Rebecca Bell, International Dressage Rider for GB & Oxford University Student.
Recently, I've been taking to writing my thoughts on things going on in the horse world as an aside to my finals work. Yes - writing as a break from writing is probably not very logical! But, after the popularity of my post about balancing riding and education - thank you so much to everyone who engaged with it - I felt like there were a few other things that I wanted to put fingers to keyboard about.
I post this 'comment' on jealousy in the equestrian community with a caveat: I know that I am immeasurably lucky to have a beautiful horse, a nice lorry, people that help me balance riding and education - I even get to keep my horses at home. But I feel jealous of other people in the horse world almost daily. I just try to channel it into productivity instead of negativity, and remind myself that I am in a position that I am sure others are jealous of, too.
Photo by Sophie Lefevre Photography
As riders, we are some of the most privileged people in the world. Financially; circumstantially; emotionally, the chance to engage with the incredible animals that we dedicate so much time to is testing, but incredibly rewarding. Why, then, is the horse world such an increasingly bitter and jealous place? To view the issue as solely confined to the horse world is unrepresentative: the complaints of riders about the behaviour of their fellow equestrians is comparable with those in the non-equine workplace, or even amongst strangers on the street. People are far more likely to be vindictive about a Porsche that makes an accidental driving error than they are a Renault – the difference is more often than not underlying jealousy. But there is a potency to envy in the horse world that seems to surpass that felt by those outside of it. Only recently I came across a thread in an equestrian Facebook group that had been started, it seems, with the sole purpose of attacking those who spent £1k upwards on a riding helmet. Over 400 comments later, and with choice contributions such as “all the gear and no idea springs to mind!!” “wealth statement that’s all,” and generalisations like “the same people who will pay this for a hat will refuse to pay enough to cover the cost of breeding and raising the horse they ride,” left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. People attacking sponsored riders for getting things “for free” made me especially disheartened. I can promise, as one myself, that sponsored riders pay for what they are given, just in commitment to the sport and time spent being a great brand ambassador rather than money. I would also say, for the vast majority, being a sponsored rider is not a “get freebies” venture, but rather the promotion of a brand that they genuinely believe in and wish to succeed.
Photo by Rui Pedro Godinho
What also came across in the comments section was a desperate need to prove oneself “better” than others: having spent less money on one’s horse, denying ever wasting a penny on something frivolous and sparkly, protesting that it’s possible to “make-do” with less, and, my personal favourite: “it never used to be like this!” No, it didn’t. Previously, snarky comments about fellow riders were reserved for hushed tack-room conversations, rather than public forums on social media, where the subject of the abuse hears it loud and clear. In this case, I suppose, ignorance was bliss.
Photo by Rui Pedro Godinho
Yes – the horse world has changed. Some might say for the worse: it is increasingly a financial game. It’s possible to buy your way into the top levels of the sport by dropping millions on Grand Prix horses. It’s also possible to work your fingers to the bone and never get that “big break.” Some spend £650k on a horsebox and barely notice it leaving their account whilst others have to beg, borrow and steal a lift. But this is true of everything in life: even the least privileged equestrian is likely far more privileged than much of the world due to the fact that they are able to be involved in horses in the first place.
A large part of our sport is luck: whether the pole bounces in the cup or rolls out. Whether someone puts up an umbrella in the walk section of your Nationals test, sending your warmblood’s single braincell into overdrive and you heading towards C at high speed. Whether you were born into a horsey family, from generations of Olympians, or to parents who don’t know a fetlock from a forelock. Regardless of your relative luck, you still have to work hard. You might be able to get a large financial leg up, but you still have to practise and work to improve your riding. Jennifer Gates might be infinitely wealthier than me but put me on one of her GP jumpers and send me off towards a 1.60m oxer and I’ll miss the stride!
I would urge my fellow equestrians to keep two things in mind: firstly, someone else purchasing an astronomically expensive helmet doesn’t drain your own bank account. Most importantly, if you were in their position, can you honestly say that you wouldn’t? If you could attend the next PSI auction with millions to spend (yes, I’ve been fantasising recently), can you honestly say you wouldn’t have a lorry load of Dressage superstars on its way to you soon?
The fact of the matter is, the horse world is rife with inequality. Some people earn more than others. Some people work harder than others. Who earns what might not necessarily correlate – some of the most high-powered jobs don’t involve getting up at 4:30am in the freezing cold to break ice on water buckets, but in the same breath, some do involve staying in an office until 2am with not a horse to hug in sight. Some people are born into money, some are self-made, some scrape together every penny they can to keep one bargain-buy horse on DIY livery. Some might choose to enjoy the equestrian lifestyle without conventionally “working” in it, some might spend every waking hour with horses. Every single one of these people, regardless of finances, background, or the helmet on their head, has one unique and beautiful thing in common: the love of horses.
Life isn’t a contest. Comparing yourself to others in terms of what they have which you don’t will never make you feel good. Taking time to reflect on things that you DO have, or CAN do, will. Leave the competitive spirit for in the arena, and focus on supporting your fellow horse lovers outside of it: I can guarantee that in this community that, for the most part, want the best for one another, the support will often be returned tenfold.
If you'd like to help those in the equestrian community who are, without a doubt, less privileged, then Prince Fluffy Kareem is a fantastic place to start.
Find out more about Rebecca and her riding achievements on her social media and website 🖤