At it’s best Social Media is a wonderful thing. It connects people, speeds the spread of ideas, and provides constant entertainment. At it’s worst it wastes time, gives trolls/haters access to more people, and spreads negativity. It seems the false information travels faster than the truth, and that the haters always outnumber the fans.
It probably exists in every single social media interest group, but equestrian social media groups are gateways for the minions of Satan to interact with the unsuspecting. I too was once naïve enough to believe that groups billing themselves as “Appaloosas Only,” “Dressage Club,” “Miniature Horsemanship,” or “BLM Mustang Hub/Family” would be places where likeminded individuals share experiences or success stories. They are and they do, but more often than not, these groups are platforms where the unimpressive, untalented, keyboard warriors offer their unsolicited opinions and bill themselves as “experts” despite any evidence to support their claims. I’ve joined and quickly exited more groups than I’ve remained a part of, and rarely participate in any of the groups beyond complimenting someone on a nice horse or asking them where they purchased a piece of tack I like in one of their photos.
Occasionally, when I’m lacking in self control, I’ll respond to a question or make a comment. Without fail I instantly regret it. Theoretically, I understand why one would go to a social media group for information. In reality though, I wonder in what world a person would accept the advice of a random stranger they have never met in person, that may have never even touched a horse let alone been responsible for it’s medical care or training. Now several groups I’m part of have members with some degree of notoriety. These members have show records, training businesses, and proven accomplishments. Many of these members are people I’ve met personally or know through other horse professionals. These are people, that I will trust when they post or comment. So when I see a post asking what type of wormer a person should use or does this tack fit properly, I cringe. If your sole source of this information is a social media group, then you have no business owning or caring for a horse. Now don’t get me wrong, I will read all 300 comments on a post asking if a horse needs a blanket. Complete strangers get into virtual MMA fights over the blanket debate.
My personal minimal interaction policy for the most part made me immune to the trolls. I had happily navigated these pages for years before the first one noticed me and piled on. One day while mindlessly scrolling, I read a question asking if anyone had adverse reactions using Quest Plus Equine Dewormer. Not even thinking, I replied “we use it twice a year on all of our horses, ponies, and donkeys with no adverse effects.” I scrolled on with my life or so I thought. In less than two minutes my notifications were blowing up with comments that my horses/ponies were all going to die. How dare I respond with such blatantly false advice? Literally hundreds of people jumped on one comment. I was even contacted by the group admin asking that I not give inexperienced horse owners dangerous advice. Advice? I answered a single question about my experience and never offered a single prescriptive comment. Also, considering my veterinarian that focuses solely on equine patients recommended my deworming regimen, it was hardly dangerous.
There’s a saying that “Ponies are cute as hell, and coincidentally that is where they come from.” Apparently that is where their owners reside as well. I’ve seen more virtual kicks and punches thrown in the miniature horse and pony social media groups than any other one I’ve joined. Everything to these people is abuse. People that have never owned an animal over 11 hands high will tell you that everything you are doing is unsafe, when half of the behaviors they allow mini’s to get away with would get you killed with a larger animal. Their precious little creatures need more veterinary/specialty care than an Olympic level Grand Prix horse just to stay alive. God forbid you treat the critters like what they actually are, small versions of horses that evolved to survive challenging environments (at least in the case of shetlands). My own personal experience with ponies is that they are indestructible, virtually immortal beings that remain fat on air, but what do I know?
Recently in one of the driving groups I follow, another member had a pretty horrific driving wreck, similar to one I experienced a few years ago. She asked people to share success stories of being able to drive the horse/pony involved after the wreck and proof that the PTSD wasn’t a career ender for the equine. I just so happen to have a blog post about this very thing, so I mistakenly shared the link of my story. The member was grateful, because I don’t spare the gory details, but the pony did go onto drive again. She thanked me and said the post gave her hope. Then several trolls jumped on the post to tell me my training methods are unsafe. Well first, all equine activities have some inherent danger, so jot that down. Secondly, my training method wasn’t the cause of my specific wreck as I hadn’t fully tacked up when $hit got real. Third, I didn’t ask for a critique of my methods, nor do I promote them or even train horses for anyone but myself. Fourth, said troll is actually known to me and she is one of those pony people I mentioned above. I’ve managed not to die working with a super challenging 1000 lb wild mustang, I assure you I can safely handle 300 lbs of pony.
My other favorite social media personality, is the overly helpful trainer. The horse industry is a very small world. Darling Husband and I jumped into the mustang world with both feet after DH was brainwashed by the movie Unbranded. DH volunteers and does contract work for a certain organization, that has allowed him to meet and interact with many trainers, professionals, and BLM employees across the country. We also know a lot of people that talk a big game with nothing to back it up. The cringe-worthy, unsolicited advice these people give to complete horse newbies would be an entertaining read if I didn’t know there is someone out there taking the advice at face value. From what I’ve seen in these groups the people that comment the most usually have accomplished the least. The real trainers/professionals are too busy to get into an argument on social media with a bunch strangers. Usually they barely have time to update their own pages, let alone hop over to the dark side of social media platforms.
So why do I even follow or interact in these groups at all? Well there is usually at least one genius idea, or inspiring post for every hundred thousand or so that are simply rubbish. I do enjoy the photos people post of their horses/ponies/donkeys, and occasionally I’ll see a piece of advice that is worth researching further with known experts/professionals. Just the other day someone posted videos of working ponies with a PVC pipe/55 gallon plastic drum contraption, that was pure perfection for cart preparation. Every donkey training success story inspires me that my three may be more than simply pasture ornaments one day, when I really focus on them.
There is one group out there, that truly lives up to it’s name. “Shit Eventers Unite” started out as joke. A struggling eventer began posting and asking for riding blooper reels. There are rules. Every single post exists on the page because it has been approved to be there. Only the funniest posts make the cut. Admins strictly police negative comments regarding any of the reels. No bleeding hearts or would be trolls are permitted to throw shade at your “shit” riding. On those days when you feel like you are complete crap at your chosen sport, you can scroll through hundreds of posts from people who’s day is worse than yours. Social media can be a great thing, but if you are seriously looking for knowledge, you have to put in the work. Find real life knowledgeable people, that you can contact directly with questions, and please, if it is any type of health issue contact a vet. Jolene, that claims to have had horses her whole life may have given you perfectly sound advice, or she may be sitting in an apartment and never owned anything more demanding than a goldfish. Do you really want to take her word for it?