The diary of the home-made livery yard: bullying in the horse world — my experiences and how to tackle it

  • Last week was ‘Anti-Bullying Week 2019: Change Starts With Us’. What a fantastic awareness initiative to bring bullying to the forefront of our minds and encourage both children and adults to stand together to confront and prevent the unnecessary suffering of the victims of bullies

    Bullying is just awful. I would love to think that the majority of those reading this have never experienced bullying but, regretfully, I hugely doubt that is the case.

    Bullying is the intention to hurt someone emotionally or physically and is usually repetitive. Intimidation, humiliation and coercion are inflicted upon the victims of bullying in the forms of name calling, criticisms, threats, rumours, physical attacks or exclusion, to name but a few. These behaviours shatter the victims’ mental health and is so destructively powerful it can, ultimately, end lives.

    As equestrians, we are all painfully aware that bullying is rife in the industry.

    I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is because sport is a breeding ground for jealousy? Perhaps it is that there are so many varying methods and ideologies in equestrianism, that it is easy to have differences in opinion and judge others negatively? Factor in that our horses are often thought of as an extension of ourselves. Almost like our children. You can see how things can get very personal, very quickly.

    Equestrian yards can often resemble school playgrounds. Riders, owners and trainers come from all walks of life and are lumped together on a yard and required to get along. Sometimes it works fabulously. Either you are all from the same ‘camp’ of equestrianism, or you have differing ideas, but you accept and celebrate the variety. Sometimes, however, there are nasty clashes. Cliques and divisions can form and those who are deemed on the ‘outside’ will have this made painfully clear to them by those on the ‘inside’.

    No talk of bullying would be complete without mention of the internet, of course. Social media now offers a convenient opportunity for bullies to gather information to be used against their victims and provides the bullies with an effective platform upon which to spread their vitriol.

    I am incredibly fortunate, in that bullying is not something I have ever suffered from for any length of time. I have, however, experienced several singular episodes of bullying during my time working with horses. I have been bullied by an employment boss (a couple of them, actually, now I think about it!), I have been bullied by liveries on my own yard (the audacity!), I have been bullied by a schooling client and I have been bullied by internet trolls.

    I am by no means an expert on the subject and I would never claim that my way is the right way, but I would like to share with you my tried and tested methods for dealing with low level bullying and boosting your confidence in the face of generally mean people:

    1. Talk to someone. Tell your most supportive people. Try and believe every word when they tell you that you are amazing and that your bully is a “horrid, smelly poo-face”. If you are in any doubt, this absolutely does not count as return-fire bullying. This is purely friendly support and consolation. It is totally allowed.

    2. Make a list of all your horsey accomplishments. Anything from that hard won trophy or rosette, to the time you managed sitting trot all the way down the long side without getting a stitch, to that time you managed to muck out your stable before the yard kettle boiled.

    3. Make a list of all your horsey goals for the next few months. Think of something you can do right now to take a step towards making it happen. Print off that show schedule, book that lesson, or simply message a supportive friend and grandly announce your plans to bring your goals to life. The best revenge against bullies is to quietly lead a life that is successful for you, in the face of their hurtful actions. Take some solace in knowing that at least you don’t have to get your kicks by making other people miserable.

    4. Self care. For me that is a reliable combination of a hot bath, followed by posh wine that is wildly out of my usual price range. Think of the fancy bottles that are displayed in wooden crates in Waitrose with shredded paper cradling them. Or, failing that, something over £5 from Co-op will do the job nicely. You’ll know whatever it is for you. It might be chocolate. Perhaps you need to buy some more matchy-matchy?

    5. Write a therapeutic letter to the bully. This is my absolute favourite. This is what usually heals me, conclusively. The idea is that you write a letter to your bully. No holds barred. Tell them exactly what you think of them. Rant, swear, call them names. Do the literary equivalent of sobbing and crying. Whatever the injustice is that is burning inside of you, write it down. When you are done, you send it to a trusted person. Someone who is a little bit out of the loop, so there is no chance of incrimination, who will respond a way you want to hear. I have an invaluable trusted person. Honestly, it is the best therapy.

    6. Be disciplined with cyber bullies and trolls. I have a ‘one reply’ rule. I allow myself one chance to respond. I can say my piece and (usually) have the satisfaction of shooting the troll down with wit or intelligent argument. If I indulge in anything more than that, I feel I am starting to ‘negotiate with terrorists’. Know it is not a battle for you. Walk away with your head held high.

    7. Post a passive aggressive meme or article on social media. I am joking. Sort of. It might make you feel better? I don’t know…

    8. Get legal support. Have a chat with the Police. I am completely serious. Sometimes certain forms of bullying are a criminal offence. I rang the Police (non-emergency number) when threats were made to harm me on the internet. I was never actually concerned for my life, but the Police informed me I had a case for threat to harm, defamation and slander to my business. I had no intention of acting upon this information, but I felt incredibly empowered to know that the law was on my side.

    9. Get mental health support. Bullying will ruin you. Even the strongest of people. Do some research into bullying and mental health on the internet, speak to your doctor, ask for counselling. Be proactive. Just one tiny step towards looking after your mental health can make all the difference to your well-being.

    10. Exit the situation. If none of the above is useful and it is at all a possibility, get the hell out of there. Leave the yard. Get a new job. Walk away from a toxic clique and find some new friends. Be brave. Anything is possible. You can do it.

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    In line with the ‘Change Starts With Us’ message, we all have huge power within ourselves to tackle bullying in the horse world.

    Unless horse or human welfare is compromised, or our advice is asked for, we must bite our tongues. Celebrate, or at the very least, tolerate each rider and owner’s differences.

    If you encounter bullying at your yard, this is your chance to be a hero. Do what you can. A dramatic and public display of solidarity with the victim would be commendable. Equally, inviting someone who is looking a bit lonely for a hack or simply not joining in with the bullying and a quiet message of love and support later that evening can be life-changing for a victim. Feel what is right and appropriate.

    Sending all my love to anyone who is suffering from bullying right now. You don’t deserve this heartache. Hang in there. This won’t be your life forever.

    Katy x

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