In today's world of all things internet, it is easy to get swept up in the latest gossip; "he said what about her when", abounds online and in chat rooms, and the horse world is no different. From Facebook sites that encourage you to submit your photo for a Judge's critique, to chat sites where everyone becomes an expert on everything, the internet has opened up the horse world in a whole new way, and the savvy barn owner makes use of it just like any other company - exposure, advertising and word of mouth is free and can be a fantastic way to promote your barn.
But, with the same ease as an owner is able to promote their barn and enjoy great comments, it is no harder for someone to speak disparagingly of your facility or training. With no accountability, people are able to make anonymous comments about a barn or a professional, without ever having to worry that they will be confronted. And, because humans love excitement, we are quite often drawn in by the drama that surrounds these posts vs. the positive. So how does a barn, or an individual, deal with the internet and all of its power?
First off, know that there is little you can do. Most people who have something negative to say, are happy to hide behind a facade. Whether they are anonymous or have a pseudonym, a person who is willing to engage in slanderous activities is comfortable doing so only because they can't be "caught". We all know it is easy to talk behind someone's back - to point and giggle, or say something negative - but it takes a lot more to do so in an upfront fashion. If someone is engaging in negative speak and they are unwilling to name themselves, we need to, as a community, recognize this for what it is - mean spirited gossip - existing only for drama and/or a personal vendetta - and not worthy of our attention. The more we subscribe - even in defending ourselves - the more publicity and power we give the offender. If we, as a community, teach our young riders (and ourselves) to disengage from this activity - to know that having this conversation with someone who is hiding behind closed doors is pointless - we can create a stronger, and more honest community among ourselves.
Secondly, know that each barn - owners, trainers & riders - has their own approach and their own style. If it isn't for you, that's fantastic, but it may be for someone else. If you truly believe that an animal, or rider, is in danger, then say something - but you need to say something directly and openly. It may be scary to approach someone, but a rider who truly loves their horse and their sport, will be more than happy to discuss concerns - from feeding to training and everything else. You may find out that your assumption is wrong and that all is well, or you may find that someone didn't know a situation was dangerous, and are happy to learn something new. Either way, instead of just contributing to internet fluff and rumor, you have actually done something productive - which, if we are truly interested in what is best for our horse, is the more nobler action.
Third, know that you don't know everything. It is hard not to get suckered into the "what do you think of my..." every time someone posts a new photo. And, if you are a friend, feel free. But remember, there are so many things that go into a moment - what happened before this, how long have these two (horse and rider) been together, could there be a crocodile on the other side of that jump - because ANYONE can take a bad picture. Even the great riders in our sports have bad photos. And, they were all, once upon a time, beginners as well. It isn't our job, online, to tell other people how poorly they are riding or to point out all the things that are wrong in a photo or video. It is our job, as fellow horse-people, to encourage and support our sport and the people that are part of it. The only way we can grow as a community is not by tearing each other down, but by lifting each other up. When you are in a class, there is only one winner - that day - tomorrow it could be someone else. Why not take these moments to support everyone? We don't know the other persons' struggles. We don't know their finances, their personal story or even what happened on the way to the show that morning. Who are we to judge someone in a short moment? Allow yourself to be encouraging - of all of our horses and riders - regardless of experience. We all suffer from nerves, bad days and missed distances - why not become a community that rally around each other instead of one that spends time trying to make others feel bad. It doesn't improve your riding, or your relationship with your horse, if someone else does poorly, and we lose nothing by being supportive of one another.
We are stewards of the horse. We are responsible for their care in all manner - whether they live in a backyard or a fancy barn - and they are all worthy of our best. We are, in the same breath, stewards of our sport. And we, as a community, have a responsibility to the sport, and each other, to treat it, and ourselves, with respect. What we do is hard - and awesome - and no matter what level you ride at, you are a contributor to the discipline. Why not be the BEST you can be? For the horse, for the sport and for yourself? Disengage from the negative, find the positive and go out there and ride, knowing that everyone is inspired by you and your story. And when you have a good day, enjoy! And when you have a bad day, know that you aren't alone, but have the support of the millions of other fans online and at the back gate who are all, in that moment, cheering for you.