Equality within Equestrian Sport


Equestrian sport is a sport that people can be involved in irrespective of age.  The British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) member organisations have individual members from the age of under 5 to over 100. The BEF oversees a number of programmes focussed on specific age groups to promote participation in equestrian sport: School Games; Young Equestrians; Young Equestrian Leaders Award; BEF Talent programmes (Excel programme, Young Professionals, apprenticeships); the BEF World Class Programme, as well as many age related competitions and series across the member bodies. 

Equestrian sport has many top level athletes competing across a wide age range from Nick Skelton  (oldest Olympic Gold medallist for over a century at Rio 2016 at the age of 58); John Whitaker (oldest member of Team GB at Rio 2016) and Anne Dunham (oldest member of ParalympicsGB competing in Rio 2016); to Jessica Mendoza, who at 19 was selected to represent Team GBR at the 2015 European Championships; and para-dressage Izzy Palmer, currently the youngest rider on the World Class Programme, currently aged 16 but joined the programme aged 14. 


Equestrian sport is the only sport where men and women compete on equal terms, with equal prize money and access to all competitions. In terms of participants, equestrian sport is one of the few sports where the majority of participants are female (74% BETA National Equestrian Survey, 2015). 84% of coaches/instructors are female and between 2012 and 2015, 91% of equestrian education courses undertaken were by women. 

Most of the teams at major competitions are mixed, with a couple of recent notable exceptions.  An all-female para-dressage team defended their team title, when they secured Gold at the 2017 European –Championship; in contrast 2017 saw an all-male dressage team compete at the European Championships – the first time for 40-years.

In addition, equestrian sport has women in high profile positions and in receipt of significant awards.

Sophie Christiansen CBE – came 5th, with over 40,000 votes, at the 2016 Sports Personality of the Year 2016, finishing the top female and top Paralympic athlete at these awards.  In 2015 she was awarded a ‘Women of the Future Award.’ This award recognises the most influential women under the age of 35 by the Women of the Future programme – a network for high achieving and high-potential UK businesswomen. Sophie was also nominated for the BT Action Woman Award in 2013, after her success at the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Sophie is also on the Paralympic Legacy Advisory Group for the Cabinet Office and BPA Athletes Commission and Classification Advisory Group

Charlotte Dujardin CBE – the most successful British dressage rider in the history of the sport. Charlotte was the first British dressage rider to simultaneously hold Olympic, World, European and World Cup titles. In 2014 Charlotte was awarded BT Sport’s Action Woman of the Year, The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year and nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award where she finished in fourth position.

Gender assignment

As equestrian sport is not gender segregated, there is no requirement to identify or test for a specific gender for competition at any level.  This makes the competition environment particularly inclusive for transgender athletes. 


Equestrian sport has an incredibly strong record in relation to disability participation and talent.  We know that over 30,000 people over the age of 14 with disabilities participate in equestrian sport in England each week.  Many more under the age of 14 will participate.  The majority of our elite para-equestrian athletes started riding with Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), which currently has over 27,000 participants. The Riding for the Disabled National Championships is the largest event of its kind in the world for riders and drivers with disabilities, bigger than the combined equestrian representation at a Paralympic and Para World championships. 

In addition to the work of the RDA, the BEF has its Accessibility Mark programme that aims to support commercial riding centres to ensure that through training, they have the confidence and ability provide for riders with a range of disabilities. In 2016 RDA, working with British Blind Sport, undertook research and developed resource and training to support and encourage more people with visual impairments into the sport. In 2016 at the BEF’s open weekend event ‘Give Horses a Go’, Park Lane Stables in London had a specific focus on Visually Impaired (VI) riding and attracted people with visual impairments from miles around. The BEF has also worked with EFDS to develop equestrian- specific Sainsbury’s Inclusive Community Training. 

Even though para-dressage is the only recognised para-equestrian sport at the Paralympics, RDA and other BEF member bodies are involved in a wide range of disciplines including para-equestrian driving, para-equestrian jumping, para-vaulting, para-endurance and during 2017, the first British team to compete at a World Para-Reining Championship took the Silver medal out in Ermelo, Holland.

Internationally, Great Britain’s para-dressage team are undefeated at Paralympic, World and European level. Some key examples are:

Natasha Baker MBE - supported by World Class Programme since 2006 (Podium Potential 2006 – 2011, Podium 2011 – present)

  • London 2012: Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade II
  • Rio 2016: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade II

Sophie Wells MBE - supported by the World Class Programme since 2005

  • Beijing 2008: reserve rider
  • London 2012: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Silver Grade IV
  • Rio 2016: Team Gold, Individual Gold and Freestyle Silver Grade IV
  • Sophie is also a UKCC Level 3 coach and saw both her pupils, Izzy Palmer and Natasha Adkinson on the shortlist for the 2017 European Championships
  • Sophie was the first Para Equestrian Dressage rider to compete on both an abled bodied Junior Team and a Para Equestrian Dressage Team in the same year (2010)

Sophie Christiansen CBE - supported by the World Class Programme since 2002

  • 2004 Athens: Individual Bronze Grade Ia
  • 2008 Beijing: Individual, Freestyle, Team Grade Ia
  • 2012 London: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade Ia
  • 2016 Rio: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade Ia
  • Sophie has won over 30 medals for Great Britain and represents Paralympic athletes on the BPA athletes’ commission. She has also campaigned for disability benefits and access to transport.

Sir Lee Pearson CBE – supported by the World Class Programme since 2002

  • 2000 Sydney: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade Ib
  • 2004 Athens: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade Ib
  • 2008 Beijing: Team Gold, Individual and Freestyle Gold Grade Ib
  • 2012 London: Team Gold, Individual Silver and Freestyle Bronze Grade Ib
  • 2016 Rio: Team GB flag bearer for ParalympicsGB, Individual Silver and Freestyle Gold Grade Ib

Sexual Orientation

It has been noted by Dashper, 2012 in the journal Sociology that equestrian sport is ‘shown to offer an unusually tolerant environment for gay men in which heterosexual men of all ages demonstrate low levels of homophobia.’[1]

There are some also high profile equestrians who are openly gay including Lee PearsonBritain’s most successful para-equestrian dressage rider. Lee is openly gay after coming out to his parents at the age of 20. ‘There have been openly gay riders in dressage since the 1980s. The message they sent was that homosexuality was acceptable within the equestrian world.’ (The Daily Telegraph, 2012). Both Carl Hester and Spencer Wilton who competed in the dressage team at Rio 2016 are also openly gay.

Marriage and civil partnerships

There are many riders - married, in civil-partnerships or single, at all levels of the sport, from recreational riders through grassroots to elite level. The demographics of the BEF in 2016, including consultants, showed a diversity of marital status with 53% married, 40% not married or not in a civil partnership, 5% in a civil partnership and 2% did not answer the question. 

Pregnancy and maternity

Zara Phillipscompeted at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy (2014) 7 months after giving birth to her daughter, Mia

Tina Cook, Izzy Taylor, Holly Gillott, Fiona Bigwood and Laura Tomlinson are also examples of World Class Programme supported athletes who have returned to International competition after the birth of their children.

There are many examples of riders at all levels who successfully participate in equestrian sport after having children.  There are a number of riding schools that provide a crèche to support mothers. For example, a riding centre in Surrey offers a free crèche for midweek riders.


The BEF has worked with a number of groups to promote inclusion in equestrian sport.  We have supported and part-funded the work of the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton and continue to support them via their Young Equestrians club.  We also worked with Mudchute Equestrian Centre in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which was able to provide free riding lessons to Bangladeshi women, funded by London Sport.

In 2016 the BEF funded St James’ City Farm to provide additional stabling in Gloucester, allowing more ponies to be stabled on site and providing access to greater numbers of riders. St James City Farm provides subsidised riding lessons to children who would be otherwise unable to afford them, for a diverse group of children and young people from Gloucester. 

We are aware that racial diversity is not an area where equestrian sport is strong and there is more work we can do in this area which we are developing through our work towards the advanced equality standard.  We are aware that if we look at riding centre location, over 96% of riding centres are located in areas with lower than average ethnic diversity. 

Religion or belief

The BEF have linked up the Al Buraq riding club in London, alongside London Sport and Sporting Equals, in order to provide additional support and access to funding opportunities. Al Buraq is a women only riding club run for women who prefer to ride not in the presence of men, or who do this due to religious reasons. 

Radway Riding School in Warwickshire was funded for the construction of an enclosed round pen, which provides a safe and private environment for people to take part in equestrian sport.  One of the courses they have run was tailored to the needs of Muslim women, whereby they are able to attend a women-only session led by a female coach. 

The BEF's Equal Opportunities and Equality Policy can also be found within the governance section here.

[1] Dashper, 2012. Sociology

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