Let’s talk about something uncomfortable, something that many people have the bliss of ignoring until it ends up affecting them or someone who they care for. Let’s talk about the culture of bullying in the horse world, something that affects riders of all backgrounds, ages and disciplines. Then, let’s also talk about the different path that minorities walk in the horse world. A path that leads them to being discriminated for things they have no control over. For being mistreated for simply being who they are. Something that most of us are fortunate to never have to experience. This isn’t to say that those who fall into the majority groups in society do not experience any sort of hardship but more so that said hardships will not be in relation to the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation or gender identity or a disability.
A little known fact about me is that my biological father is black. I was born with pale skin and because of this have been fortunate to never experience racism directed at me simply because of the fact that I am white passing. I have, however, seen racism directed at the people of colour within my family and have watched other members of the horse world be discriminated against. I cannot even begin to say that I even remotely understand what it is like. I cannot even begin to claim that I understand what it feels like to have veiled racist comments directed at me or to miss out on opportunities solely because the people with the ability to give out said opportunities are living in the stone ages. I don’t get it. But I want to. I want to use my platform for good. I want to be able to speak out on things that other members of the horse world may not be able to in fear of backlash. In fear of how it’ll be received. So, let’s talk.
I’ve been on social media a long time and have to say that largely, bullying is not taken overly seriously. May it be online or in barns, I’ve personally seen it ignored on numerous occasions. It oftentimes seems that it has to get to the point where the victim is in serious jeopardy and considering harming themselves before suddenly people clue in and be like “Oh, wait, this is unacceptable.” Now, when those in charge cannot relate to the problems minorities experience, the time period for them to snap out of this daze and take it seriously seems to take even longer. I’ve seen people excuse discriminatory remarks on the basis of “Oh, they’re just joking” or “Oh, you weren’t meant to see it, it was meant to be private” as though that some how excuses the fact that people were being decidedly derogatory to a certain group of people and deliberately putting them down because of an aspect of who they are as a person over which they have no control. Frankly, this is complete and utter bull shit. We need to stop excusing intolerance and take it seriously no matter how small the audience. Even if a friend makes a hateful remark just to you, it speaks volumes about who they are as a person and what their views are. This type of mindset could be shut down right there before it is ever voiced to a larger crowd.
I think the biggest contributor to these types of hateful behaviours being excused is that those excusing said behaviour are often not affected by it. It is easy to say something isn’t a big deal or that someone shouldn’t take it to heart when such negativity is never directed at you. Most of us go about life never having to worry about being who we are. We can love who we love, be who we are, all without worrying about being targeted because of it. Others are not so lucky and while we may not be able to understand the paths they walk in life, we need to be sensitive enough to be there as a support group and shut down certain attitudes that we have allowed to continue for far too long in the horse world.
This is a call out post for any of you who have friends that may participate in bullying or discrimination. For any companies who have employees, ambassadors or sponsors who do this. We need to stop justifying these behaviours. We need to be better. This isn’t to say that we should be unaccepting of people’s ability to change when they make a mistake but that we shouldn’t downplay the severity of said “mistakes” or ignore when there is a pattern of behaviour that alludes to it being more than a mere lapse in thinking. By adopting a zero tolerance policy for cyber bullying, racist commentary, homophobia/transphobia and ableism, we make it uncomfortable for those with intolerant mindsets to openly share their hate speech. And uncomfortable they should be. Frankly, it is not our place to make people feel small for being different than whatever we personally believe to be a societal norm.
Now, onto the cyber bullying aspect of the horse world. This includes hate groups, posts in bad taste and more. I experienced this at an absolute peak in high school where I was relentlessly bullied by one individual in particular and, to be honest, despite the severity of such bullying and the number of people targeted by said person, it was never really taken seriously. We merely lucked out that no one was pushed to self harming or suicide but if it had gone that far, I can guarantee the tone of those in charge and with the ability to make change would change in the blink of an eye. So, why, are we so complacent prior to it getting to that point? Does someone need to be outwardly exhibiting signs of emotional agony before we decide that the bullying is ongoing long enough to be taken seriously? It really shouldn’t come to that. In other scenarios, in the past, I’m sure that I’ve been the bully as well. We have all said and done things we regret, but how seriously we take them and how remorseful we choose to be is what makes the difference. An apology is moot if it isn’t followed by a change in behaviour.
As a bystander, it can be uncomfortable to speak out but if you sit and watch people go on a tear and go out of their way to hurt and demean people, you are almost as responsible as the bully themselves. By standing by and listening to your friends be bullies, you are silently agreeing with them, reaffirming their opinions and making them feel comfortable in acting in the manner that they do. It can be hard to break free, especially when peer pressure is so strong. But, I think it is imperative that we remind ourselves how serious the consequences of mistreating others can be. I don’t believe that most people online and in the real world offline are out to destroy the lives of others or hurt those they speak ill of. I feel that most bullies would feel immense guilt if they bullied someone to their suicide, but hindsight is 20/20. We need to learn how to check ourselves and take a step back before ever getting close to ruining someone’s life. Humans by nature will say and do mean things at times but if it becomes a pattern of behaviour we condone in ourselves and others, it becomes a huge problem.
Speak out. Don’t be afraid to shutdown bullying when you see it. If we make a habit of calling out oppression when we see it and break free of the mob mentality, we make it a lot harder for those doing the bullying to do it comfortably. To believe it’s okay. We can make the horse world a safer place for children and adults alike. We can become more inclusive. The only thing stopping us from doing so is the insistence that this is “just the way the horse world is” or “it’s the internet, what do you expect?” because complacency is what provides bullies strength. Complacency allows those in the wrong to be free in continuing their actions. Complacency is harmful. We all need to do better, before it’s too late.