Essays of an Equestrian

The following is in response to some thoughts posted on Facebook regarding what role human mental health plays in equestrian activities such as training. Another Facebook friend asked me to write about it, so I have. Thank you Craig Stevens for the idea and thank you Amanda James for suggesting I write on this topic. I hope you are pleased with the outcome.

An old adage states “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man”. We all know this is very true and being with our horses, caring for them and riding them often gives us great pleasure. Horses, it would seem,  stimulate the pleasure senses of our brains the same way any other gratifying experience would and when you look at it this way, you could say that horses are rather like a drug and that we are “horse addicted”.

And just like a drug we find we all need our “fix” and most of us cannot imagine our lives not being intertwined with our horses.

But with some people, “the drug” that is the horse is often insufficient in and of itself. Sometimes, we need more such as feeding our ego in order to increase our self esteem. Even when we’ve learned to ride well we still find the need to feed our ego because still, in our minds, we are not good enough. I think to varying degrees we all suffer from this, but the levels are very different from person to person. The need for sweet validation is exactly how horse shows came to be. Pride.

Speaking for myself, it is my goal to learn all that I can learn and be all I can be. I’ve been showing horses for years, but on that fateful day that I began my dressage journey I had to tuck my ego aside and begin as if I was a rank beginner starting at the very bottom of the “food chain” once again. It was a hard and bitter pill to swallow
yet I did it as my desire to be recognized as being accomplished overshadowed any damage to my ego. The lesser of two evils, as it were.

I tucked pride away for quite awhile, years even.It caused turmoil within me and quite frankly it sucked. But I did it as I felt this is what I needed to do. In some ways it’s still tucked away, my very own continuous humble pie. Most of the time I’m okay with it and remember that pride goeth before the fall.

We all know people who are unsatisfied with whom or what they are. We’ve all seen this type exaggerate and lie in order to elevate their status in the horse world. I’ve seen this manifest into acts of deceit, violence or meanness. There are those so desperately needful, so driven to be of equine importance that their mania truly knows no

There are those people who despite owning multiple horses and maybe even a barn aren’t satisfied with who or what they are. They want more. They are also desperately in search of something that can fulfill some void to their self esteem. Ego and pride demand it, they can’t control it and are slave to it and it makes them mean, manipulative and angry. And don’t you just love when they believe their own line of poo?!

I will refer to one that I know locally, the pseudo Olympian. I’ve mentioned them before, and despite the fact that they have multiple horses, a barn and students who believe they are magnificent it still isn’t enough. This person wants me and others outside their sphere of influence to worship them as well. They want the world to worship them and bow down. But I can’t and I never will nor should I. In this persons attempt to be recognized as great they dwell in a bad and malignant place where they continually try to hurt people and threaten them when all else fails. Folks like me are unfazed by their attacks but others often succumb and so the enabling continues. For these folks, the crazies of the horse world, it seems easier to comply than to fight them. Megalamania wins.

I cannot comply though. I have a big mouth and so I fight them. It is appalling that someone’s mental illness should be seen as an excuse to let them do bad things especially when they engage in activities that attempts to hurt others. Our own local whacko likes to call up people’s employers and “tell” on them. The whacko tries to demean them or get them into trouble as laughable as that sounds. In fact I’ve recently been threatened again by the local whacko who told a friend that they’ll call my job and makes all sorts of accusations. Had the whacko told me this I would have laughed in their face (again) and then double-dog dared them (again). What turmoil is going on inside them to cause this behavior? It’s both sad and scary and I’m not the first one the whacko has threatened this way. Nor will I be the last.

We all know people who want to be recognized as the best rider in their barn, or as I call it, the big fish in the little pond. Should they feel frustrated or threatened by another’s prowess they resort to gossip and belittling. This is similar, but to a far lesser degree harmful and I’m sure we’re all familiar with this.

Showing is in itself an attempt to satisfy the ego and when an authoritative figure like a judge (who surely must know what they are doing) vindicates a rider via good placings and comments, that rider is at the top of the world and we say the judge is a “good judge”. Should the judge not recognize the abilities of the rider and place them low or not at all, we are often angry and the first thing we do is question the competence of the judge. This is human nature, somewhat normal, and at some point we’ve all done it!

Not the worse thing in the world really. Unless of course the judge hears you! Sportsmanship can really fly into the ole manure bucket sometimes can’t it?

We’ve also all seen human behaviors which reflect the state of other mental issues they might have. Violence or roughness in those who are not compassionate to their horses comes to mind. Ironically, many of these people don’t even recognize their violent acts and in some ways more extreme cases remind me of how abusive spouses behave and their reasoning they give for being abusive sounds similar as well.

~ He/she wouldn’t listen

~ They are stubborn

~ They didn’t do what I wanted them to do/told them to do

~ They made me angry

As in all things, there is a fine line between these mental and emotional issues. Certainly it is wise for a equine professional to advertise in a manner which presents them in the best light, but too often that line is crossed when belittling others occurs with no good cause. Further confusing the mix is when maybe someone deserves to be
belittled because of their lack of expertise or some other negative factor like practicing rolkur for instance. We are caught in the position of having to decide if the criticism stems from jealousy or if it well deserving.

There are also those in the “business” of horses who are under constant pressure to perform and get results and to prove themselves at home and in the show ring. This pressure is transmitted to their students and horses. Rolkur and its many incarnations are proof of this and this is why so many use it. A short cut justifiable by result. It wouldn’t really classify as mental illness but rather a callousness when shortcuts aren’t avoided.

When I think about my time with horses I feel bad that I haven’t accomplished more. Yet I am able to separate this from the pride I have for what I have been able to do and learn and for this I am both happy and grateful. But, like many of you I strive for more. In the past my dream was to compete at the highest levels of dressage though now that dream has changed. I no longer wish to do so. Some of this is time and money but the rest is due to the distaste over what the state of competitive dressage currently is. So for me my ego remains intact and balanced. I do not need it so bad that my life is altered or my horse pushed beyond his limits.

Yes, I wish to succeed but not to the detriment of my horse. I couldn’t live with myself and for my ego it is more important that I feel a worthy and compassionate human than to go through horses like waste paper and ride a harmful fad or fashion like rolkur tossing them aside like rubbish when their usefulness has ceased. It is up to each
one of us to decide exactly how important “winning” is and to what lengths we will go to achieve it. We must ask ourselves if the ends justify the means.

My conscience apparently, has a louder voice than my ego and that’s a good thing!

If you feel your ego perfectly intact here’s a test. Join an equine posting board and post a video of your riding, asking for critique. If what comes back causes you not to blink an eye then you have a better ego than the rest of us!

I cannot forget to mention the overzealous amateur owner. This would be the owner who views everything in a negative fashion. No barn ever cares for their horse Pookie good enough. No instructor is worthy enough. Doting on their horse without limitation and believing everyone else should do so too. Forever worrying about or concerning themselves with what others are doing or saying or how often they come to the barn. Socially inept they say or do the wrong thing and alienate others. They stagnate in their training and give up all former goals blaming everyone else. These are often not bad people per se, but people who suffer from extreme anxieties. Ever notice that their social circles are small and often they are without children to dote over? Easy to make fun of, as angry as they make us, we should sympathize with their anxieties as it must be an awful place for them to dwell.

In closing, horse people like all people have their hangups, anxieties and illnesses. We are what we are. We suffer because of who and what we are. This is understandable, but when the hangups, anxieties and
illnesses lead to mistreatment of our horses then we must take a step back and reevaluate exactly who and what we are and for what reason we are doing this.

(Insert funny story blurb here: I had gone on a trip with a bunch of horsemen and we were all on a bus going to one of those party fishing boats. Along the way the bus passed a lone rider working their horse in an arena set up with jumps. They weren’t jumping but rather working or warming up on the flat. Every head on that bus turned and silently watched that rider. Then a lone voice, my girlfriends husband (the one of fart fame) stated loudly “Oh my God, 50 horse people in a bus watching someone ride and no one criticized them!?)

Yes, that is exactly how bitchy we are… wonder we’re all paranoid!

I have decided that when I die the thing I want people to say and remember is not what I accomplished at shows. I want a simple, short statement to be said by all: “Yeah, they were a good rider”.

Truly the Holy Grail of equestrian sport is to be thought of as “good” by all horsemen. Yes, that would be do well for my ego!

I would love to hear your stories of crazy horse people – just click on comments and post! Please do not use location or name of your favorite crazy person.

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.