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Barn Drama: Equestrian Bullies & Mean Girls

It’s hard to say why snobs, bullies, and mean girls are so prominent in the horse show and boarding stable world, but ask any equestrian who’s been competitive and Western or English events and you’ll discover that it’s common knowledge that there’s a “mean girl” or two in every circle of equestrians.

Riders might get picked on about their horse, their riding, a style of training, or even body shamed. Horse show bullies may pick on someone for their choice of riding clothing, how much money they make, or even their identifiers. These days, hostility from boarding stable mean girls in horse show snobs is often expressed online, but stables have long been known for a place where bullying happens – to the extent that some horse shows stables actively advertise themselves as “drama free” and work hard to recognize and remove members who actively bully other riders.

A girl holding her horse's reins from the ground, looking back at the camera with a serious look.

Dealing with negativity in your horse’s stable

Experiencing a bully, mean girl, or even just a snob at your riding stable can begin to drain the joy out of a hobby that is meant to be for fun. Showing up to a barn when there’s negativity present is an easy way to begin to hate horseback riding – and nobody wants that. Instead, here are some strategies for handling it head-on:

Stay professional

Even if you ride for fun, and may have had close friends at your riding stable in the past, it’s best to engage with negative comments from mean girls and horse show snobs with an attitude of professional demeanor. Practice responding to their comments the way a sixth-grade teacher might respond to an irritating cluster of badly behaving boys: Ignore, set boundaries, and respond in a dignified professional manner.

Never respond with hateful words, gestures, or passive-aggressive behaviors. If you need to say something to them, say it very clearly, perhaps something like, “How you treat me is unkind. If you don’t like me that’s fine, but you do not have my permission to make this hobby less fun for me.” can provide more strategies for ways to set boundaries and stand up for yourself.

There’s no retribution quite like having fun, bonding with your horse, and growing as a rider despite the negativity in your stable.

Try empathizing with horse show snobs

Everyone – yes even horse show snobs- feels insecure, often bullies are the most insecure, when someone bullies another person that they think has less power than them, it’s often from a place of insecurity or jealousy themselves. While they deny it, studies are pretty clear that bullying comes from a place of insecurity in the bully- sometimes even jealousy.

Remember why you ride and set boundaries

Don’t allow a bully or horse show snob to ruin your experience of horseback riding. It’s meant to be a fun, enriching experience with many benefits. So if there’s a bully at your riding stable barn, face it head-on and don’t focus on just avoiding the barn to avoid the negative feelings.

Show up for yourself, and get support if you need it. If the riding stable is sheerly toxic, it may be time to move on- no elite training or horse show competition is worth giving up the joy of riding. If you love horses, protect that experience, even if it means changing to a different barn, competing on a different horse show circuit, or even changing disciplines for a season to avoid mean girls (you never know when switching from Western pleasure to jumping, or vice versa, might actually improve your overall riding when you return to your preferred discipline!)

Believe in yourself

Remember that social media profiles are curated, they don’t show what’s really going on for a person. Even someone with an expensive horse in the best training may be struggling internally and taking it out on you- many times, bullies, mean girls, and snobs don’t actually dislike you, they just need to feel better about themselves. They can’t take anything from you if their opinions don’t matter to you.

Instead, focus on what matters fun, growing as a rider, and the many positive benefits of riding lessons that have nothing to do with how expensive your horse is, what your body looks like, or what color your horse show ribbons tend to be.

If you feel unsafe, keep records of encounters

If the mean girls at your barn or the horse show snobs have escalated to threatening you or your horse, it’s time to take the negativity more seriously. While it’s difficult to get protection based on hearsay, begin screenshotting social media and text messages, and logging any in-person encounters in a journal. If, for some reason you need a restraining order in the future, this data will help show law enforcement that their engagement is warranted.

There are many strategies to overcome and eradicate bullying and the detrimental effects that mean girls can have on horse sport communities. If you are a horse business owner or riding instructor, consider reviewing the CDC’s recommendations for eradicating bullying from community spaces like riding stables.

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