An international dressage rider has discussed the negativity directed towards riders online – and highlighted that often the one nasty comment out of a thousand nice ones is the one that is remembered.
Olivia Oakeley spoke out during Mental Health Awareness Week this month and said whether someone is a professional rider, an influencer or a teenager just having fun, there is a “constant feeling of pressure and dread” with social media.
Olivia, who made five European team appearances at junior and young rider level between 2010 and 2014, told H&H she experienced negativity on social media in the early stages of her career.
“I was 17 and had won a class at the Addington CDI and there were some photos of the prizegiving posted in one of these classical dressage groups online. My horse at the time Donna Summer was renowned for sort of bolting in a prizegiving and I always had absolutely zero control. In the photo he was quite short in the neck and I looked like I was holding on for grim death, because I was,” she said.
“In the post I was basically torn apart and eventually it got taken down, but I learned quite early on that you need to think about what content is released on social media because people weren’t very nice.”
Olivia said the online abuse directed at riders is “baffling”.
“I don’t know whether it’s the industry as a whole, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on and people are not very nice a lot of the time,” she said.
“There’s just so many people that think they can hide behind a computer. We all have our opinions and you’re going to disagree with certain things, but there’s no need to ram your opinion down someone’s throat when it can really negatively affect them. Out of a thousand nice comments, you can guarantee you’ll only ever remember that one nasty comment on a post.”
Olivia added that as a professional rider she believes it is important to share the good and the bad of horses and training, but thinks many riders will not want to owing to a fear of potential backlash.
“I feel quite passionate about the image you’re presenting to people that follow you online because with horses, as anyone in the industry knows, we have more lows than we do highs – that’s just the way it is – but a lot of the time I don’t think you can be truly open about it. If you posted a horse napping leaving the yard for example you can guarantee someone will comment ‘Have you had a vet look at it? It might have this wrong or this wrong’ or ‘You need to do this’ and ‘That isn’t right’. I don’t think people realise the impact their words can have or the way they can be taken,” she said.
“I think there can sometimes be a false illusion about what we go through as professional riders, it’s by no means easy or plain sailing. But it’s very difficult to be really open on social media about when it is a bit trickier or you‘re having a bit of a lull with the horses. Like anything you have peaks and troughs in training, I had one horse who I went through probably a year thinking ‘I’m never going to be good enough to ride this horse’, but it’s the last thing I’d put out and tell anyone at the time. However it’s a difficult situation because then it’s also that vicious cycle where you’re portraying something online that’s not necessarily 100% accurate.”
Olivia hopes she can raise awareness about the pressures of social media and said she has a “rule of thumb” now with online platforms.
“If I see anything that makes me feel a little bit anxious or makes me upset – whether it’s horse-related or everyday stuff – I will always unfollow it and then I don’t need to worry. It’s my way of having control on social media, and I think it really helps having boundaries like that,” she said.
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