Growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, I never had much experience with real bullying. Sure, there were the odd bullies in school who could put a damper on a good day, but they didn’t follow me home. When school was over, I was able to walk away from them until the next time I saw them. At the barn, none of my fellow riders ever said anything mean to me, and if anyone ever whispered about me at shows, I never knew about it.
Virtual-World Bullying in the Horse Industry
As a plus-sized rider, I have dealt with bullying for years. The phrase “poor horse” is rattled off on my social media accounts at least once a week. I work closely with my vet and trainer; I am a considerate horse owner and take incredibly good care of my boys, and I know I am not hurting them in any way, but the words still hurt.
I have considered giving up more times than I can count over the years because the cruelty and judgement of others becomes overwhelming. As I am sitting here writing this, someone commented on one of my riding videos, saying, “I’m amazed your horse’s back didn’t break.” Why do people think it’s OK to treat others like this?
For a long while, the bullying I experienced had an enormously detrimental effect on my self-esteem and wellbeing. I was depressed. I didn’t want to share my joy, because I was afraid of the backlash of posting photos of myself on a horse.
At one point, I was being stalked online by a woman who was constantly commenting on my photos and messaging me all kinds of nasty things about my weight. Another time, a friend of mine in Switzerland shared a photo of me and my horse using one of her saddle pads to her social media. The next morning, I woke up to comment after hateful comment on her post. People rattled off phrases like “go eat a salad,” “maybe the horse should be riding you,” and “you clearly don’t care about the health and wellbeing of your horse.”
It absolutely broke my heart. It made me question if I even wanted to continue life as an equestrian if that was how I was going to be treated by people who had never even met me before.
Nothing to Fear but Fear
Bullying is a huge problem in our sport. Every day, I have people writing to me on my social media accounts telling me their stories and their fears of sharing their joy, because they are so afraid of being judged.
I occasionally get a message saying, “Thank you for being such an inspiration and helping me feel comfortable about sharing my journey with my horse despite of what the bullies and haters might say.” But more times than not, the messages are along the lines of “I’ve been bullied,” or “I’ve gotten hateful comments, and now I’m afraid to share photos and videos.”
Afraid. So many people are afraid. We are equestrians. Horses bring us joy. Nobody should ever be afraid to share that joy with the world for fear of being looked down on for being “different.”
A love of horses should not have restrictions. No matter our size, skin color, income, riding level or circumstances, our hearts belong to these animals, and that should bring us all together. Equestrians need to stand up for each other, not tear each other down.
I have been through a lot. I have endured the hate and the criticism, the threats and the major depression and anxiety they bring. I have made it through all of it, and I have developed a tough armor against the hate and the hurt. Now, I want to help others do the same. I want everyone to be able to share the happiness they feel being with their horse without dwelling on the fear of judgement.
The best advice that I can give to anyone that is reading this is to surround yourself with positivity. I ride at an amazing farm called Misty Mountain Stables. I have never been at a farm that is so incredibly supportive of me and everything that I do. It has made a world of difference to my self-esteem and helps me keep the bullies from affecting me like they used to.
People bully because they are unhappy with their own lives and want to hurt others like they are hurting. I try to remember that when someone is being particularly cruel to me, and I feel sorry for them.
I love horses. I have loved them since I took my first pony ride at the age of two, 32 years ago. I will always love them, and I will never let the words of strangers, who don’t know me, keep me from following my passion. And neither should you.