‘We need to talk about labelling,’ says Phoebe Buckley in response to ‘Bradford pony’ furore

29 March 2016
‘We need to talk about labelling,’ says Phoebe Buckley in response to ‘Bradford pony’ furore

The Travellers Times was made aware over the bank holiday weekend of a social media storm that had erupted around a picture of a starving pony that had been seized by the RSPCA from a Traveller site near Bradford. The incident had also been used by a local MP to label all Gypsies and Travellers in the UK as being cruel to animals. He said that ‘we need to talk about Gypsies and Horses’. After checking our sources – we phoned the RSPCA and conformed that the horse had indeed been seized –  and then we contacted champion 'Eventer' (who represented Great Britain at European level), horse trainer and stable owner Phoebe Buckley, who is also a Gypsy. We asked her to do exactly that what the MP asked – that is talk about Gypsies and Horses. She wrote this blog especially for The Travellers Times. Her blog can be cut and pasted and inserted into any racist threads about Gypsies and Travellers that appear on horse related social media forums like Facebook. So thank you from our readers Phoebe, and Dianne and Leann – this one is for you and all the other brave people out there battling away on the social media forums, sticking up for Gypsy and Travellers right to not be judged by the actions of others.

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Hello. My name Phoebe Buckley and I want to talk about labelling and prejudice and two maltreated horses– one is a certain starving horse that was found by the RSPCA on a Traveller site near Bradford and which is receiving lots of attention in the press and in Parliament and the other is an equally maltreated horse that isn’t receiving any attention in the press and in Parliament.

If you Google my name, one of the first the first things that will pop up is an article written by the BBC about me, and my career and how I am 'breaking away from my roots'.  My ‘roots' are those of a Romany Gypsy – I am a Romany Gypsy -  and my career is riding and competing horses in the sport of eventing at which I have been very successful, representing the UK in Europe . I also train and keep thoroughbred horses at my stables.

“My father’s love and passion for his cobs rivals any love or passion that I have for the wonderful horses that carry me to success competing”

Now a love for horses has been in my family for generations, but of course I ride and compete a very different type of horse than my father, who has had hairy cobs for as long as I can remember. The horses I compete are taller, finer in build and faster!! I live, breath and love my horses, but believe me when I say my father’s love and passion for his cobs rivals any love or passion that I have for the wonderful horses that carry me to success competing.

Because of my career and the non-Gypsy people I found myself mixing with, until very recently I had not encountered anyone who judged me because of my 'roots.'   People liked me (or not!) for my straight-talking no-nonsense approach to life and respected me because they believed I could ride a horse well.

However a couple of years ago whilst living and working away I was made aware of my parents’ struggle with their local council. This was an issue my parents didn't want to tell me about as they didn't want to worry me, so you can image the shock I had when I found out that after 30 years of living very happily in our village, the council were trying to get my parents removed from their land. The reason? Because they are Gypsies. It’s as simple as that. My parents have been labelled as trouble and a drain on the local services because they are Gypsies and this is despite the fact my parents pay their taxes and have never ever had so much as a single complaint made against them by their neighbours in the village. Craziness!

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Now that is a very long story I won't bore you with and it isn't the point of this blog, but because of the fight I am having on behalf of my parents with very influential councillors who I believe are at the bottom of all the trouble being caused to may parents, I have been made much more 'aware' of just how OK it is to publically label Gypsies or Travellers as thieves and/or trouble-makers when the people doing the labelling very rarely have any actual proof the Gypsies or Travellers have done anything wrong. Discrimination and prejudice because of people’s ethnic identity is both wrong and illegal – but his type of discrimination against Gypsy and Travellers is a seen as far more acceptable by far too many powerful people. That, trust me is a fact! Here are little examples for you to think about and compare:

“Over the last week or so I have watched two cases of cruelty to horses unravel on social media”

Over the last week or so I have watched two cases of cruelty to horses unravel on social media. It goes without saying that any cases of cruelty are hard to swallow, but because of my every day involvement with horses, I find cases involving horse mistreatment especially hard.

Example one involves an ex-racehorse that was photographed at a fun ride. This poor horse was so thin you could see every single bone in its body. I personally have never ever seen a living horse thinner than that poor horse, and to make matters worse, the girl riding the horse on the fun ride had put a rug on him to cover up his most of his body whilst he was being ridden. This was of course to cover up the fact all his ribs and spine were clearly visible. However someone had managed to take a photo of the poor horse after his tack was taken off at the end of the ride, and that photo will haunt me forever. In many of the posts about this horse some people made rude and unnecessary comments about the rider’s weight, which were quite rightly removed. After all, what does this person’s weight has nothing to do with the fact she has clearly mistreated her poor horse, a horse that depended on her to look after him?  After all not all people of a certain weight starve their horses, do they?

Case two involves a weak, small, awful looking yearling who was photographed with a bit in his mouth and roller on him, he was in a very bare paddock with his 'tack' left on overnight and with no water or food in sight. The horse had just been seized by the RSPCA from a Traveller site near Bradford. To say that this little chap looked a mess would be an understatement and my heart broke for him. Just as in the social media posts about the ex-racehorse (both posts are on the same social media site), many people were attacking the people who inflicted the mistreatment to this poor little horse. But the reaction was very different and I did not see a single comment or post removed because of what was said about this person. This person just happened to be a Gypsy.

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There were also some people standing up for people from the Gypsy community on this particular post and saying that not all Gypsies mistreat animals etc... Who knew?!? Such is the acceptable face of the prejudice against Gypsies that this has to be pointed out. It did not, however, stop the abuse against all Gypsies on the post.

Was I shocked by how much hate the entire Gypsy race was getting because of the actions of a few members of their community? No, not at all, because if you are a Gypsy you will get labelled. Fact. It is so acceptable to publicly slate Gypsies even an MP – Phillip Davies, the MP for Shipley - got involved and went on to repeat the racist generalisations in Parliament! Try and image this; if a MP were to get up in Parliament and say that all Black people deal drugs and the police can't touch them because they are Black and will play the race card. There would be uproar and rightly so, BUT WITH Gypsies and Travellers it’s acceptable.

“I believe your roots or heritage or ‘race’ does not define how you treat people or animals, just as how you treat people or animals does not define your roots or heritage”

Here's an idea. If people (MP's, police and the RSPCA included) don't want these 'people' to 'play the race card’, how about not bringing up their ‘race’ in the first place? What has it got to do with anything? If you don't use the fact they happen to be Gypsies against them, then they can't use it against you, can they? I believe your roots or heritage or ‘race’ does not define how you treat people or animals, just as how you treat people or animals does not define your roots or heritage. You are either a good, decent or kind person, or you are not. The people involved in these two cases are not. Fact. These people’s weight, background, upbringing, ‘race’ or religion has not made them act cruel. They did that all on their own. Fact.

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It took years for my father to get his head around why I would clip all my horses’ hair off to then rug them up, or why I would make my horses go out in paddocks on their own. My father would say ‘what about if they get an itch and can't itch it because they are wearing all those rugs and have no horses to groom them? Your horses aren't leading a natural life'.  Can I disagree with my father? Of course not because he is right in his own way, but I am doing my best for my horses. Just as my father does for his. I may not agree with all the things he does with his ponies, but I have to admit they all look very well and are loved.

Last winter my father had a pony he was struggling to keep weight on, so I got the pony’s teeth done for my father and it made all the difference. Fact is lots of Gypsies have said to me that they would love to turn to non-Gypsy people to help them with either feeding or the fact they have too many horses etc, but they know if they do they will more than likely be judged. My community is very much in a chicken before egg dilemma, whatever they do is probably going to be seen as wrong, because they are being judged and labelled by actions of the 'wrong-uns'.

Just think what might have happened, if my Dad didn't have me to sort his the pony’s teeth out. My Dad genuinely didn't know that a ponies teeth could cause such weight-loss or who to contact to get it sorted, my Dad’s much loved pony would have been one of those light of condition coloured ponies people post about on social media as being neglected, when actually the pony may well be owned by a man who loves his animals, needs help, but is scared to get non-Gypsies involved in his animals welfare because he will be labelled, just as has been all his life. Even when he has done nothing wrong.

“The Gypsy community I know, love their animals and are open minded about how to do the best thing by them”

I remember years ago having a heated discussion with a member of my Gypsy community who raced trotters - the ponies that race flat-out in light weight carts. I started going on about the strain on their joints etc and he came back with the fact I am heavily involved with racing and that they racehorses at two years old. He asked me ‘what’s the difference?’ His ponies were all properly fit, were fully clipped out and looked a million dollars, they also raced on proper tracks and not illegally on roads. In that moment I realised I was ill-educated about my community and what they did with their animals and how they treated them, and that I was guilty of labelling my own community because of a video of horrid illegal road racing I had seen on social media! From that point I made myself listen, watch and learn from other Gypsies and Travellers because, although they do stuff I maybe wouldn't do with my horses (just as lots of no-Gypsy people I compete with do), they are trying to do right by their horses and I have genuinely learnt stuff about the handling and welfare of horses and donkeys that I didn’t know before - as they have from me. I have been asked more than once to break ponies in or help get them going. This is because the Gypsy community I know, love their animals and are open minded about how to do the best thing by them.

In every walk of life there is good and bad, yet sadly when it comes to the Gypsies and Travellers it is deemed acceptable to judge a whole community of people because of the actions of a few bad-eggs.

So next time you go to judge or comment on something regarding any ethnic community before you know that person or a community beyond some ill-informed words or posts on social media, try and think about how you would you feel if because of some cruel actions of someone who lives in the same street or even town as you, has the same job as you, or even the same colour hair as you, had the world openly judging you without even knowing you?

It’s an old saying but a true one - treat people as you would want to be treated - It's something I've learnt to do the hard way.

I promise I won't judge you because of the racist and closed minded views of a few people from your community if you can promise not to judge me on the actions of a few people from mine.

Until next time.

P x

See more of Phoebe’s writing by following this link to her own blog: https://phoebebuckleyblogs.wordpress.com/