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‘It’s not easy to go out there and be yourself’: Carl Hester discusses his fears about social media and sport

With debates in the dressage world surrounding top hats and helmets just one equestrian topic that has been gaining a lot of traction online recently, Carl Hester is concerned that social media might be putting young riders off competing.

“People online can get pretty rude, savage even from some of the things I have seen written about people just because they might want to wear a top hat,” Carl says on episode 24 of The Horse & Hound Podcast. “It does need to be a serious debate – it’s about people’s lives after all – but it doesn’t get to get as vicious as I have seen.

“Those of us who come from a time when there was no social media just swanned along thinking that if you didn’t offend people, they probably liked you, and you liked them,” adds Carl, who first rode on a British team in 1990, and is now a five-time Olympian. “But we have now moved into this era of social media, and suddenly you realise that there is a group of people out there who seem to make it their mission to be nasty. They don’t think about you as a person, and I know most wouldn’t say it to my face, or another rider’s face.”

While Carl has been on the receiving end of online abuse himself, he is most concerned about the impact the negative effects of social media can have on younger riders, and their mental wellbeing and ambitions within the sport.

“I don’t want people, especially young riders, growing up and having to deal with some of the things that get written online – it makes you wonder why you would ever want to compete again, when you spend all your time worrying about who might video you and put it in front of other people so they can rip you apart.

“It’s not easy now to go out there and be yourself, if you’re always worried about what other people are going to say,” adds Carl, who admits he is no different to other riders in feeling this way. “I have always enjoyed competing but over the past few years I’m always wondering what might be said about this performance or that one, whether someone has taken a picture of my horse not looking its best and put it up online.

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“But you just have to trust your training system, be fair to the horse and aim for a correct way of riding and stick with that. Try to enjoy that. Competing can be huge fun, and that’s really what we’re all aiming for, so go out there and try to love every minute. I hate the idea of people being put off competing because of a very small group who, seemingly, don’t want us to enjoy it.”

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