Almost a year ago I entered my talented but obnoxious horse into a clinic with one of the top eventers in America. I had ridden with this man numerous times with this horse and knew that he just “got him.”
Good ride or bad ride, I came home with plenty of homework and tools in our arsenal for when my horse woke up on the wrong side of the stall.
And on this particular day, he not only woke up on the wrong side of the stall, but also the wrong side of his paddock and perhaps the great state of Kentucky.
But in true Doug Payne fashion, he swung on my majestic steed with a smile and put him through his paces. And I stood on the ground, watching my pony try his damndest to enrage even cold blooded Doug. It didn’t work, and after their conversation, I got back on and had a good jump school.
But as I walked him back to the trailer to untack and process, a complete stranger came up to me and in an obnoxious voice told me that my horse was dangerous. That I needed to get rid of him. And that life was too short for “horses like him.”
I stared at her with my jaw slack and eyes bugging out of my head, finished the final 30 foot walk to my trailer, and promptly burst into tears.
A part of me fearful that she was right, another part of me sad if she was. A part of me horrified at being called out in public. But a third, and final part, just appalled that someone had the nerve to say that.
I did not know her. I did not ask her for her opinion. I was not paying to take a lesson with her. And maybe most important was the fact that she was making this obstinant opinion of my horse based on a snapshot in time.
She was not my trainer. She was not my barn owner. Hell, she wasn’t even my friend. I didn’t ask her for advice, and I sure as hell wasnt paying her for it.
Had Doug gotten off of my horse and said “I think this is a recipe for disaster. You are way over horsed and this will end with one of you getting hurt” my head would have snapped to attention, and I would have listened.
But he hadn’t. He had giggled while saying “wow, you were right about him being in a mood today. The talented ones are never easy.”
Because he had seen him before. He had seen the good days alongside this one bad. He had witnessed the talent and appreciated my ability as a rider and my horses ability to be (yes) a dick, but also not malicious in his intent.
And yet this woman; this STRANGER, felt differently about my horse and my skills and made her voice known.
And for what?
It didn’t appear to be in my best interests based on the tone in her voice and the look on her face.
It wasn’t solicited by me or any of “my team” and therefore not encouraged.
And it didn’t sit well, as I still think about it to this day.
Yes, I shrugged it off and carried on. Yes, I still own this horse. But no, I am obviously not over it. It still affects me.
And isn’t that the world we live in?
Just this week an heiress to billions of dollars fell off of her horse.
She proceeded to get up, chase him towards an oxer, and belly kick him before dragging him from the ring at a jog.
And the social media peanut gallery came out of their dark dungeons and caves and attacked.
Was it pretty to watch? No.
Should she have been reprimanded and not allowed to show for the remainder of the show? Yes.
Should it be called animal abuse and should we demand she be barred from USEF? No.
It was gross. I won’t sugar coat it. I can remember my mother ripping me off of my pony for lesser behavior at the age of 8 and locking me in her minivan.
I can remember having my mouth washed out with soap for talking back to my trainer at the age of five.
And I think of those things every time I feel my blood boil for a miscommunication between my horse and I.
And this woman was 36, on a VERY nice hunter.
But we all have bad days. We have all felt road rage or wanted to punch a wall. We have all picked fights with loved ones because we are enraged by another aspect of our lives.
Only our temper tantrums aren’t videod. Our last names aren’t Johnson. And at the end of the day, most of us get to sleep it off and move on as better people.
But for some reason horses bring out the best of the peanut gallery. And the wealthier you are, or the better rider you are, or the higher podium you have stood on, the more we love to weigh in. To tear down. To criticize and critique.
The comments I have read barely even focus on the actual issue. They’re too busy criticizing her riding (based on one jump) to really even notice the belly kick. A kick that most likely hurt her big toe more than his rib cage. They harass her for being unbalanced, unseated, sitting too low with legs too far back. They pretend to be God’s and Goddesses of this sport who have never had a bad day. A bad jump.
But is it facebooks job to do so? No. Is it the armchair quarterbacks who visit their own horses once a month for a carrot? No.
It is up to her team to criticize. It is up to show organizers and governing bodies to reprimand. And it is up to herself to change.
This world that we live in needs to change. We need to do more and talk less. Mind our own business when matters are insignificant and demand change from our government bodies when they aren’t. Find empathy for both teams in the picture: horse and rider.
Social media can change things when done appropriately; I have seen it happen. But it can also tear apart people who don’t deserve it. Who are judged for a snapshot of an otherwise good life. I have no dog in this fight and don’t know if that is the case here, but I do try to see the best in people. Maybe we should all try to see the best in people.