Bullying in the equestrian world is a very real problem. It’s something I’ve seen first hand. Even today I continue to witness such cases. These aren’t by immature children, but grown adults who really should know better.
I really want to share my views on this as there are many misconceptions on the topic.
Bullying in the Equestrian World: The Stereotype
There’s a stereotypical situation – One we can all imagine. Think of the bully on a yard or at a show. Typically, you imagine the bully being the one with money, having a clique of friends and being a snob to the highest degree. We can all imagine that and in some cases it is very true.
It’s also not hard to imagine the bully being the successful competitor who acts like they own the place. Let’s face it, we’ve encountered that at some stage too.
The common reality may surprise you
People imagine the bullies being the guy or girl on the big fancy competition horse. We can stereotype all day about the bullies in our industry but the real bullies may often surprise you.
The real bully seeks validation
In my personal experience, the real bullies are insecure about how the world perceives them. They want to be viewed as the better people, the most knowledgable people. They can do no wrong and often feel as though they are always being dealt lifes hard hand. These people feel like they have so much untapped potential but the potential never shows because the system is rigged to keep them down. Or that life is against them. Or the horses they have are never easy or throw them event after event of pure misfortune. The bullies are the ones that seek validation from those around them – both in real life and online.
I’ve known instructors to openly mock and complain about clients and their inability to ride. Instructors who question “why do they own that horse and do/don’t do x, y or z with it?” Again validation is sought and given by those around them.
I’ve seen people vocally cry out with distress when a rider that’s being taught can’t do the exact right thing at the exact right time. Those people typically threaten to get up and do it better. It isn’t about helping, it’s about feeling like they’re more competent.
I’ve seen spectators stand by laughing and mocking a rider in the arena as they go about their business.
The simple truth is, the bullies could literally be anyone.
The addition of social media
Social media is a wonderful tool for businesses and people alike. It gives us a platform from which we can easily vocalise beliefs and discuss the realities of life – Much like I am doing here. Social media is a marketing tool. Each and every one of us promotes ourselves on social media. We might not all be a business, but our personal brand is always on display. Like with businesses, our name can and will be judged by those viewing what we post and how we react.
Nothing is quite as it seems
Social media also has a dark side that aids bullying in our sport. As users, we invest in the brands that interest us and who engage us through posts. As such, especially with small businesses, you may feel as though you know and can trust people behind the page. In many cases, we see business pages as “official” brand pages. When we think “official,” our minds tend to view them as being correct or even trustworthy. We often forget that there may be individuals with alternate agendas behind them.
Remember, publicity is marketing. When dealing with your brand image, it’s easy to present a persona of being blunt and not caring as a way to market yourself. It’s easy to stir emotion and pity. People love controversy. It does work! A page that says things that even a minority may think will attract a vocal following who want to put the spotlight on that logic. Arguably this can be seen in other areas in other walks of life such as Trumps often controversial acts in the US. It often validates the controversial thoughts of others and gives them a stage from which to act from.
Facts can be manipulated. Those who scream loudest are often more commonly believed due to having the larger audience.
Social media enables us to have a platform to put forth our preferred reality. Facebook reality and actual reality could be completely different things for all we know. In many cases, people twist things to better suit the version of themselves that they wish to present to you and I – The audience.
First hand experience
Try not to side with social media spats and arguments. In many cases, the bully may take a “woe is me” approach. They’ll discuss personal experiences but that’s not to say they’re true. They may not be falsified either, but be aware that the truth can be spread thin. Don’t take one persons presentation as fact. Whether they’re more qualified than you or not. There are no qualifications for being a good and decent human being.
There are two sides to every story. Do remember that things can be very easily twisted and morphed to better reflect the person at the centre of it all.
The mob mentality
This is another reality made all the easier by social media. It’s our job to use critical thinking and personal first hand experience to determine the truth. Don’t take someones presentation to you as their reality. If we believe one side of a story without knowing the other, we encourage the bullying and isolation of others only to validate the personality at the source. We become enablers. From that, we encourage that person to continue to be horrible. We allow the ugly side of humans in our industry to shine.
On social media especially, drama attracts discussion. Drama gets likes and shares. Calling some drama a “Gate” is a lot more common these days. You see it creep up everywhere. It’s a fun way to throw shade at people while validating the small drama that they’re now going to make into a mountain. It validates the drama further while mocking it, belittling it but also dragging it out. Through that, a page can grow. The audience grows. Discussion grows. The more people who join the discussion, the more ears they have to present their fictional reality.
The personality you’re dealing with
If someone’s reaction is to complain and rant about others, they won’t hesitate to do so about you too. These people are abrasive. They’re toxic. Bullies in our industry are often opportunistic and narcissistic. Therefore, they exploit people and situations in order to further their own agenda and market themselves in a particular way – Whether that be for attention, validation, power or popularity. When you don’t agree with the bully, or better yet, you see through them, you become disposable. You become their target.
In cases of real bullying, there isn’t always a good guy and a bad guy. In reality those lines are blurred. It’s easy for us to be dragged into an unfolding drama. Especially when we invest and trust in one side of the story. It’s also easy for that someone to present their side as fact. It’s easy for them to twist and change the story to suit their image of themselves.
Stop and think about the person you’re dealing with. If they’re always hard done by, are they really that unlucky? Or are they presenting an image to market themselves?
Remember that everything you see and hear may not be what it seems.
Bullying in the Equestrian world is real. It just isn’t the stereotype we like to believe.
Bullying in the Equestrian world was first published on https://www.BarnesEQ.com/ by Scott Barnes of Barnes Equestrian. All views expressed here are my own and come from first hand experience with bullying and the types of people who I think are most likely to be bullying in the equestrian world. For more information on bullying.