If you make it to the end of this blog give yourself a gold star. This is important right now. I’ve been watching (whilst biting my tongue) recently as online criticism in Equestrian sports has grown.
I’m not too young to remember the only way to reference a horse and rider was to:
- Buy a magazine (which was £1.20 when I started buying it, expensive then ... little did I know)
- Press the red button (the BBC’s sports specific TV option to those outside the UK).
- Read a book or watch a video (now the Patey hats and 90s music seems so dated).
- Or go to a show or demo in person.
In all the above examples, what was shown was often rehearsed, prepared and edited. Giving people in the spotlight chance to generally show the best version of whatever it is they were doing. (I’d pay money to watch the bloopers)
People competing didn’t have that luxury and they also didn’t have anything like the camera exposure we have grown accustomed to over the last 10 years.
When I started competing and coaching I never felt an anxiety for either myself or from my peers/clients about destructive criticism. Fast forward a few years and WHOAAAH how things changed. I now couldn’t name any discipline across equestrian spectrum at any level from the bottom to top where riders aren’t worried about the repercussions of a less than perfect picture or video making its way onto the internet.
This isn’t all bad, when someone records a lesson I coach or films me riding, it makes me instinctively ask myself “Levi, can you justify what you are doing?” I find that a healthy thing to ask myself every day (the answer is of course yes every time, you’re perfect baby).
But the dark side to this permanent recording of every moment, be it at home, in the warm up or the competition ring is a fear, a fear that those imperfect moments can be singled out and frozen in time. Taken out of context and used to strengthen someone’s agenda and narrative.
We aren’t special, this isn’t a unique Equestrian issue, it’s happening everywhere.
Who takes a picture of themselves at 6.30 in the morning with bed hair, bags under their eyes and posts it online? Or writes a status mid argument with their partner over who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher ... not many of us! We all prefer to show the better version of ourselves and our lives.
This ability we now have to capture and share other people’s imperfect moments is paralysing many of us to share anything through fear and repercussion.
Of course we don’t live in Utopia, there is ignorance and mistreatment, but I think the worst thing you can do to a sport that thrives on learning is create a culture where people are afraid to look imperfect or ask for help. When we become paralysed to show anything less than seamless, we are living in an online fairy tale where every moment of our riding life is a front cover photo.
We all know it isn’t a fairy tale so I so I’ll get real and post an unfortunate picture followed by another with 0.6 seconds difference. (See photos).
The first has his mouth open, swishing tail and head tilt, the second he is settled in the mouth and in the outside rein. Something I am working on all the time (shock horror, the outside rein helps!) ... The first picture if taken out of context could be made to look totally different to the majority of the test, just remember that.
A picture can say a thousand words, but is that picture truly representative?