Ignore the Hecklers, Be the Dictator of Your Own Journey

My Arabian, Farley and I after moving barns. I used to think riding without a helmet was cool, now I think not having brain damage is cool.

My Arabian, Farley and I after moving barns. I used to think riding without a helmet was cool, now I think not having brain damage is cool.

Around 8 years ago, I was an insecure 15 year old trying to find my place in the world. This resulted in me finding myself in the midst of a mean girls group battle in high school, with much of the bullying directed at my best friend and subsequently, myself. On top of this, I made the brilliant decision to date a Class A Jerkface and this resulted in a rather toxic relationship, with blame being laid on me when he cheated on me. A+ decision making, I know. This particular year in high school took such a toll on my mental health that I stopped going to the barn and almost completely lost my passion for horses. I wanted to sell my horse and get out of riding at one point but first decided to move him to a lower key barn where the focus was just on riding and having fun. This brought my passion back. The droning of riding alone, only on the flat and not really going for trail rides at the old barn had pushed me away from riding, being able to focus only on riding for fun, riding with friends and doing things like swapping horses or just galloping around the fields in the back took all pressure off of riding, made a friendly and family-like atmosphere and in turn, piqued my interest in horses again.

It was around this time that I joined equine social media, first on Tumblr. The horse community on Tumblr was and is smaller than it is on Instagram and Facebook, but the ability to easily send anonymous messages made it seem an awful lot larger. I posted everything on Tumblr, no matter how cringey. At the time, I was enjoying being a backyard rider and taking a break from showing, living the relaxed life. At first, the hate that I was subjected to revolved around my equitation, what I wore and the fact that I was a “bobo” (the ever so favourite word for elitist equestrians whose self importance some how leads them to being obsessed with what complete strangers wear. Must be boring. Can’t relate). Then, eventually, as my initial ambitions with regards to training professionally became known, the mean comments zeroed in on the fact that I didn’t have what it takes to be a pro and that I would never amount to anything. My career goals changed as a result. The dream of being a horse trainer, something I’d wanted from the time I was a toddler, something that if you look back at all of my elementary school projects remained consistently the same, changed. I went from wanting to be a horse trainer to believing I would go to university and get my doctorate and become a psychologist. While psychology does still interest me, it is a little laughable that I thought my lazy and disorganized self had the drive to get a doctorate degree. I do still intend on finishing my degree, but my university focuses have shifted. Anyways, back on subject.

I allowed complete and utter strangers to make me question myself and question my desires and ultimately, my career path. I almost gave up on what was a lifelong goal because of them and that is very sad. Ultimately, my desire to train came back when I adopted Milo, but with attaining Milo, I was subjected to new levels of online bullying. I was told “he’s ugly” or “he’s too skinny” or “he will never amount to anything” or “you don’t have the talent to train him” and then it was “you’re too big for him” and “he’s never going to look like a show horse” , And, lastly, when I DNA tested him and had the audacity to believe he could be part some type of Warmblood when the results came back entirely as different types of WB: “He can’t be a warmblood”, “Not fancy enough to be a warmblood” and “you’re stupid for even thinking he is a warmblood” and “Clearly, you just want your grade rescue to be fancier than he is”. Ironically, none of these concerns arose all of those months of me referring to him as a Thoroughbred prior to the DNA testing, despite Thoroughbreds having a far more closed registry than any Warmblood registry. I suppose, these very types of people felt some sort of ownership towards the term “Warmblood” and viewed it as an outrage to call a grade horse a warmblood. Funnily enough, nowadays, most people assume Milo is warmblood. He has filled out beautifully and doesn’t look even remotely like the horse he arrived as. I’ve had upper level professionals stop us to ask what his breeding is, clearly, because at face value, you cannot assume a horse is grade. So, I suppose this is a tale of how people who were so desperate to be nasty over something that literally did not change anything other than how I referred to his breeding (still grade, down, girls) had the inability to see how muscle and growth may change a neglected horse and their type.

The thing is, I never cared about what breed Milo was. To me, the DNA test was just a fun thing to do and the results surprised me. Nowadays, the results really don’t surprise me with how Milo looks but back then, they did because we were so sure he was Thoroughbred and only that. I adopted a grade horse, knowing he was grade and knowing we’d never had any history on his breeding. To me, he was a $400 horse I took a chance on that has exceeded my every expectation, but, to them, it was just a chance to hurt me and try to dampen my excitement for potentially getting SOME semblance of info on his breeding background. At the end of the day, I ask you, why does it matter? A grade horse is a grade horse and unless a horse is being sold as an entirely different breed type, why do we care what type someone refers to their horse as? Anyways, now, this is a bit of a laugh because Milo is thicker than a bowl of oatmeal and no longer the stringbean these people assumed could only be applicable to thoroughbreds (please, just feed and work your Thoroughbreds and you’ll realize they aren’t all noodle necks).

Anyways, the hate parade with Milo extended far past his breed type. My worst experience online in terms of bullying occurred when Milo started jumping in his 4y/o year. I posted a photo of him jumping a cross rail, yes, a cross rail, and the internet imploded. I was told he would be retired at 4 because of my jumping him lightly over cross rails once a week or once every two weeks. I was told I was going to ruin him, that he would be dead lame. I was told I was selfish, that I was rushing him. For over four months, I logged on everyday to tons of messages berating me and blasting me as a trainer and rider. Anonymity doesn’t always mean you’re anonymous. While the messages came through as anonymous, I knew the group of people behind them and they were relentless. Sending messages to me, making posts about me on their pages, sharing my photos with mean remarks. All over a CROSS RAIL. When other people commonly were showing the young horse classes with their 4y/os and SHOWING .90m and higher. When these very people had FRIENDS who were showing their 4y/os higher than I EVER schooled Milo in his 4 year old year. They never mentioned their friends being in the wrong, in fact, they supported them. This type of behaviour exemplifies the phenomenon of bullying online. It often isn’t even about the actions of the person they’re bullying, it is literally just about trying to hurt someone. They didn’t care about Milo or his soundness or their outrage would extend within their group of friends and the people they liked. They merely wanted to hurt me in particular. The bullying got so bad that I stopped posting on Tumblr for quite some time. I even told my mom about it, something I rarely did at this point in my life.

The infamous cross rail photo that sparked 4 months of bullying.

The infamous cross rail photo that sparked 4 months of bullying.

The hurt I experienced online caused me to lash out at people in my life because I was just so anxious. I would be mean to my mom after reading particularly hurtful messages because I was so anxious, so on edge. I would lay awake in bed, refreshing my inbox, terrified of more messages coming through but not wanting to wake up in the morning to hundreds of them. I lost sleep, I would get sick to my stomach at times from the anxiety. But, at the end of the day, I truly did not believe I was wronging my horse. I just couldn’t figure out why these people hated me so much. Why they were willing to excuse the very same behaviour in others but would zero in on me daily for months.

Now, I get it. I was a scapegoat for whatever problems were going on in their own life. I still am a scapegoat to many. Any time something good happens in my life, more nasty comments flood in. I bought a trailer back in the winter and guess what, more comments flooded in. My beautiful colt, Banksy, was born and more hateful comments flooded in. Nowadays, the lack of anonymity and ability to send the same anonymous messages as Tumblr allowed does affect the tone of such comments, however, they still come in. The fact that there is such a direct link between my personal “successes” or exciting events and nasty comments speaks volumes about the intentions behind these comments. Often, people will try to frame their negativity as being “constructive” but the fact of the matter is that constructive criticism always serves the purpose of helping someone achieve success, not to demoralize them. Very rarely is such criticism actually constructive. Also, at the end of the day, if we do not want to be part of someone’s success and are just disdained with their character, why go out of our way to interact? Participating in such negativity sets a precedent for your behaviour and if you continuously take part in being mean to others, I promise you that you won’t feel better about yourself. It will put a cloud over your daily life and thoughts and constantly fill you with unhappiness.

We all have mean spirited thoughts sometimes but how we handle said thoughts says a lot about our character. Most of the time, these thoughts do not need to be voiced and if they are, why voice them to the person they’re directed at? What purpose does this serve other than to hurt? Why voice them publicly? If you want to rant, take it to private chats with your friends. That way, no one is hurt and you get to get whatever it is off your chest. The herd mentality of being able to blast people online with all of your buddies following suit results in an incredibly gross level of toxic behaviour. It pushes those affected to consider hurting themselves, to let go of lifelong dreams, to suffer from poor mental health. I would like to think that even the worst bullies would never want their targets to be suicidal, but this is a very real risk that is taken any time people choose to be mean spirited online, particularly when it becomes a ritualistic behaviour rather than a one off comment.

23 years old, declared pro with my two show horses.

23 years old, declared pro with my two show horses.

These people online tried to constantly remind me of the fact that I would “never” make it as a professional. A few years ago, I might have believed them. If you’d asked me even three years ago if I’d be in the position of having my own truck and trailer, bought by myself with money earned by training professionally, I’d say hell no. But, that’s my reality now. If you’d asked me five years ago if I thought I’d have the business I do within my first few years of declaring pro status, I would say no. But, here I am with numerous client horses in on commission and numerous horses in training. I have more business than I can handle at times and am at the point where I haven’t even needed to advertise my services because my references and clients do it well enough for me. I was told that this would never happen, that I could never do this… All by people who had never even met me. And, look, I did it. I almost didn’t because of them, how awful would that have been? To give up a dream that I believe has allowed me to make a difference, that has pushed me to rescue horses and promote rescue in a manner I was unable to do before, all because of some vindictive people.

So, I guess I’m here to say, do not let mean people dictate who you are. You know your character. You know your goals. Strangers online don’t and honestly, their opinions of you matter so little compared to those you know in person. Look at your personal connections and those who love and respect you. Are they proud of the person you are? That’s all that matters. Value their opinions if they ever tell you you’ve lost who you are, because they actually know who YOU are. No one merely watching you from the comfort of their phone or laptop will know you true character in the same way. It is so incredibly easy to judge others at face value and make presumptions, it’s a lot harder to get to know someone and give them a chance.

Social media allows us some form of anonymity even without anonymous features in messages. It is a lot more comfortable to degrade people from behind a screen than it is face to face. I don’t believe any of these people who’ve hurt me in the past would actually be able to walk up to me at a show and say what they’ve said to me because deep down, they know it is socially unacceptable. It is alarming to realize that the people who spent so much time trying to hurt me were adults, in their mid to late twenties. Some people closer to my age, but most people far older. I am glad that I went through that, however, as it has made me more compassionate and helped me to realize the type of person I want to be. I never want to cause anyone that level of pain. I also want people to realize that they aren’t alone when they’re being bullied, whether it be in the horse world or not, online or in person. I know what it feels like to feel small. I know the clammy hands, thumping heart and sweating that comes with having to walk by someone who is out to hurt you or when you get that message notification and just know it is going to be something nasty. I know how it feels to put a brave face on and pretend you’re unaffected when the months of mistreatment are starting to wear on you. I get it.

I’m here to tell you that you aren’t alone and that you need to keep your head up. Don’t let unhappy people rob you of your happiness. Don’t let them make you like them. Their inability to be happy and their desire to tear others down to fill the holes inside them is their problem, not yours. Surround yourself with people who genuinely value you as a person and care about your success. People who will tell you when you’ve lost yourself because they actually know who the real you is. People who will actually be constructive in their criticism because they truly want to see the best version of you. Those who will stand beside you in your personal growth instead of fighting against you. These are the people who will help you be the best you can be. A good support group is worth its weight in gold and as someone who has been through their fair share of bullying, I’m here to say that I’m here as a force to be reckoned with if anyone screws with you. I have zero tolerance for bullying and I’m sick and tired of seeing it in the horse community along with all of the justifications of “that’s just how horse people are” because it’s simply untrue. If someone is unkind, that’s on them, not the community. If you enable them by saying that’s the way our world is, all you’re doing is allowing it to be acceptable. The horse world doesn’t have to be toxic. We need to stop putting up with such mistreatment, it isn’t acceptable to see students bullying each other, trainers bullying their students or riders bullying strangers online. We cannot allow it to be viewed as normal.

My goal as a professional is to create a healthy environment where people have respect for others and understand that riding is a sport of growth. We all start somewhere and we all struggle with different things in terms of technique and overall learning. We need to be compassionate and we need to use education to in disagreements, rather than degrading each other. It’s unreasonable to expect all horse people to agree with each other but we do have the capacity to have healthy discourse, rather than running around acting like rabid animals who have no filter.

So, to you reading this, you deserve respect. You deserve kindness and the ability to set your own goals without meeting hatred for them. Do not accept less than what you deserve and please, always remember that others’ negative treatment of you says a lot more about them than it does you. I’ve been on social media a long time, I’ve watched the gang mentality of bullying others and jealousy driven mean comments. They’re rampant in the community when they shouldn’t be and we largely accept it by assuming that it’s just the way horse people act. So, let’s change what we view as an acceptable way to act. Demand more respect, stay firm in your journey and don’t let people deter you from your goals, especially when they’re on the fringes of your life and not there with you during your successes. They’re irrelevant to you and your journey, don’t let their words hold any meaning. You can do this, you’ve got this.