I am a firm believer that it’s important to accept and grow from criticism. I see a lot of individuals that want to be told what they’re doing well and just skip over what they need to work on. I see even more of people, especially on Instagram, giving other equestrians “advice” on how to improve their riding. This is all well and good except that often this “advice” is based on a snapshot, not asked for, and given in a completely inappropriate setting. It’s only understandable, after all, it’s extremely difficult to understand inflection over a phone or computer. Who hasn’t sent a text that was interpreted the wrong way? It’s all too easy for even the most kind-hearted keyboard critics to come off rude, harsh, or unseemly.

Unfortunately, I think that might be giving some people too much credit.

There is a fine line between being constructive and disrespectful, and often that line rests within the concept of was your opinion wanted. While you might think it’s your duty to tell someone that they’re doing something wrong so you can help them and their horse, that may not always be the case.

There is a difference between doing the right thing and being rude. Criticizing someone’s riding can rest in that no man’s land of which side of the razor’s edge does your comment fall on?

There are an assortment of ways for riders to seek out criticism online. Websites like Judge My Ride have become extremely popular, and I’ll even see riders reaching out to one another or to the general public asking for constructive criticism regarding a photo or video of their riding. Outlets like Judge My Ride or when social media users are invited and able to give helpful critiques is exceedingly valuable. They allow riders to learn from one another and value communication and respect. Private criticism from respected peers can also be invaluable. Having friends where there is mutual respect and you both have the ability to point out each other’s strengths and weaknesses can be a huge benefit. Even Facebook groups, like Junior Rider News, give riders an outlet to seek out constructive riding advice if they might not be able to get it on a regular basis from a trainer.

If all these (FREE) methods exist for riders to work on improving themselves…why do people still feel the need to made rude comments? A rider makes a mistake on a #fail video that goes viral and people start wondering why they’re allowed to jump if they can’t steer enough to avoid a runout. A young horse is fighting the contact and bracing and they’re wondering why the rider is forcing their head down.

There’s a lot of problems with these split-second decisions and remarks. It’s impossible to get the entire picture from a snapshot. A photo is a moment of the big picture. You could look flawless or you could look like a hot mess, but that one moment from your ride is rarely a true reflection of your entire time in the saddle. It does not capture your struggles or strengths. A picture easily misses the nuances and other factors of your ride. Now, don’t me wrong, a photo is worth a thousand words, but it can easily be manipulated to make someone look spectacular or terrible in a fashion that does not truly reflect the ride. Videos can help give more insight to the ride as a whole, but they are still a small piece of the big picture.

It is the big picture that we as riders should be looking at, in ourselves, our horses, our training, and among our peers. Is that rider working on just getting their young horse experience? Was it a fluke mistake? Are they already training with someone who is helping them work through the problem step by step? What about where did they start? Is that moment you’re shaming them for a breakthrough in their training process? How is what you’re saying correlated to their training process with their trainer, their horse, and their plan for accomplishing their goals?

You don’t know.

Maybe your criticism is warranted, and quite possibly accurate, but when it’s presented in a rude or demeaning way it becomes utterly unhelpful.

As an adult amateur, I don’t expect a lot of online criticism. I expect my peers to be “above” that and to have a better understanding of the big picture and what I’m working towards. I also expect that if they follow me, they’re aware of my training history, present, and general future. It would seem that I expected incorrectly, as I see more of this among adult amateurs than I do the junior riders. Though, that may be because I’m officially “too old” to know enough junior riders who might encounter this problem.

When you see a bad picture of a professional rider during a bad moment, you would never think to comment telling them what to better. If you did think to comment that, just imagine all the people who would comment back telling you that when you ride at that level you can start remarking on how they ride. That sentiment is unique to the equestrian community. In golf, football, and any other sport, it’s commonplace to casually critique a professional, in conversation or online. It’s nothing personal, but rather for entertainment and to discuss a common interest with others. You don’t see (many) people doing the same for the amateurs or younger generations of those sports. They’re for the most part considered “safe” and that it’s best to let their coaches work through their weak spots. Especially as the amateurs of any sport make it a lot easier to spot faults compared to their professional counterparts.

In riding, it can seem like the keyboard critic’s unofficial duty to speak up. And sometimes it is. If you see something unsafe, you should speak up. But when you speak up, be sure to keep it kind, respectful, and encouraging, after all…everyone started somewhere.