The necessary evil of social media within equestrianism

  • Social media plays an “important role” in equestrian sport, but problems around online abuse are still having a negative impact.

    Online platforms are used by many professional riders to share updates with fans and to help promote sponsors, but a number of recent incidents on social media have involved riders and jockeys being targeted with hateful comments.

    When Jet Set, the ride of Swiss Olympic eventer Robin Godel, was put down owing to an injury sustained during the cross-country phase of the Olympic eventing in Tokyo, the 23-year-old rider received abusive comments on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
    Robin, who also received abuse via email and telephone, told H&H he had not had negative comments online before Tokyo.

    “It was a big surprise for me, I never thought that could happen. I didn’t think people could be so hard and negative,” he said.

    “People said we took the decision to put Jet Set down because of the insurance money, because we were selfish and that we could have saved him. The problem is they don’t understand, it was simply impossible to recover from that injury.”

    Despite the comments, Robin said he has no plans to stop using social media and that it plays an important role in sport.

    “Social media is the modern way to communicate and it’s very important for us to be able to share results from competitions and news about our horses,” he said.

    “We have a lot of ways to filter the negative comments and I try not to take things personally. I also had a lot of positive comments from people who did understand the situation about Jet Set.”

    A Facebook and Instagram spokesman told H&H the company is “looking into” the comments on Robin Godel’s posts and added that Facebook and Instagram do not tolerate abuse, and remove anything which violates their policies.

    Israeli showjumper Dani Waldman has also been the subject of abuse online, and the issue is also prevalent in racing. Trainer Jamie Osborne shared a threatening message sent to his daughter, eventing youth medallist and apprentice jockey Saffie Osborne, on Twitter. Jockeys Paula Muir, Alex Jary, and Jonjo O’Neill are also among those to share abusive messages that have been sent to them.

    Grand prix dressage rider Abi Lyle told H&H she removed Facebook from her phone following negative comments on videos she had posted.

    “In the videos, I wasn’t even on a horse. In one, my dog was barking in the background and the trolls came out saying, ‘Shoot that dog,’” she said. “I never scroll on Facebook any more as it’s a very unpleasant place to be. I keep a business account, but I am very careful about what I post.

    “Before I stopped scrolling on Facebook, I would see videos of riders doing their best and they were getting so many negative comments. As a rider, it has an impact on you. Even when watching the Olympics, I had thoughts of ‘Do I really want to be there when the world is going to come on the internet and scrutinise me if my piaffe is not sitting enough?’”

    Abi added that she believes many individuals use horse welfare as a “free pass” to treat people badly online.

    “When something goes wrong with horses, that’s really bad luck, but that’s horses, full stop. People are so quick to say ‘That’s cruel,’” she said.

    “I’ve decided to launch a YouTube series where I share some of my favourite tests from top riders and do a reaction talking about all the positive things. In dressage especially, people are so quick to watch a video and look at what they don’t like rather than what they do. I want to make something really fun and to provide some education where I pick apart what’s good – rather than what’s negative.”

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