A very wise woman in both horse sports and life, recently said to me- “It costs nothing to be kind”. With the role social media now plays in our day to day lives, now more than ever, we are measured by how things seem and not always what they really are. This comes in a multitude of forms, both real and fake. In the equine world, and in life, people are pretending things are a certain way be it in their relationships, riding, or otherwise, concerned with how others are viewing them. Equestrian sponsors, clients and beyond are interested in how many followers you have, the type of content you post, and your online image. Like it or not, this is the way things are in today’s world. That being said however, you can accomplish what you need to in order to attract the right kind of attention without ever saying or doing something that might make someone else feel bad. I can assure you no one has ever said, “I can’t wait to take a lesson from that person, they go off on various social media rants all the time,” and likewise no sponsor I have ever worked with said, “we would love to work with that rider because of the degrading comments they make about their peers”.
Recently, I have had situation after situation brought to my attention where someone said something hurtful and unnecessary about someone else in the equestrian community via social media. In most cases, the people making these hurtful comments do not even know the person they are commenting about. I see it affecting the many Young Professional’s I work with, deeply hurting their self-esteem, making them feel inadequate and a multitude of other things, and I see it with the industry Professional’s I work with as well. The most shocking thing to me is how people have become so quick to comment on social media about a variety of things, not stopping to think how it could make someone reading it feel.
I too am guilty of considering posting such things, but I have learned it is better to stop and think first about what good will come of my comments vs. how it could make someone feel. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one second saying I do not have judgmental thoughts of others in my mind, that are not kind of me to have, but I make a conscious choice to keep them there, in my own mind, where they cannot hurt. We are people, we will have opinions, but we also get to decide if we let them impact others in a negative way.
A particular comment made in recent months in an online article about a top US Equestrian has stuck with me. In this particular comment, a person saying particularly horrific things about an athlete they confirmed they had never met, said it was their right to make judgements and say things about any equine athlete who puts them self on the public stage. This person used the comparison of how athletes in other professional sports take harsh criticism from the public every day, and the media does not protect them, so why should equine media take a stand for our athletes when comments are made. Why should an online publication remove comments siting “bullying” in equine sports when they do not frequently in mainstream ones?
As someone who married a professional athlete and has many friends who have and currently still play non equine related professional sports, I can tell you a few things. The comments the public makes about these athletes are noticed by them and do hurt. They go to bed at night sometimes, thinking about what has been said, and like it or not, it wears on them in some capacity. If they are lucky, it drives them to silence their critics, but in some ways, it also leads them to shut out the public more. Many other professional sports keep their top athletes away from the public and from fans because of this, so they can focus. I think equestrian sports are special because of the interactions any young person or adult amateur can have riding alongside an Olympic Medalist, but it does open these people up to increased vulnerability.
So what if instead of saying our athletes better get used to mean things being said about them (with very little merit in some cases), we as an industry decided to choose kindness. What if instead of commenting something unnecessary on an article, post, or your social media updates, you stopped and thought, could this possibly make anyone feel bad before you did it? What is the worst thing that could happen if you did that? To me the most spectacular thing about our industry are the wonderful people in it. Maybe we should all go back to what my mother told me as a little girl- “kill them with kindness” because like Dressage Hall of Famer Lilo Fore says, “it costs nothing to be kind.”
I am sure people will have opinions about me writing this just like they do about everything else, but even if it makes one person stop and think, then that is good enough for me. What if you made a choice to be different, in a good way? The way I think of it, every unnecessary comment, could mean one more person who does not have to feel bad that day. Our sport in my opinion is full of the most wonderful, hardworking, kind people out there, so in 2020, lets lead by example.