Laura Tomlinson – world, European and Olympic medallist, who won team gold at London 2012 – on the damage “keyboard warriors” can do to our sport
SINCE my March column in which I wrote about relaxation (17 March), I have made some big progress with my up-and-coming horse Fallatijn (Finn), and we were able to enjoy our first CDI win at Hagen CDI3* last week.
We scored personal bests in both the grand prix and the special, and it is always lovely to hear the British national anthem, especially on German soil. To have Lara Butler next to me in second on our home-bred Kristjan felt very special too.
As a rider with four children, I have very little time to worry about what is said on social media, but it has come to my attention that for many riders at different levels, including the very top tier, life can be made very unpleasant by people’s aggressive comments online.
A video of Matthias Rath’s winning ride at Mannheim CDI4* was recently posted on social media by ClipMyHorse TV, and the comments under it were so nasty. Olympic champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl intervened on his behalf, asking people to consider riders’ feelings and not to write things they wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
My concern, while reading through the comments, were not just for Matthias’ mental health, but also for our sport in general. Many of the comments were not personal to Matthias, but relevant to any top dressage combinations.
Where most of us in the know would say, “What a harmonious test with an open frame,” many of the critics are seeing the opposite – and some disagree with a horse being in tack at all or used for riding in high-end competition. The problem is not just the “haters”, and how they can impact upon people’s mental health for the good of their “crusades”, but also how competitive equestrian sport is perceived as a whole.
Do we need better commentary?
I REMEMBER once reading a comment about my London Olympic freestyle test on Mistral Højris, in which the person had written how awful it was that the horse was foaming at the mouth. Why would they know that a small amount of foam is actually considered a sign of a good contact? Do we need to have better commentary when our sport is showcased to the wider public, explaining these things to non-horsey viewers?
Maybe more shows could include interviews with riders afterwards, where they can explain where they are on their journey with that particular horse.
Often I feel the keyboard warriors assume that the top rider in question believes they were perfect, and that it’s the critic’s job to tell them they are not. But in reality, riders tend to be their own biggest critics.
In dressage we sign up to being judged in the ring, but we do not sign up to be ripped to shreds online by cowards and often people who know very little of what they are talking about. As a mother, it worries me to see how mean people can be when hiding behind a screen.
I agree that horses don’t have a voice and in some, rare, circumstances, someone must speak up for them, but that’s what stewards are for, as well as critical yet respectful journalists and commentators who are equipped with the facts – not just keyboards.
I found Mark Phillips’ post-Badminton Horse Trials column to be a great example of this, albeit in eventing, as he dissected competitors’ rides in a very fair way, and we could do with seeing more of this type of fair critique in dressage.
In many ways, the world is becoming a more tolerant and open-minded place, and but at the same time, I feel that many people have become more cruel since they have had the internet as a platform.
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- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 June (NB: Delivery of subscriber copies may be delayed this week due to the effects of the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday on the postal service. We apologise in advance for any delays experienced by our subscribers.)
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