The Shift in Equestrian Instagram
Social media is hard.
Whether you’re a professional blogger, documenting a journey through life on a smaller scale, or using your accounts strictly for personal content, there is sometimes no way around the emotions that Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (just to name a few) may churn in the pit of our stomachs. Backhanded comments, armchair trainers and trolls are quickly becoming “just a part of social media,” a new normal per say. But, I can’t help ask the question of why? Why does it have to be this way, and why are a select few stooping down low to hurtful means of communication? As a community, we deserve much better.
Now, I may never know the answer to this proposed question, people are just people and it takes all kinds of kinds. As my grandfather used to remind me, “that’s what makes a horse race, sugar.”
Let’s rewind to July 2015, shall we? After much encouragement from Bailey, @joyful_dressage on the ‘gram, I decided to dip a toe into creating a separate Instagram account for all things Leah related. If we’re being candid, those who followed me on my personal weren’t necessarily itching to know what Leah and I were working on, nor were they interested in seeing her bright blaze grace their morning feed-scrolling. I totally get it.
2015 deemed to be a mentally challenging year through emotional family moves and the transition forward after a four-year toxic relationship finally came to a close. I yearned for a creative outlet, a place to express myself through words and photos of the one thing that mattered the most to me besides my parents: my mare. I coined “the blonde and the bay” based upon our hair colors, no surprise there, plus, I thought it was a cute identifier for my relatively new partnership with Leah. Without much hesitation, my idea came to life right before my eyes.
I entered equestrian Instagram without expectations, professional photos, or a certain aesthetic like those we so commonly see nowadays. At first, my feed was generic. Photos contained little to no backstory, and I enjoyed posting the pretty things versus the realistic moments. I had no trajectory of where I wanted my account to go because, well, I didn’t know. The Blonde & The Bay was simply a place to share my photos of Leah, and I certainly didn’t intend on treating it like a journal. However, the more I began to tap the “share” button, the more I realized my desire to connect with other likeminded equestrians around the globe.
This sparked my ambition to unfold life as a true dressage rider, meaning, writing about the struggles, successes, failures and triumphs as opposed to just the highlights. Opening up about my current happenings often led to individuals eager to reach out and share their similar experiences. Inevitably, I found my niche and made a promise to myself that authenticity, transparency, and honesty would forever lie at the foundation of The Blonde & The Bay. I’ve stayed true to my morals since, and I wouldn’t choose to share my life in any other manner.
As cliché as it might sound, the rest is history.
Focusing on the here and now, I never imagined The Blonde & The Bay would blossom into my own little business venture, nonetheless a successful blog with a pretty decent following. I’ve gained a handful of close friends through some fantastically amazing women, and created business relationships with other brands and stables. It’s opened doors and welcomed new opportunities that I wouldn’t have ever had the chance to attain otherwise. But, my favorite part of Instagram has to be interacting with my followers. I was blatantly unaware of how many kind souls there are within the equestrian world, mostly because my “in-person” interactions haven’t always been so uplifting. Over the years, my followers have become my friends. I have a great “core group” - as I like to refer to them - that offer nothing but encouragement and guiding words along my strides with Leah.
There is no doubt about it, ya’ll: Instagram has changed, and not particularly within the equestrian sphere. Four to five years ago, not a single fashion blogger appeared on my feed. Users weren’t fighting an algorithm and our friend’s posts were happily organized in chronological order. The filters used were those provided by the app or a free editing service, not purchased for Lightroom as a preset. Numbers weren’t involved, even though 100 likes on a photo proved worthy of mentioning to close friends. The feeds I scrolled through were not perfectly curated. Not one ABC’s The Bachelor or The Bachelorette contestant used “influencer” underneath their name as their chosen career. Most notably, trolls were few and far between, at least from my perspective as a significantly smaller account at the time.
Instagram’s shift has presented both positive and negative outcomes. I’d like to believe the positives outweigh the negatives. For starters, I have noticed that the high volume of user growth has opened the door for much needed diversity within our equine society. Subjects once viewed as taboo are now rising to the surface with new light through blogs, websites, captions and IG stories. Riders are finding their voices and embracing their shortcomings, all while realizing perfection simply isn’t attainable for anyone, regardless of who may be viewed as “#goals.” The power of sharing has provided awareness for relevant causes, such as horse abuse, kindness acts, body image, and so many more societal affairs. In a way, Instagram has almost morphed into a hub for every equestrian, with access to, for example, information, educational materials, helpful tips, advice, the ability to scout products from small businesses or score a second hand treasure; it’s virtually available at our fingertips. “Online” acquaintances have bloomed to real-life friendships. This application has been one of the better ways to build relations between every type of rider.
I’ve made no bones about how large of a role my Instagram family has served in my dressage quest, and life in general. In fact, I often feel as if I’ve literally “grown-up” before the eyes of a few of my longest followers. Even more so in the last year, I think it’s safe to say I’ve laid most everything out on a silver platter, exposing my darkest vulnerabilities from past relationships to crippling fear. My underlying hope forever aiming to strike a cord with a fellow equestrian, or even those not associated with horses, who may’ve withstood a comparable storm. I consider myself blessed to have such a delightful group of inspirational women offering relentless support. With the growth of The Blonde & The Bay, I’ve carefully sought out accounts that align with my views and beliefs. Uprightly, associating with the right people can make the entire difference when publically writing about our unique paths. My tribe is my favored positive aspect of Instagram, and I couldn’t be more eternally thankful for each of them.
I feel as if I could craft a novel based upon this topic alone, but you all thoroughly receive the message.
Having said this, Instagram’s antagonistic facets have slowly trickled through the cracks. Sure, one could argue it’s merely unavoidable, but as I stated in my opening paragraph, social media does not, and should not, be a place for hate. The more my account has flourished, the more negativism I’ve come to notice as opposed to the days where a “K” did not come after my numerical follower count. I am aware that certain parties may hold me, and many others, to a higher standard, but that does not give anyone the right to condemn, shame, or cast unsolicited training lectures upon my posts. Coincidentally enough, the majority of the backhanded comments I’ve encountered originate from users who do not follow me. If they do, rarely, if ever, are they engaging on my content.
Bailey mentioned a few solid talking points when we chatted about this particular obstacle so many equestrian Instagrammers face. First, the “moments in time” issue. These types of posts can be a magnificent tool for empowerment, but almost always come with a disclaimer attached… a new trend for budding social media. How unfortunate. In the same breath, uploading a short video clip can send trolls into frenzy-like vultures circling on something dead in the road. Take it from someone who knows. Just a few days ago, I shared a happy moment with Leah from our ride in the field. The majority of the comments were nothing short of enthusiastic, but I received several that left me shaking my head in utter disappointment. One account rudely wondered why I would ever consider training outside of the arena; another harshly questioned my horsemanship for using my double bridle as opposed to my snaffle, and my personal favorite statement from a non-follower, “post the trot, poor horse.”
Laughable, isn’t it? Small-minded individuals quickly threw shade on a 19-second video taken from what was a 45-minute hack around the ranch with no backstory knowledge or recognition for my partnership with Leah. Because I did not record the other 95% of the ride where we were solely walking, relaxing, and enjoying the summer sun, my video became handy to patronize as it did not fit their bill of ideals. Mind you, these folks have absolutely no earthly sense of Leah’s preferences or quirks, training habits or characteristics. They’re simply the blind leading the blind.
As Bailey stated, Instagram today makes it easy to snap judgments instead of developing educated opinions, like you would do so by reading a book or blog. The reoccurring motif that everyone’s thoughts should hold influential weight is not the correct way to perceive social media. It can become overwhelming when you wrap your mind around the idea that every person, young or old, “has a platform” for their idiocy. We have the ability to follow, un-follow, or block for these specific reasons. Each element I described is so much more imperative than a silly algorithm. Yeah, it has made Instagram more difficult to use, adding a sense of competitiveness to the room, but in the grand scheme of social media, it’s a slight drop in the bucket.
Instagram is becoming easily accessible for minors at an alarming rate. When I first began The Blonde & The Bay, very few of my followers were under the age of 18. Now, it seems as if a majority of my following consists of this generation. No, while not technically a “bad thing,” it does air a side of concern when preteens (or younger) are turned free online with zero protection or supervision. If you’re a parent reading this blog post and are heavily involved in your child’s online activity, I respect the hell out of you! I can confidentially say that my kiddo’s use of the web will be closely monitored.
You know, if there is one thing I’ve learned from my years of Instagram, it’s this: you cannot please everyone, and not every single follower is going to like you or approve of your decisions. Your self-worth isn’t measured by opinions, and your riding ability certainly is not defined by follows, likes, or comments. What the “trolls,” or armchair trainers, fail to note is the amount of guts required to share exclusive details of our riding. I think I’ve lost count how many people have asked me “how do you build the courage to post a riding video?” No one particularly enjoys feeling vulnerable, but if my video is able to make a connection with another equestrian, then I’m ahead of the person behind the screen who finds fulfillment in critiquing rather than explaining their own highlights or flaws. Again, the trolls don’t have a clue as to how Leah operates or the particular scenario on that given hour. At the end of the day, it is frankly not my responsibility to educate them or provide a lengthy explanation for my every move.
Divulging your struggles online is an achievement in its own weight. Take pride in your posts and never allow negativity to influence your content. Personally, I believe that hateful words are an outcry for personal insecurities, jealousies, and unhappiness. Nine times out of ten, people hide behind the keyboard because they have little confidence in themselves, or perhaps they’re troubled in their own horse situation. Tearing others down translates into a sense of “feeling better about themselves.” While this certainly isn’t an excuse to condone such behavior, it’s a different way of understanding the thought process behind online shade. The bottom line as told by my dear friend, Kristin Montero, of The Equestrian’s Edge? It is his or hers own issue, and has little, if anything, to realistically do with you.
So, let us cherish the golden rule: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Simply put, we are all doing the very best that we can without added stressors of negativity. Think about how you speak, or how your comment may be perceived by the entity on the opposite line of the phone. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes; would your words hurt your own feelings? Would you want someone to address you in that regard? Remember, you never know what circumstances someone may be dealing with behind the scenes. Just be kind.
Lastly, I’ll conclude this lengthy soapbox ballad by proclaiming my adoration for my fellow Instagrammers who continually spread kindness throughout our little atmosphere. Cheers to the women and men who ooze realness, authenticity and dignity; I commend you on a daily basis and truly enjoy being privy to your unique dressage, show-jumping, eventing, roping, reining, etcetera, destinies. When our community bands together to shun hate, bullying, or negativity, we wholeheartedly create a healthy environment for talented equestrians. Let’s do more of that.