I started posting my riding progress to social media at a fairly young age, starting with just my Facebook friends, those who were close to me. By 15, I had my equestrian-based Tumblr blog and over a thousand followers. With outside views came more negativity. The second people who were complete strangers had any shred of anonymity to share their opinions on me, my horses and my riding, they jumped at the opportunity. It wasn't infrequent to get anonymous messages picking apart the clothes I chose to ride in, whether or not my heels weren't far enough down, if my leg slipped back slightly over a jump. Sometimes these messages went as far as attacking my appearance and other things entirely unrelated to the purposes of my social media. Superficial, materialistic things that in the grand scheme of things do not matter or effect these strangers even slightly.
Now, almost 7 years later, I've amassed even more of a following. I've also improved my knowledge and care of my horses and really changed as a rider. I still get hate. I still get entirely unnecessary, condescending comments. Many focusing on entirely unrelated things, like my appearance, where I get my money from and other things that strangers have no business commenting on. I've also noticed even more how much of an importance people place on superficial things. What you wear to school in some how effects these complete strangers. They say bright colours are unprofessional. That you should always be dressed to impress. All the power to them for doing that for themselves, but why do they care about what people they don't even know wear? Why are these things focused on more than correct care of our beloved horses? Why are people so much more vocal about these things that realistically do not matter? It's a weird sort of superiority complex, people grasping at straws just to find reasons to put someone down and make them feel small.
Another thing that really bothers me is the unrealistic focus on having perfect equitation. Not function at all, but whether or not you fit the picture of perfect equitation, regardless of how green of a horse you're on or what you're trying to do. Forget trying to teach a baby horse correct aids that they don't yet understand (meaning that you have to be "louder" with them), you have to look like you're ready for the Maclay finals at all times to fit in on social media! Also, if your horse ever acts up ever, it's 100% your fault for training incorrectly, causing them pain or riding poorly. Forget the fact that horses are individuals with minds of their own and won't have a robotic level of compliance. Social media disagrees with reality, we promote fake-ness by attacking people for being real. Genuine outlooks on what it's like to train a young horse garner hate because people expect perfection all of the time. It's sad, to say the least.
This superficial, perfectionist approach to horseback riding is concerning. We forget that we all started somewhere. All of us were unable to post the trot at one time. All of us had noisy hands. Yet, people still see fit to attack people for learning. For making mistakes. For being imperfect. Instead of supporting each other, we're cutting each other down for being different. For being more honest. For not being good enough. We've created a place that isn't safe for beginners. For honesty. For mistakes and it's devastating, to say the least. The amount of times I've been contacted by new riders, people who ride infrequently, people who are just pleasure riders and have had them express concern about making a social media account to share their progress. They want to, but they're afraid. Afraid of negativity, of being attacked. So, they opt not to do something that they'd really like to do and it's horrible. I'm ashamed that the horse world has become such a place that people are scared to share photos of their beloved equines and of the sport they're so passionate about.
The focus on equitation and aesthetics over proper care and handling of horses is ridiculous. The fact that people are more concerned whether or not Becky has her heels down over every jump than they are about horses getting starved, deprived of any turnout or handled roughly is absolutely unacceptable. Choose your battles. If you're going to comment on someone's equitation or something that in the grand scheme of things is not the end of the world, do so politely and in a constructive manner. This nastiness and shaming doesn't help anyone. All it does is teach people that they should just avoid sharing their journey in fear of bullying and if they do this, then they aren't getting any constructive advice, period. If you truly are concerned about the welfare of a horse or the safety of a fellow rider, then there's no reason to be rude. Besides, a lot of people would prefer to share the good and bad parts of their riding, the reality. This doesn't mean that they're not aware of what needs improvement or that they aren't seeking professional help. Don't make assumptions. When in doubt, ask and ALWAYS be kind if you want there to be a hope in hell of you making any positive difference in someone's life.
The way I see it is that people view the internet as somewhere they can let all regular social graces dissipate and where they can treat people like absolute garbage. If it's inappropriate in person, it is still inappropriate on social media. You're just less likely to have to face any actual consequences or get the type of backlash you would when people can see exactly who you are. You'll never regret being respectful and kind to others, but negativity and meanness can leave some nasty scars and really hurt people and create huge regrets and guilt for you.
For those of you who've been bullied online in the past or subjected to unnecessarily unkind commentary, don't let it stop you from improving or from sharing your journey. Mean spirited people are out there and they're in higher abundance on the internet because it allows them to express opinions that they're far too cowardly to voice out in the real world. Don't let people who feel crappy about themselves and who, the vast majority of the time, do not have any footage of their own riding prowess make you feel small. They're not worth it.