Anna Ross on social media and why we could all benefit from some reality
COMPETITIONS have restarted and riders all over the land have been nervously trying on their jackets. Lockdown sent people in two opposing directions: some have become fitness fanatics and others turned to the fridge for solace.
I enjoyed reading the H&H dressage special issue last week (1 April), including the feature on outside perceptions of the sport. I would argue, though, that dressage does not have a perception problem because it looks effortless to the general public, as was discussed in the feature. Ballet dancers also look effortless, so perhaps we need to tap into that – the focus for dressage should be on the magical, invisible communication and harmony between horse and rider.
The very best riders allow their horses to shine via their discreet signals using the very least pressure, so we all should be aspiring to this.
Speaking of harmony, I was interested to learn that at the Bundeschampionate – the German young horse championship – there is now a prize for the most harmonious warm-up, which is awarded in the main arena at the show with the other prizes.
This is a fun move to support horse welfare, and perhaps to encourage onlookers to look for the good and spot their own winner. It also, crucially, highlights the importance of a harmonious partnership.
A worrying trend
IT was interesting that most contributors to the feature on mental health in dressage mentioned social media as providing added pressure.
We are all aware of the “dark side”, and particularly Facebook and Twitter, which are word-based. I find the photo-based Instagram a more friendly and positive platform, as well as the video-based TikTok. These platforms are more recent – perhaps the group who grew up with them are less interested in words than images.
Hopefully this trend demonstrates that there could be an easier “ride” in the future for those coming into our sport as trolling becomes outdated and socially unacceptable.
Being trolled can be synonymous with success as it is often borne of jealousy. Two very successful riders in their late twenties contacted me last week to tell me that they had received “online hate” for the first time. I congratulated both on having finally “arrived”.
Thankfully they are both established riders who took a robust view and were supported by their peer group. But it’s scary to think that children or young adults already feeling pressure to perform, and who might be less equipped to cope, could be abused online.
The consequences of feeling their career might be “ruined” by online trolling could be absolutely devastating. Combine this with riders being worried about becoming a target themselves if they stand up to the bullies, and we can see a worrying trend.
As Carl Hester said, support from trainers who understand and can be confided in is key. When considering who will advise their child or young adult, parents should investigate both the physical and online environment their child may enter. If the social media “style” is at odds with the parents’, further research can help direct them to a more appropriate environment for their offspring.
It’s a useful window into the company ethos. Social media is here to stay; we cannot simply swerve around it.
Thrills and spills
THERE are plenty of quick swerves on international grand prix rider Steph Croxford’s hilarious new Facebook page, S***edressageunited. The page was set up for people to share their funniest moments and major bloopers online, and it’s been a huge success. Those brave enough to post have given everyone a good laugh.
There is great pressure across social media to show only the “best bits” online, which can leave people feeling like failures if they feel their own world doesn’t match up. In this group, there is a healthy dose of reality, from the competitor who shared her score of 39% and is currently in the lead of the “race to the bottom”, to another who ended up facing the wrong way for her final salute.
Full of thrills and spills, it’s proving great fun. Well done Steph!
This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (8 April, 2021)
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