BY CALI CYBULSKI
All sports have their share of lousy sportsmanship, including the equestrian world. That said, there are so many good people and positive attributes in the horse community, it’s worth taking a closer look at how we can all work to stay on a more positive track.
A little about me: I began riding around the age of seven, and I loved it. While taking lessons, I met many amazing people—many of whom I am still friends with today. Being around the barn and these animals for the past 12 years has helped me to develop valuable skills that I have used in my life outside of horses, as well. I have gained instincts that help me in everyday situations, and my life would be a lot different if I didn’t have horses in it.
Although I’ve never been in a position to own my own horse, there are so many special horses that have meant a lot to me over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to wonderful school horses that my trainers and barn owners have been gracious enough to let me ride. Unfortunately, in my own experience, I’ve found that I am occasionally treated differently by other riders because I do not have a horse of my own. I have seen this happen both in-person and on social media. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve found it takes away from my time and enjoyment of the sport.
This is one of the reasons—and I’m ashamed to admit it—but I, too, have been guilty of getting sucked into barn drama in the past. While it’s natural to want to know what’s going on, or who said what about who, I’ve found that getting involved in drama and gossip are bad for my mental health. More than that, I don’t ever want to intentionally (or unintentionally) hurt someone else’s feelings.
Here are three common scenarios and three ways I’ve found to continue being a part of my barn community while rising above the negativity.
Remove Yourself From Temptation
When I’m in the position where a friend or fellow rider is telling me gossip or sharing a rumor they heard about someone else we know, I’ll do two things. First, I acknowledge that they are speaking to me (I don’t want to come off as rude!) but I’m quick to respond that I haven’t heard of the situation. Then, I’ll start to walk away and say politely that I have something else I need to do. It’s a better idea not to engage, rather than stating your opinion and running the risk of having your words twisted, or finding out later that the other person shared what you said in confidence behind your back.
Ponder Before You Post
There’s no way to avoid it, social media can be a really harmful place. I’ve found that cyberbullying in the horse community is alive and well, mostly on Instagram and in various Facebook groups. A common scenario: 13,14, or 15-year-olds arguing in the comments section of an Instagram post about whose horse is better, or whose equitation could be improved, etc. In the past, I’ve been a part of these threads, and I’m not proud of it. Not only is it unproductive to fight over little things you won’t remember a week later, but your (public) comments can remain long after you’ve forgotten about them. Aside from the fact you could hurt someone’s feelings or regret what you said at a later date, there’s no reason for you to force your opinions on other people that didn’t ask for them. Why waste everyone’s time?
Take a Walk in Someone Else’s Tall Boots
Horse shows are often considered the most important thing in our sport, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Speaking for myself, I get anxious at shows; I worry about how expensive they are, and I feel like I’m always being judged, even when I’m not riding in an actual class. I was the kid who was grateful just to participate, and I was there to have a fun time and enjoy my horse. While competition is a natural part of these events, let’s agree that constantly trying to one-up each other should be something that’s left in the ring. Maybe one rider is wearing $200 riding pants, while another has on a pair from Amazon because that’s all he or she can afford. We need to walk in each other’s tall boots and remember what’s really important. On the surface, everyone may be trying to win that 40-cent ribbon, but underneath, we all have our own reasons for being there. Whether you’re winning or losing, remember to keep fun in mind so everyone can enjoy their time.
There’s no doubt about it, the equestrian community can be toxic at times, so let’s choose to focus on the positives. Being able to ride these animals is a privilege, and not many people can do it. It’s time we start thinking about the horses, and what really matters.
Cali is a passionate writer who hopes to educate and the equestrians community about the toxicity that goes on in the horse world and ways to help end it. She speaks out to make the equestrian community a more enjoyable place and spends her spare time, making music, and riding when possible. Follow on instagram for more: @cali.alexaa