Not one of us can claim innocence in judging a breed, a person or a sport based solely on a single experience – or no experience at all. It’s natural, and very human to do so. Most of us feel quite righteous in this, and we boost our self-confidence as a result. It’s perfectly normal, but in some ways it can be damaging. By enforcing incorrect assumptions on others – especially newer or green riders – we push them into the same prejudiced pitfalls we ourselves fell into. Eventually, we create a sort of echo chamber, where everyone is saying everything everyone else is saying.
We sometimes judge equestrian sports based on nothing but what we see or read, and don’t do any of our own research. We’ve often heard people say, “Racing is brutal and abusive; these people are only in it for the money” or “Western riding is not really riding, it’s just playing cowboys.”
Why do we do it?
We are not judges, juries or executioners, but we sure act like it. But why do we do this? Our experiences, or what we read or learn, define our opinions and subsequent prejudiced ideals. The more we can ensure what we know is true and right, the more self-assured we become.
When we google something about our favourite sport, we are going to ignore all the negative articles – because they go against our reality – and if we do read something negative, we will mentally debunk it one way or another, with assumptions, hearsay or our own experience.
Friendly competition or hurtful?
The biggest issue is when we turn our judgments on other riders; recently most of us have preferred to break riders down rather than building them up. This comes from the fierce competitive bubble the equestrian world has created.
We are constantly comparing ourselves to other riders, and we ask ourselves who has the better saddle, the most experience, the prettiest horse or the best seat – as if riding from the age of three makes you instantly better than someone who started at the age of four. Any small advantage we can squeeze out is magnified to the extreme, and then we use that small advantage to ensure we have a leg-up on the other riders. While there is nothing wrong with friendly competition, the tragedy is that this breeds contempt and it tears the community apart in the worst way possible – by turning people against one another. Creating groups and cliques in your stable is detrimental to that serene atmosphere you want to create.
The best way to fix prejudice in modern-day horse riding is to encourage everyone not to be so prejudiced – as silly as that might sound, it’s really the only way.
We all started at some point, we were all humble horsemen with little to no knowledge about the animals we love so much today. The girl who gets her first nag secretly dreams of taking that nag to the Olympics. It may be unrealistic, but why take that away from her with prejudice about the breed she has? Rather let her get as far as she can with him, and let her enjoy every moment of it. Don’t breed contempt against her first horse; there is nothing productive in that.
With regard to sport, almost every equestrian sport has a rich and long history, filled with both proud and shameful moments. Enjoy the sport for what it is, not for what you think it might become or currently might be. If these events were as cruel as we believe them to be, then no horse would ever be used in competition – period. There are strict rules to protect these animals, and the majority will enforce them rather than ignore them.
There will always be bad colts to spoil the herd, but any colt can be trained; rather take the time to do so and don’t judge an entire community on one person.
As for horses, they are all amazing, and each one is unique, different and beautiful in his own right. There is no single breed that will be universally loved, and yet there are individual horses who are.
We have the privilege to share an amazing sport with amazing animals and equally amazing people, so let’s try to remember that the next time we want to judge another rider based on our own prejudice.
The very motto of horse riding is: ‘We learn something new every day.’ How about we learn to embrace all things equestrian, no matter our experience, and love and appreciate not only our own horse, but also those of others?
Text: Engela Snyman