BY IZZY BAKER
I have always had a deep connection with animals—especially horses. Their emotions are palpable. Their love is pure, and their energy calms me.
When I walk into the barn in the early hours of the day, it’s quiet and peaceful. My horse nickers at me, and I feel centered. When I’m riding I’m focused. All that matters is my horse, how he feels, and what he wants and needs. The barn is truly my escape, my place to reflect on problems and stress going on in my life. I spend much of my free time there grooming five days a week, and even more in show season. Until 2017, this equestrian world felt like a utopia for me. My community with riders, trainers, and groomers all working together—bonded by our love for horses.
It all changed in the summer of 2017 in Canada at a show. I turned the corner of the arena and spotted the oxer down the line. I could feel my horse suddenly back off from the jump, and reacted with an aggressive kick to get him moving. He responded with a stunning jump into the 5 stride line. I lifted my eyes for a second to see my trainer at the end of the arena and all my friends, watching as I canter fast down to the oxer. Suddenly, I felt my horse’s front legs stop short and his head flies between his knees. Before I knew it, I had done a complete 360, landing back-first onto the set of poles on the ground. I looked up to see my horse’s bridle hanging off his face as he stood there in disbelief.
I was still on the ground, and said nothing until a scream escaped my lungs. Everywhere I went I heard furtive whispers, “Did you see that girl fall in Hunter 2?” The fall had left me not only with a lack of trust for my horse and a hesitance to ride again, but also with a spinal injury and a seemingly endless road to recovery.
I initially chose to keep the details of my injury private, sharing only that “I was taking a break.” When the broader equestrian community noticed my absence on social media and at horse shows, I started receiving accusatory and hateful comments. In one case, a parent posted, “How could a privileged kid who’s been given so many wonderful opportunities and gotten to ride so many amazing horses just decide to ‘take a break’ […] This is ridiculous, people would die to have her opportunities.” My heart was already hollow from not riding or being at the barn and these hurtful words were the breaking point for me.
Trainers and riders I knew, quickly rallied behind me, sending kind messages and commenting on her post. I was lucky—not everyone has this kind of support. I polled my Instagram followers to see if others had experienced bullying in the community and the responses were shocking: almost every one of my followers had experienced bullying of some form.
This pervasive issue in our community went unnoticed. Victims were not comfortable sharing their stories, and I knew that I had to be the catalyst for change. I reached out to ask about their experiences, and created an Instagram video to raise awareness and inspire change. It went viral. Well known professionals in the sport—people who I never believed would have been bullied—contacted me and shared their stories. So many people wanted to join me in taking action that I knew this could grow and have long-reaching impacts.
I founded a movement, “The Kindness Movement,” a non-profit community organization and social media outlet that promotes kindness and stands up to bullying in the equestrian community.
Word spread quickly about The Kindness Movement (TKM), and over the last year it has grown to include over 4,000 active members from all over the US and Canada. 30 equestrian ambassadors promote TKM and its values to support those who have been the victims of bullying. We’ve been able to sponsor sportsmanship awards at some of the biggest horse shows to recognize what really matters—personal improvement, team spirit, and being a supportive and helpful teammate.
There has been a noticeable change in the community since the founding of TKM. I have seen a drastic decrease in bullying. In addition, I have witnessed people supporting one another and have received numerous requests for Kind Cards to pass around at horse shows. The community has gathered together to become a kinder place – a place where people feel empowered to speak up.
Just like the safe place I’ve always felt I had at the barn, we finally have a safe place for the equestrian community to stay connected and feel supported in pursuing their love of horses and riding.
Izzy Baker is from Portland, Oregon but has spent time in the equitation rings on both coasts. She has her sights set on Medal Finals 2020, but while unable to show during Quarantine 2020 spends her time focusing on her horse cookie business, Hipster’s Horse Treats and practicing pronouncing her horse Kan’s show name Dzsingisz Kan.