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. 

The eye. Photo by JJ Sillman

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.”

The talented ones

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.

And maybe at the end of the day, we all need to turn off those computers and go ride. So here I am to say: logging off, I’m tacking up.

15 Comments on “The Peanut Gallery

  1. I love this bit of writing right here. Excellent job and I couldn’t agree more. On the bright side, though, I was recently at Spruce Meadows for the Masters, and was, as always, delighted to be participating in a sport where the audience cheered every rider for success and felt bad for every mistake, unlike the NFL, for example. The thing about Spruce, though, is the audience is made up of more non-riders than riders. In Canada they can get a crowd of 80,000 to watch a Grand Prix. We could learn a lot from them, not only about grace towards the competitors, but in how to create an audience for our sport.

  2. Wonderful read and great statements. The first horse I bought was a lot of horse. He was often “hot” and had definitely had his opinions of what he liked and didn’t like. Were there times when my bad mood and his opinions crashed against each other? Yep. And I am not proud of the times that I listened to those other voices and continued to ride that day even though I knew the best option was to get off and do something fun or low key. I was told he didn’t belong in the show ring after a few poor schools. But, he taught me so much-not just about how to ride but how to be a true horse person . And despite his occasional tantrums when I needed to be taken care of in the saddle he always managed to do so. It was a very sad day when he crossed that Rainbow Bridge at 16.

  3. Excellent piece. I too was appalled at the comments about video of the Johnson woman. They were vicious, uneducated, and uncalled for. It’s so nice to see a sensible take on it. I can’t believe that woman came up to you and said that about your horse. It could be a lot worse though- you could be related to her. Think what a nightmare that would be. Thanks for a great read.

  4. I’ve been in blog-land for less than 24 hrs, and I’m thrilled to have found your entries. My horse is also talented and opinionated, so after a rather trying ride yesterday, this entry was exactly what I needed to read. At a recent Jumping day (my first after having a baby – now 3 1/2 months) a comment was made about my horses exuberance, which I really didn’t need. Fortunately my riding buddies aren’t afraid to tell people when to piss off! 😂 thank you

  5. I agree that the comment was rude and uncalled for but Doug did not lose his temper and neither did you . My problem with johnson is she lost her temper and took it out on the horse by kicking it. Uncalled for and she should bedisciplined

  6. In my younger days I had a horse that was a beautiful hunter – great form – but he also had a nasty stop. Didn’t know when it was coming. It could be at the most perfect distance and yet he would stop. I fell off many times and I have to admit I did a belly kick – granted it wasn’t in the show ring but I, like the other rider, lost my temper and lashed out. Did it help anything – no. Do I feel bad about it yes. but as you said it hurt my foot more than it hurt him. I learned to ride a little better and also learned my temper tantrums did nothing to improve him. I was lucky social media wasn’t around then!!!

  7. Years ago I was in a clinic with my young horse. He was up and I was probably tense but I felt that we had a good session and I felt very happy about it. Then this auditor came up and told me all the things that she thought I had done wrong. I was devastated and deflated. Looking back I can see that she was way out of line. I wish people would just mind their own business.

  8. Think though of the random strangers, who say, that last jump was beautiful. Your horse is so well turned out. Keep trying you can do it. The people who purposefully try to make a bad day better for a stranger. Let them have more power than the negative.

  9. I loved this blog post.
    I was appalled by her behavior, especially a grown woman who should know better and to act out in such a public way. Let’s face it, how many people were watching when she fell off? Maybe 1/2 dozen that mattered? After she landed on her feet and had the temper tantrum, how many people noticed then?
    That being said, I have had bad days, bad rides and ending up as a yard dart after getting launched off my normally sane mare.
    For multiple reasons I haven’t shown this year, but we also train and compete in dog agility with our rescued mixed breeds and I can tell you some of my my fellow competitors and strangers are not shy about giving their unasked for advice and opinions about our runs at trials.
    I used to be really hurt and upset at the negative comment. I took me a while to realize the only ones who mattered were me, my dog (did they have fun?), the judge and my trainer. Now, everyone else I smile and walk away from praising my dog.

  10. I love this! My own trainer was a victim of the armchair equestrian hang when a rather well known social media page took a shot of her on a horse and turned it into something it wasn’t. These people don’t have a leg to stand on. They obviously have no idea what it’s like to have the worst day of your life upon your horse and stand to be criticized or they would pause before sharing their impulsive and uneducated opinions.
    Btw, your horse sounds like a blast to me, but I know how to appreciate a horse that still has his own opinion. I think you’re a better equestrian for sticking it out.

  11. The first horse I bought was a hot horse. Was he a lot of horse-yep. Could he be a nightmare and too much horse for me- yep. Did we sometimes travel all the way to a show,warm-up and then say to my trainer-not today. Yep. But what he taught me was worth so much more. I learned the fine art of a quick dismount, how to decide if today was the day I pushed or we played, how to learn which battles needed to occur and which ones needed to be forgotten and the fine art of just being. I became a better rider thanks to him and the 11 years I had with him were much too short.

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