Resisting the Apology Impulse

Social media can be a really strange place. At it’s best, it allows you to connect with people that you’d probably never get the chance to meet otherwise, usually just because of geography. They can become friends, share along in your journey and offer support. At it’s worst, it provides both the anonymity and the instantaneousness that allow people to make negative, hurtful, thoughtless comments, that they would most likely not make directly to someone’s face and that they might think better of if they gave it a moment longer before hitting “send.”

It seems like these comments and the people who make them are prevalent all over the place, whether your account has 100 followers or 20,000. You can always tell when someone has already had their fill of dealing with them because they preempt the potential attacks in the caption of their photo or video. Some of us feel like we have to apologize for our equitation, sometimes it’s a flaw or mistake in the video, sometimes it’s just the state of our horses (hello, mud season). Scrolling through my own Instagram feed, I can see a few pictures that I hesitated before posting, trying to identify what potential issues could be picked apart.

I just posted this photo of my saddle and realized that my stirrup pad is looking a little worse for wear and very much needs to be replaced.

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This is one of my favorite photos of Maria, it is framed and displayed in my living room, but I almost didn’t post it because there is considerable daylight under my thigh.

Photo by Jim Stoner.

Photo by Jim Stoner.

This is a screen grab from a video of the best dressage score Houdini has ever had, and there I am considerably in front of the vertical, easily one of my worst riding habits.

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Of course, no one looks textbook perfect all the time. Everyone is still learning, growing and improving as a rider, regardless of what photos they choose to share publicly. My stirrup pads are worn because (duh) I use them! Maria is a notoriously difficult show jumper; I love that photo because she looks solid, forward and alert. And the photo of Houdini… have you ever tried to bend steel with your arms? In all seriousness, I’ve been working on his submission for 16 years, and learning the ropes of dressage on a horse who is SO hard definitely creates some bad habits that I’m always working to correct.

Most often, I think that I’m harder on myself than anyone else, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we keep it in perspective. Looking at photos and videos of ourselves riding is one of the most effective ways to identify and work to correct mistakes. I’m sure each of us has one “sore subject” in particular, something that we’re hyper-aware of, working to correct or fix, that might make us a little more defensive than other topics when criticized. 

I can say that mine, without question, is Maria’s body condition. I’ve written extensively about Maria’s injuries, our struggles getting her weight and musculature back where I’d like it and keeping her fit and sound, so I won’t go into detail about that AGAIN, but suffice it to say it’s been a long journey. By and large, most everyone I interact with on Instagram is nothing but kind and supportive, but there is occasionally one person who feels the need to make a comment about how I shouldn’t be riding such a skinny horse, or how maybe I should feed her because she’s so skinny. I think “skinny” is the word that gets to me the most. I am fully aware that Maria was underweight and under-muscled when I started bringing her back from her injuries, but she has never been emaciated and her health has never been in danger due to her weight. The first negative comment I received on a photo that I posted said, “Why are you riding that poor skinny mare?” 

Through. The. Roof. I couldn’t even formulate a response because I was so busy seeing red. How dare this person imply that I shouldn’t even be riding my own horse? As if I would endanger the partner I’ve had for 12 years and probably twice as many injuries for a chance to participate in a ride-a-test? I didn’t respond and blocked her, but it really stuck with me. The other comment that really sticks out to me came from another person who I have never met, interacted with or heard of, but who is apparently a trainer in a different part of Texas from where I live. I posted what I thought was a funny video of Maria having a little tantrum at Houdini while they were stalled due to bad weather, and he commented, “maybe you should feed them they’re really skinny.” Is that not the most helpful comment you’ve ever heard? Of course! I just forgot to feed her! Can you feel how hard I’m rolling my eyes? Never mind the fact that she is under regular veterinary supervision, sees a chiropractor and gets massaged regularly, I’ve gone through 5 farriers in the last two years to find the best one I could, and every time I go to the feed store the clerk says “wow, you feed ALL of our best feeds.” 

Clearly struggling. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Clearly struggling. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Intellectually, I know that I take the best care of my horses that I possibly can. Emotionally, I want to jump down the throat of anyone who accuses me otherwise. It’s obviously a waste of time, anyone who feels the need criticize a stranger online (with, very clearly, no constructive intent behind the criticism) has some issues that will not be worked out by my response, no matter how viciously I defend myself or my horses.

I truly don’t know what the best response to those kinds of people is. I wish there was an easy answer, something you could say that would show them the error of their ways. But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not your job to defend yourself when you’ve done nothing but share your journey and your horses’ journey with honesty. Your job is only to perpetuate kindness, be supportive when you can, offer constructive comments when asked and stop apologizing! I know I don’t need to tell this to most of you, but, if you happen to find yourself reading this and can see some comments that you’ve made in what I described, I challenge you to consider why. What did you get out of it? What did you hope the effect would be on the person you said it to? What do you think the effect actually was? 

This year, I hope I see a lot less apologizing for being imperfect, for making mistakes and for still learning. I hope I see a lot less mean, unhelpful or downright nasty comments being made. Overall, I hope we can all band together to help make social media a little bit more of a positive place.

Let’s all try to embody the pure joy of Houdini in this moment for 2019!