We live in politically polarizing times.
The constant bombardment of breaking news stories, tragedies, and a changing global social and financial landscape means there is no shortage of stress in our daily lives. For most of us, horses are our way of breaking free from the day-to-day. A way to focus on something other than the latest headlines or deadlines for at least a few hours each week.
But is it?
While we like to say the barn is our escape—our “home away from home”—the drama that exists within the equestrian world is oftentimes as pragmatic and sobering as the reality of our daily lives.
It’s not to say that there isn’t light in the darkness. There is. But there’s an overwhelming lack of cohesion, an overabundance of politics, and a great deal of schoolyard bullying that takes place in both local and broader equestrian communities.
We see it in the people being ripped apart on social media, the whisperings at shows, the dismantling of someone’s entire reputation over a misunderstood piece of information. The amount of “broken telephone” that exists within equestrian communities has unfortunately become the standard.
And we’re all guilty of it.
I’d be lying if I denied any involvement in gossip, bottlenecking at some local equestrian drama. I’m not naive enough to pretend it will ever go away, either. But I can at least make this request of all of us and a personal promise to myself: Let’s work to bring the camaraderie back to our horse community.
Some of my best memories from being a horse-crazy kid centred around hanging out at the barn with the other barn brats. For the most part, we didn’t argue or bicker or spread rumours about each other. We just did things together around the farm that centered around our favorite horses.
We mucked stalls together, groomed and bathed horses, hacked out or schooled, prepared for shows, cleaned tack, or even just sat around the hay loft or feed room talking about our equestrian dreams. At that age, it wasn’t about how someone else rode, or who-said-what—it was about horses, it was about fun, and it was pretty damn carefree.
My time spent with equestrian friends now has changed. I catch myself engaging in conversation that goes against my want for a cohesive equestrian community: “Did you hear about XYZ?” or “ABC is such a [insert expletive here]” or “QWERTY’s horse is [insert something horrible without evidence here].”
If I’m being honest, I’m disappointed with myself when these conversations arise. Talking behind someone’s back, even if you disagree with them, doesn’t actually leave you feeling good about yourself—whatever happened to if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?
I have seen the equestrian community do amazing things—rallying behind someone who lost their barn to a fire, or who’s needing a hand caring for the kids while at a busy show. I’ve seen cheering and clapping for every rider at a show, even when the round or test or class didn’t go as planned. I’ve seen quiet moments of bonding over a hot coffee on a cold morning.
But I’ve also seen the divisiveness that has led to the stereotype of horse people being generally “catty” and miserable—I’ve watched as people have been bullied into depression, self harm, or labelled with reputations they did not deserve. Where does it end?
As a community, we are incredibly diverse. We are professionals and amateurs, aspiring show champions and pleasure riders. We are students, government employees, shift workers, stay-at-home parents. We are tall and short, big and small, and all colours of the rainbow. We may have different jobs or lifestyles or interests but at the end of the day, it’s this amazing passion for horses that we all share in together.
Rather than tearing each other down, let’s build each other up. Let’s bring back the camaraderie of our barn brat days.
In tumultuous times, we need to support each other and stand up for what’s right. When the days are good, we need to rejoice—sit up, kick on, and enjoy the ride.
About the Author
Mallory Haigh is an under-30 adult amateur dressage rider living in the middle-of-nowhere Ontario, Canada on 50 acres with her two horses, a few boarders, chickens, dogs, and wildlife. Her hobbies include freelance writing about life on a small farm, web development, photography, and geekery.