I have felt angry this week. I felt really angry. An innocent woman laced up her runners and went on a run. She never made it home. Ashling did everything right. She ran in a public area. She ran at a time when there were other people around. We all try to run in public areas. We all try to run at times when there are people around. Most of us are used to putting in our earphones without putting our music on or only using one earphone so that we are still aware of our surroundings. We pick our route based on where we think it is safe to go. We cross the road to avoid people if we doubt them at all. We tell our partners, our family or our friends where we are going and when we should be back. We all try to do everything right. We all like to think we will make it home. We don’t all make it home.
I went out for a hack on the weekend. In recent times, hacks have replaced my runs. I zipped up my boots, tacked up my horse, and lit us both up in fluorescent hi-vis rugs and tabards. I went on a pretty busy route, one that passed by lots of houses and ended up on a popular forestry path. It is a route I know well but nevertheless, I told my family where I was going and I brought my phone with me, just in case. When I got home, the first thing I did was tell my family I was home and that as usual, my horse was wonderfully behaved. She battled a helicopter flying overhead, birds in the ditches, cars driving dangerously past her and dogs barking furiously from within their gardens. With the roads being that hectic, it is only normal to take those safety measures.
These generalized things like high vis, helmets and back protectors aren’t the only safety measures we women make on a daily basis. Our life is spent analysing the safety of everything. I am aware of what I wear, who I speak to and what is happening around me. I walk with my keys in my hand, even though I know that doesn’t make much of a difference if I get attacked. I wear flat shoes, even though heels make me feel far more confident. I can’t leave a drink unattended. We all go to nightclub bathrooms in groups. We make sure no one is left on their own. Every single woman who has read these words, has added to my list and has likely judged it remarkably short, even as an example. I find it so difficult to even put this into words because so much of it is normalized. When women are attacked, the first questions asked are what was she wearing, how much did she have to drink, did she go out of her way to avoid it. The first questions that should be asked are why did the perpetrators choose to attack, what made them think what they were doing was ok?
My horses have always been where I feel safe. My horse takes me at my worth, not the worth of the men around me. Every girl has, at some point, told someone that they have a boyfriend to get rid of unwanted attention or had someone joke that no man will be brave enough to upset them with the size of their Dad, brother or uncle. This sentiment has never sat easily with me – the idea that I’m not respected based on me, I am respected because of the men that are around me. For some reason, it has become accepted that a man’s voice holds more power. I am fortunate though, that I have some of the best of men around me. I have men who will interrupt others to allow me to finish my point. I have men who will call out uncomfortable behaviour and who will raise their sons to be kind, respectful men.
Between 1996 and 2020, 236 women have been violently killed. That number has recently gone up again. Every single one of those women are sisters, daughters, and friends. They have stories to tell and lives left unlived.
The equine community is majority female. For so many of us, our time with our horses is our time away from the rest of the world. It is our opportunity to feel loved, to feel powerful and empowered, and most importantly to feel and be safe. We need to make sure that we are facilitating that for the women and girls around us. We need to make sure that the equine community feels safe for women and girls everywhere. We need to proactively call out behaviour that makes people uncomfortable. We need to hold people accountable for their actions and we need to make sure that women are protected and valued. For us, the stables are home. We just want to make it home.