Last week I wrote about a horrifying accident that occurred on trail to get across the point that your choice to not wear a helmet doesn’t affect only you, but your loved ones and fellow trail users. For the most part the point got across and it has sparked lively debate about the use of helmets in our sport. There have been lots of shared stories of either similar events, or other points raised such as who takes care of your horse if you suffer head trauma, or are your family prepared to care for you if you become a vegetable? The other side here was that even on your bombproof horse, you are not necessarily safe because accidents happen. Horses are not robots, and neither are humans. Things happen. This accident really had nothing to do with the rider not wearing a helmet (she certainly didn’t deserve what happened because she made that choice), or the fact that it was technically a competition (see below), or that the horse was very green (most well broke horses I know would also panic if a rider was tossed underneath them), however I can certainly say, as I was hit by trees, I certainly wished I was on a horse with more buttons… it could have easily resulted in my demise too.
There was also a sub-point that most people picked up on too – the value of paramedics on scene. It’s something I am going to be advocating going forward because frankly our sport is well behind the other riding disciplines when it comes to caring for the rider. Care for the horse, we got it! Care for the rider… who cares about the rider? Not enough people, I can tell you that.
There was a third aspect here that came up in the comments, and that’s the safety and or lack of conditioning concerns that taking a green-broke horse into competition raises. I would like to address those before I get into the real meat of this article.
The article was intended to scare. It was a terrifying accident and it certainly changed the way I viewed helmet use (before I just went along with the general view that its their choice and it doesn’t affect me… it does). I purposely wrote it a certain way and excluded certain details so I would have an impact. Watering it down wasn’t going to get my message out there.
So why did we think it was ok to take out these horses? For starters, we were the only horses in competition that day. Not just our division, but literally the only 4 horses on trail at all. It was a multi-day competition where most riders did a 2* or 3* on the first 2 days, and had either wrapped it up or left camp entirely by day 3. We had also ridden day 1 and 2 on these trails, knew them well, and the horses were on home turf. These riders were also experienced with breaking young horses and working with problem horses.
A green horse has to leave the ring at some point and get on trail. With vets, officials, crew, babysitter horses and paramedics on site, it was a better opportunity than at home alone. We all agreed before that there was no pressure to complete the ride. If the horse’s showed any signs that they weren’t ready whether at mile 1, halfway, or even at the end, we would quit while the experience would still be a positive training tool. We continued after the accident because following the trail was the fastest and safest route home. Yes we got credit for completion, but were 6 minutes away from disqualifying ourselves. By no means were we ever racing. We also felt the horses would be fit enough because they do 10-15 miles in their field to get food and water on a daily basis and the riders were fit enough that if required, we could get off and run the full 25 on foot to save our horses.
So as soon as the online attacks began, I put this information out there. A few wise friends advised me to just put my defense out there and butt out, let the internet duke it out among themselves. Of course, I didn’t listen. When the attacks became personal, I became defensive. It’s hard not to. Things got out of control.
So this has me thinking a lot about bullying in our sport.
Most people will tell you this wonderful story about how nice endurance riders are. We aren’t going to make fun of you for using borrowed equipment or not having a fancy horse. True! But bullying still exists, and its masked under the veil of horse welfare.
“I just want to see you be successful and I am concerned for your horse”
It’s something I heard a lot when I started the sport, and I hear it a lot either directly to a new rider’s face or behind their backs when a mean comment is made. It’s one of those cop outs that we use when we are putting down another rider. I have been guilty of it, and I feel bad for ever being that person. If I did this to you, I am sorry. It still horrifies me when I see it happen and when those words come out of my own mouth. None of us are perfect. It makes us feel superior and we can reward our “concern” for the horse with a pat on the back and go on riding in our happy bubble.
Given we like to do a lot of educational and informative posts on this blog, I want to share with all you new riders advice I tell people behind the scenes – these people don’t know you. (and this goes for experienced distance riders too!)
They don’t know what you have put into it. They don’t know how many hours you have spent on trail and in what form. They don’t know how many articles you have read. They don’t know who you have consulted. They don’t know how you have prepared. They don’t know if you take lessons at home, or if you have been successful in another sport.
They are likely going to assume you know nothing and have done everything wrong. That you can’t tell which end of the horse bites and which one kicks. They are going to give you a lot of unsolicited advice and some of it isn’t going to come to you in a positive way. They do feel like it comes from a good place, and it probably does, but in thinking about the horse, they haven’t thought about the rider and their feelings. They haven’t thought about how the way they tell a rider something can come off as offensive, or how offensive advice no matter how good will be automatically rejected. It implies you don’t care about your or are too stupid to care for your horse. You do care about your horse, its probably why you entered this sport and that’s why these words are probably going to sting even more than being bullied in another sport.
For those of you who want to make a difference by commenting on my post, or “helping” another rider who may or may not have been successful, can I give you some advice too? Stop and think before you post. Does your comment add value? Do you know the whole story? Is it in hindsight? If so, chances are if they are sharing the story, they have already suffered the consequences, learned their lesson and you are just punishing them again for no reason. If that’s the case, you are just being mean. Comments like “you should have known better” are just as hurtful as “you are an awful human being.” There is no reason to criticize someones intelligence or their decency.
Lastly, I would like to make the point here that I do not recommend anyone go out, hop on a green horse, and take it into competition. I think most of you are scared enough from my article that you aren’t going to. GOOD! It’s not impossible to take a green broke horse out on trail in competition, but there has to be a lot of conditions to take into careful consideration before it should ever be attempted. We certainly didn’t jump into the competition before weighing all of our options and our capabilities.
Accidents happen, learn from them, forgive them, forgive others, and keep it positive. We all want to see happy horses and happy riders returning to the sport and enjoying long careers.
I have seen plenty of amazing riders and horseman get put down simply because of the assumptions and doubt others cast on them.
Listen to what the professionals say. The vets who see your horse through your competition. Your certified coach, who is improving your riding and horsemanship skills. Your home veterinary team who can see the big picture. Your farrier. Your chiropractor. Literally any person who is certified and qualified to give you an objective review. The internet will always give you mixed results.
Find a great mentor, someone who gets to know the real you and will celebrate your successes and discuss your failures with a kind heart and an open mind. Someone who is willing to learn from you as you are them. We are all learning, always.
Remember, sometimes nothing you say or do will ever be good enough for someone else. Its a good thing you aren’t doing this for them.
Happy trails. Sarah.