We have a problem of abusive trainers. We have a problem of peoples absolute adoration, support and refusal to acknowledge their faults, and willingness to idolize them blindly. I know this because I get messages from young women who’ve escaped such situations, and older women who’ve held onto their shame for decades. I know this because I’ve been through it too.
They put on a good show sometimes, but they don’t hide it very well. The public knows, maybe not the whole picture, but they know. They’ve seen the rough handling of horses, the insensitive and humiliating teaching, the tears of students, the insults, the injuries. The public knows and worship them still as if they are a God.
When you leave a situation like this, the problem is not just the loss of confidence, the loneliness, the harm to your physical body, self esteem and career. Now you have to contend with the followers. People who are abusive often have great reputations and are liked by many. How is a young person with feeble reputation supposed to stand against someone adored by the public?
“You’re so lucky you got to work with him, isn’t he great?”
“He has his way, you have yours, neither are wrong.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad, it was great experience at least!”
“You should be grateful for what he gave you and move on.”
“You have a great career now, so it obviously wasn’t that bad.”
I left such an experience with my arm in a sling – I still have trouble with that arm years later – out of work for months, worried about speaking out for fear of ruin to my career – I was expecting backlash. What I was not expecting was the response from people. People who had been injured themselves told me to be grateful. People who’s own horses were harmed. People who knew, who saw, told me to move on. They asked me to be quiet, or continued working along side such a person.
It isn’t just me- I get messages of similar stories all the time. People too afraid to make the comments publicly, for fear of backlash, harm to their career, or just the inability to feel the sting of invalidation again. People who are now afraid to teach or train at all. “It couldn’t have been that bad…”
How do we help horses by bolstering up braggarts, narcissists, abusers, and elbowing the byproduct of our pride out of the way? The price of all our comfort is the ruined lives of young women, the injuries of horses and people, the abuse running rampant behind a flashy Instagram photo.
Is this really what we want to foster?
The things I have seen go on in public are astounding enough, and I always believed of people saw what went on in private they’d be convinced. But having seen what people are willing to ignore or explain away, I now don’t believe they can, or want to, change their minds when facts are present.
Is this really the kind of world we envision for ourselves and our horses? For up and coming young people seeking a career in horses? If trainers are going to change the world and make it a safe place to be vulnerable, relaxed, and healthy, we cannot keep bolstering up the narcissists and abusers. You know who they are- you can feel it deep down. Don’t ignore it. These are the people who are threatened by change, and elbowing anyone with real empathy out of the way.
This is the problem of everyone in the horse world, not just the up and coming trainers. Choose carefully who you support. Make way for vulnerability and empathy.