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Horse Illustrated

Social Media Critics in the Horse World

An expert shares how to handle the rudeness and critics often associated with posting anything horse-related online and on social media.

Getting criticized online rolls off some people’s backs, while others take extreme offense. Photo by Fizkes/Shutterstock

“Ignore the appearance of my fence.”

“I shortened the lead rope after I took the picture.”

“I know my position needs work.”

In an attempt to ward off potential critics, almost all of us, including me, have been guilty at some point of including an apology of sorts with our social media posts.

I’ve also seen a horse’s conformation ripped apart when an owner meant only to lovingly share a photograph of her horse. Then there are those who are not qualified to act as trainers, farriers, or veterinarians offering advice on how they would handle certain situations if it were their horse.

For example, years ago when my mare my was severely afflicted with founder, I was openly attacked in the comments of a social media post I made by the spouse of a farrier who did not know me and had never seen my horse. This person took issue with the treatment protocol of a well-respected veterinary hospital and their team of veterinarians and farriers who were very experienced in the care of foundered horses and whose care my mare was under.

Why Be Nasty?

Why is it that some within our equestrian community feel the need to make negative, critical comments—and in some cases cross the line into cyberbullying—on the social media posts of others?

“Typically, it’s a need to pass judgment on and criticize others,” says Janet Edgette, Psy.D., equestrian and clinical sport psychologist. “Or it’s such a deep sense of inferiority that only by judging others harshly can they maintain any kind of positive self-regard.” Sometimes, Edgette explains, it’s a need to present oneself as more discerning, knowledgeable or skilled than others.

In other situations, people who feel angry all the time are gratified by inflicting harm on others and seeing or imagining them in distress, according to Edgette. Or there can be a person who is vindictive and trying to exact revenge for some perceived or actual wrongdoing, even if inadvertent or accidental. These people want to “even the score,” she says.

Crossing a Line

While it’s bad enough when hurtful comments are a one-time deal, it’s even more cruel when these social media critics become cyberbullies. The line is crossed when this type of behavior becomes intentional.

“People who post mean, rude, or critical comments become bullies when they mean to hurt the other person and it’s repeated over time,” Edgette says. “There’s usually some kind of power imbalance between the critic and the rider being criticized. For example, the critic is an instructor, or someone with a large social media following, or perhaps someone in the rider’s barn or social circle that is popular or otherwise has a lot of social media capital with which to influence the opinions of others.”

A Varied Effect

The effects of these types of comments, whether they are one-time or repeated, can vary.

“The least affected individuals will have a very centered and grounded sense of themselves,” says Edgette. “Meaning, they are not overly reactive to external events in their lives, are disinterested in drama, have no need to prove themselves to anyone they don’t know personally, and don’t take comments personally. They realize that the comments reflect more on the sender than themselves. The most affected are typically those who are easily offended by others or are especially reactive in conflict situations, or who feel a strong need to defend oneself against any criticism, or who can’t resist the urge to prove the critic wrong, or who remain steadfast in the belief that there’s value in engaging with the critic.”

Detrimental consequences for those severely affected by criticism can range from physical and mental symptoms to poor performance in other areas of life and even suicide.

Preventative Measures

Fortunately, if you are a victim of a critical or hurtful post, there are steps you can take to keep the situation from spiraling out of control. Edgette advises not responding at all.

“Nothing positive will ever come out of any exchange between the rider and the critic,” she says. “There is no ‘changing the other person’s mind.’ The critic is not looking for dialogue or perspective or enlightenment. They are looking to make someone else feel bad. And for so many of them, this type of activity is recreation, which is incredibly sad.”

Edgette states that while you can’t stop others from posting negative comments, there are some things that you can do to reduce the chances of being on the receiving end of such criticism:

Never respond to any comments that you get. That’s what the other person wants from you. They’re ready to do battle and have no interest in hearing your point of view. Leave it.

Take a second look at your posts to make sure there’s nothing that might invite critics. For example, avoid claiming that your way is the best or asking for feedback.

Don’t be a critic yourself, no matter how valuable you believe your input to be. If people aren’t asking, they aren’t hearing, either.

Don’t be a social media critic of other people’s posts and photos, no matter how valuable you feel your input is. If they didn’t ask for it, they won’t hear it. Photo by Jackson Stock Photography/Shutterstock

Don’t try to inform or educate other riders even if you think they need to hear your advice or input and you’re sure that you’re saying it nicely. A comment doesn’t have to be critical in order to feel critical to the reader.

Don’t let the poor behavior of others on social media change how you show up online.

In the end, it’s important to realize that attempting to shame others rarely results in positive changes. More often than not, it does quite the opposite. Instead, as an industry, we would do well to adopt a supportive dialogue with one another.

This article about social media critics appeared in the October 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Hope Ellis-Ashburn

Hope Ellis-Ashburn lives with her family on a century farm in the Sequatchie Valley of southeast Tennessee. Her latest book is Kimbrook Arabians: How an Unlikely Midwestern Couple Influenced an Ancient Breed.

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