Bullying is sadly a feature of every level of equestrian sport, online, in livery yards and at competitions. H&H speaks to three people trying to make a difference, in three different ways
SUPPORT for targeted riders, a business raising awareness of the effect bullying can have and a film about a young girl who turned the tables are among new initiatives aimed at beating the bullies.
Coach Christa Dillon, international eventer Phoebe Buckley and rider Heather Mussett have set up Riders Helping Riders, an online hub aimed at supporting equestrians who have been bullied, with the message: “You are not alone.”
The website allows riders at all levels to share stories, and provides links to support, as well as policies from British and Irish equestrian bodies.
Christa told H&H the three creators of the site are friends, who have all had personal experience of bullying.
“Phoebe said, ‘There’s not a lot to support people going through it; why don’t we try to set something up?’” she said. “We’re all aware of how acutely damaging bullying can be, and it can be difficult to know where to turn.”
Christa said she felt upset when she was bullied, but also frustrated by feeling upset, and she would question whether she had done anything wrong to provoke the negative behaviour.
The website allows people to share their stories and experiences, also featuring top riders’ thoughts, so victims of bullying know they are not alone in feeling the way they do.
“People take comfort in knowing other people have been there too,” Christa said, adding that the stories added so far cover all situations, from social media to livery yards to competitions.
“There are lots of anti-bullying campaigns, which do a great job, but there isn’t as much for people going through it. This offers options for those who want help.
“Most people on the coalface are humble and kind, but at every level and niche, this does exist, and it’s poisonous.”
Meloni Poole, a writer and director who was bullied at school, and whose horse helped her turn the tables, has created a short film based on her experiences. TRiGGA has won awards, and been screened at 40 international film festivals, shown in UK schools and viewed more than 30,000 times on Omeleto.
Meloni told H&H she hopes the inspiring theme will help others in a similar situation.
“In this case, it was the love of horses that helped me overcome but it’s quite universal; if you have a passion, it can see you through difficult times,” she said.
“We can retreat and be ashamed of what’s happening, but the girl in the film, who was me, finds strength through her horse.”
Ms Poole said making the film made her question the causes of bullying, and realise people need help to feel confident, share their experiences and feel less alone.
“It’s easy to feel ashamed and to want to disappear,” she said. “This film has allowed discussions about differences and acceptance, and trying to understand why bullying happens.”
Caitlin Clark, a 19-year-old rider, told H&H she struggled with poor mental health for years as a result of bullying, and hopes her business Rommé Vitality will help others in a similar situation.
“It affected me badly,” she said. “When I started competing and doing well, people didn’t like it, and I got trolled on social media, too. My pony Rummy, whom the business is named after, was the thing that kept me going, and it’s something that needs to be talked about more in the horse world.
“I want riders to know it’s OK not to be OK, and to speak up.”
Caitlin’s business offers boxes aimed at relieving anxiety, and boosting wellness and positivity,
“I wanted to help people,” she said. “Bullying happens all the time and people need to realise how much damage their comments can have.”
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