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ICYMI – Horse Show Cyber-Bullying Only Hurts Our Industry

Editor’s Note: This article about cyber-bullying was written in 2014, but unfortunately, the issue is even more relevant today. In the five years since this article was written, the social media attacks on some individuals seem to have gotten worse. It would be wise for the horse industry to take a second look at this article and remind ourselves that we are all in this together.

A few days ago, I was inspired to write something, unlike any story I’ve done before. Unfortunately, as I sit down to type, I can only think of our horse community and how disappointed I am. Often, I see heartwarming outreach in times of need. Other days, I feel our community mirrors scenes from the movie, “Mean Girls.” There is strength in this community that I think only we understand, and yet, some times, there is an undercurrent of criticism, jealousy, fear, and hate.

With every word about horses and horse people that is said publicly, whether on Facebook, in a chat room or any place online, we give the public an opportunity to respond – positively and negatively – to successes, concerns, challenges, and sometimes, unknowingly, controversies.

I get so disappointed when we tear each other down. Have you watched someone lope down the arena and comment to a friend about the way the horse is going, or snickered at someone wearing an out of style hat? I know I have and shame on me! We all have our ideals about horses, their movement, their care, and training methods.

Balanced by rules and guidelines set forth by governing associations, we strive for a collective ideal. Sometimes, we get off track or too focused on an effort to win and be the best. A voice comes up from the public, and it is evaluated through specific processes and committees. Then, the education of judges and the public take hold to sway or tilt the industry, but this process of change takes a long time.

Along the way, I see time after time people and horses being judged in the harshest of methods supported by the cruelest of comments by other horse people. Why do we tear down our own? Maybe it’s because social media makes it so easy to do, hidden behind a profile picture and a keyboard–we feel safe lashing out comments that we would never say to someone’s face.

A few days ago, I was surprised to see a Facebook post by AQHA professional trainer Reid Thomas defending a youth exhibitor’s horse, whose photo was posted by an unrelated person on a private Facebook group, “Show Ring Shame.” The commenters remarked that the exhibitor’s horse was, “Over in the Knees and Posted legged”.

While I didn’t appreciate the original poster explicitly naming the youth exhibitor, the response at least correctly used common horse industry terms. The comments that followed that post are what inspired me to write this very story. “OMG that poor horse is a freak of nature!! It’s about fashion over function…disgusting.”

Thomas shared his thoughts about this instance of horse show cyber-bullying. “Social media has opened the door for a larger audience of horse enthusiast, backyard owner, and beyond to have some voice,” Reid told me. “This makes what we do go under often an ignorant and uneducated fine-toothed comb if you will. It’s about our people and our horses enjoying the process, but there comes a time when you have to at least respond to the chaos. I admit, never being able to prevent it…just having a voice.”

Thomas is very accurate in his observation. We cannot prevent it, but we need to be very careful. When we make negative comments about other horses and horse people in the cyber-sphere, we give uneducated and potentially dangerous audiences the wrong kind of fodder. There are opportunities to protect the mistreatment of horses, but many times outsiders of all disciplines don’t seem to understand head carriage, collection, color, breeding, tack, equipment, etc. If we don’t watch what we say, we could easily find ourselves in a completely different place in the horse world. Instead of defending head carriages, a horse’s winning conformation and helmet rules, we will be supporting the right even to show our horses.

I see horse owners, no matter their discipline or their style, as an asset to the worldwide horse industry – they are buying feed, hoof picks, saddles and creating a financial impact that no one can ignore. The American Horse Council conducted an economic study to see the effect of the horse industry. With 9.2 million horses in the United States and 4.6 million Americans involved in the industry, collectively the industry has a 102 billion dollar impact on the U.S. economy. Just as a citizen and a horse lover, I don’t want to damage that progress or impact.

Continued education, awareness, and protection of our horses should be the most critical concern for all of us. Beating each other down in the process only slows our progress.

So before your fingers start typing a harsh comment about another horse or horse person, consider the fact that we are all in this together, no matter what kind of saddle we throw our leg over.