‘You Play Ball Like a Girl’

Devaney Vazquez marvels at the unique phenomenon that is gender equality in equestrian sport.

Eventing awards ceremony at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Eventing awards ceremony at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Usually, a mother finds herself patching up holes in her son’s pants after an eventful day of recess, but my mother had no sons.

She had three girls. Three girls that preferred wearing pants over skirts. Three girls that preferred playing dodgeball with boys over swinging in the playground with girls.

Three girls that grew up loving sports and loving to compete. So, mom had to patch holes in our clothes, too.

I wasn’t like most girls, because most girls can’t stand the smell of a barn or the knots their hair. Most couldn’t handle the grime under their nails or the sweat and dirt everywhere else, but I could. And I loved it.

Which brings me to the movie The Sandlot. The scene where Ham and Phillips go back and forth insulting each other. The one where Ham says, “You play ball like a girl,” and the boys go silent with expressions of shock.

Now, I understand what was said and the context in which it was used. I just never understood why it was such an insult. Some of the boys I went to school with would be lucky if they threw a ball like either one of my sisters or myself.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, I realized as an equestrian I’m beyond fortunate to never experience the insult of “you ride like a girl” or vice versa.

We compete for a sport that knows no gender.

Yes, growing up it was rare to find boys in the barn or competing in hunters, jumpers or any other expertise that didn’t involve a cowboy hat or western saddle. Yet some of the best equestrian trainers and riders in the world are men. All the while, females stand toe-to-toe with them.

I’m sure it wasn’t always like this, but we’re in the year 2015. A time where people celebrate being transgender, gay and everything else under the sun.

Yet in almost every sport in America and around the world there is a men’s champion and women’s champion, distinctly.

But, not in the equestrian world.

How fortunate are we that when we win, no gender label needs to be added to our title.

How fortunate are we that rules aren’t changed and dimensions of a field aren’t altered to level the playing field.

How fortunate are we that the true test of our talent and ability doesn’t depend on which bathroom we choose to use, but solely on our talent and that of our horses.

We are very fortunate.

When we are crowned Champion, it means we beat the best of the best. Not just the best of females, or the best of males – we beat the best of the best. Period.

Read more of Devaney’s writing on her blog, 4Strides.

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