”

Initially, I was beyond excited at my apparent celebrity status and I made a mental note to keep a Sharpie in my camera bag in case an actual autograph request came up in the future. But upon further analyzation, I discovered that Usher’s music career has been on a downhill slide for the last decade or so and he’s actually a few years older than me. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that the Usher reference was even a compliment. And now I’m quite sure that I am NOT famous. 

But famous or not, I have a platform and a voice that is perhaps a little louder than others, thanks to these pages. Over the last several weeks, I have struggled with whether or not to use my platform to address what seems to be the biggest controversy equestrian sports have ever faced; Safe Sport. Without committing either way, I asked my friend and colleague Caroline Foto to write a piece for the “In Their Own Words” section of the magazine, and I encouraged her to branch out from our traditional format and write an editorial piece. She chose to address the challenges she’s facing as a trainer due to the Safe Sport regulations, and the decision was made for me. 

If you haven’t heard of SafeSport yet, give it a Google. It has taken over message boards and social media pages. The New York Times, USA Today and a slew of other media outlets have covered this polarizing topic. 

But the thing is, it’s not polarizing at all. The majority of parents, politicians and equine professionals have the same end goal and that is to provide a safe environment where young athletes can learn, grow in character, improve as riders and enjoy the animals that bond us all together. Safe Sport is not parents versus horse trainers, it is not horse trainers versus politicians, and it is not one governing body versus its membership. It is good versus evil and as flawed as it is, SafeSport is on the side of good. 

SafeSport needs an overhaul. The current guidelines are stifling to good equine professionals, absurd to most parents and confusing to most young riders. The SafesSport process is murky at best and that in itself has opened it up to massive amounts of criticism, because after all, how are we to know who is actually on the side of good and who is on the side of evil when all the pertinent information is locked away. 

The majority of the members of this community are on the same side. Let’s not waste time bickering amongst ourselves, let’s take steps to understand and reform SafeSport. And above all, let’s remember who the enemy is.