Boundary Setting for a Changing Equestrian World

Boundary Setting for a Changing Equestrian World

Ah, Equestrians… we’re a divisive bunch aren’t we?

I don’t know about you, but it seems like Equestrianism as a sport is in a very transitional phase at the moment. We have the “old-school” ways of how things have always been done, coming up against new age ideas and methods aimed at improving the welfare of our horses and the sport in general. I for one, love the fact that we are FINALLY embracing a new way of thinking, training and caring for horses, and ourselves. I think that as a whole, equestrian sport has been fairly behind the curve for a long time and we have all perhaps been guilty of just doing “what works” because it’s the way that things have always been done.

Along with these changes has also come a new way of thinking of riders as athletes in their own right. There has also come about a rise in the popularity of Sports Psychology and mindset training for riders, which I feel that we have previously missed out on whereas other sports have thrived in this aspect.

However, with all these changes and new ways of thinking, has come a new problem within our industry…the unsolicited imposition of opinion onto others. For example, the great Pammy Hutton posted a photo on Facebook recently of her horse with a frothy mouth after work. This innocent photo sparked a huge debate about whether her horse was unhappy, in pain and whether the bit/bridle/training regime of this horse should be changed. I understand, with all this new knowledge we have, why members of the public were potentially concerned about this. However why do we feel as though its ok to attack someone about a photo such as this, in such a public way? Especially when the person in question is such a knowledgeable and well-known person in the industry. Do we not think that someone as qualified Pammy Hutton would be aware of her own horse’s needs and comfort?

Another post I saw recently was by 2022 Badminton winner, Laura Collett. The post showed her on her horse London 52, with him being extremely fresh while jumping. The video was shared countless times and was also reposted online by Horse & Hound as it’s an amusing video of a horse enjoying himself. However, I assume due to comments made previously, Laura felt the need to add a note to her post stating “Please do not comment saying he is in pain… Simply a horse who loves his job and is a little exuberant after his holiday…”.

The comments about horse welfare crop up again and again online in local equestrian groups. Someone may be posting an innocent question asking for advice, and whilst there are helpful and positive comments made, the increasing number of almost attacking comments is pretty unbearable. When did we become an industry that attacked each other rather than helping each other? Surely, we should be focused on educating each other in a supportive way, rather than making others feel awful and suggesting that they are mistreating their horses?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been very clear and public examples of mistreatment of horses in competition and the public domain, but this is why governing bodies have rules and regulations in place to look after our horses –Who are we to attack a leisure rider on their choice of bit/shoes/saddle/feeding/rugs etc. when they ask for help in a public group? Perhaps we need to accept that there are many kind and humane ways to reach a desired result, rather than just what we, as individuals, believe?

Unfortunately, I do not think this is a problem that is going to go away overnight, so perhaps we all need strategies to help us deal with these sorts of comments or opinions. This is where setting boundaries comes in, and further to that, they can be split into our external boundaries and our internal boundaries.

For me, our external boundaries are set responses we put in place with regards to how we deal with these unhelpful opinions. There are really two ways we can deal with this. The first would be to say something like “I’m interested why you think this, perhaps you can explain your reasoning” and therefore enter into a discussion with this person, where you can both put your points across. This promotes an even footing between the two of you, rather than an attacking situation. I quite like this response as it can usually spark an interesting discussion where both parties can potentially learn something new.

Another response would be to thank them for their opinion but clearly state that you are not taking advice on your riding/training/horse at this time. Hopefully this is enough to make the person realise that you are happy in your choices and will not be taking their “advice” on board. It is a polite yet firm way of expressing your discomfort with their comments, without causing an argument.

Our internal boundaries are much more important, as they protect our mental health. It is easy to use the advice above, but without strong internal boundaries, comments from others can make us question ourselves, and eventually (in the worst case) send us into a tail spin where we question all our decisions even if we strongly believe them to be right.

So, how do we build internal boundaries? The method that has helped me the most over the years when dealing with overbearing peers (both inside and outside the equestrian world), has been to create lists of people whose opinions I trust, and whose knowledge I know far outweighs my own. For me, this would be my trainer, my yard owner, my vet/farrier/physio etc and a few of my horsey friends. Anyone else who may impart their opinions on me or my horse, I let the comments slide off my back. I like to call this method “Be Your Own Bouncer” i.e. “if your name’s not on the list you’re not coming in”. You have your trusted circle of influencers and advice givers, and anyone else’s opinions just don’t matter.

This is also effective when dealing with social media “trolls” (apologies, there’s no better term I can think of), as these are also people who are clearly not on your list of influence. Just thank them for their input, ignore them, and move on. Do not let the opinions of keyboard warriors who know nothing about you, or your horse, affect your mood and your day-to-day enjoyment of your horse.

Aaron Cork.