*Trigger warning: discussions of disordered eating.
This article took me longer to write than I’d like to admit.
I found myself making excuses and getting stuck in a reality TV time warp so that I wouldn’t have to open my laptop. The truth is, when I sat down to write this, I had to look at the pieces of myself that I hate the most: my insecurities, my judgmental side, my bitter and resentful side. I was going to fill this with psychological and sociological sources with small personal anecdotes sprinkled around. However, I realized that it would conflict with the self-introspection I desperately try to convey. Perhaps I’m overthinking and overanalyzing, but I think it’s time to discuss social media’s suffocating grip on the equestrian community.
I’ve battled severe anxiety and ADHD that damaged my self-esteem and disturbed my sense of self for most of my life, causing me to struggle with social anxiety. The rise of social media has shifted my perspective on my relationships with myself, my horses, and other riders. Despite being connected to every rider I knew, I had never felt more alone. Social media became a place where I could portray the person I wanted to be; I could post pictures from the blue ribbons I had won at a show accompanied with the perfect jumping shot. The one where my horse’s knees were perfectly tucked, his ears forward, my upper body balanced, and my lower leg stable. I would obsessively refresh my notifications and thrive off of comments that were complimenting me. I found myself drowning in the need for gratification and validation-- if I didn’t get the number of likes that I deemed acceptable, I must be a bad rider, right? I lost sight of who I was and became consumed by living up to who I was on social media.
Equestrians on social media have a dark side so horrific it feels like it was taken out of a Teen Slasher movie. In 2013, anonymous equestrian gossip accounts were created to post pictures of junior riders, spread rumors, criticize their riding, and insult their weight or appearance. Most of the accounts were laughable, and people ignored them, but some of them gained thousands of followers, using their power to cultivate a toxic environment to harm other riders. In the midst of this, the "Big Eq Diet" rose in popularity, and riders would post their tips and tricks and their fails (like eating a normal, healthy portion).
If you’re unfamiliar with the big eq diet, it’s a dangerous, restrictive diet that’s casually endorsed by riders and trainers to either achieve or maintain a slim figure. These behaviors increase the risk of malnourishment or developing an eating disorder and can negatively affect self-esteem and body image. Circling back to how I previously stated I have ADHD, I was at an even greater risk of being affected by the big eq diet due to the strong connection between ADHD and eating disorders. I was an anxious, insecure, overly competitive 13-year-old when these topics were running rampant on social media. While already struggling with self-regulation and impulsivity from ADHD, I was willing to do anything it took to get ahead and be more competitive, including starve myself. Being able to mindlessly scroll through my phone while also giving into this impulsion became almost addictive.
That was over five years ago. Some riders were affected more than others, but we’re all in our 20s now, and that blip in time feels like a fever dream instead of the reality we faced. As the years passed, I put less and less thought into social media, but like thousands of others, I succumbed to the boredom of 2020 and downloaded TikTok. I started posting funny videos of my horses and unintentionally gained thousands of followers. Over the past year and a half, TikTok has led me to business opportunities, introduced me to incredible people, and given me the confidence to freely discuss topics I’m passionate about.
As I gained more attention, I started receiving comments about how envious people are of my life, how perfect my life is, how lucky I am. I felt like I transported back six years where I was self-conscious and insecure about what I began to post. I found myself standing on a pedestal I never asked to be on top of; is this an image I was suddenly supposed to maintain? From this, I realized how absurd and toxic comparison is on social media. I can’t deny that I have an incredible life, but these assumptions are made from 30-second video clips and pictures. These comments are well-meaning, yet they felt invalidating. I just wanted to scream, “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through or how hard I’ve worked? Do you have any idea of the struggles I’ve faced?” I wouldn’t wish half of the things I’ve dealt with on my worst enemy. I stepped back and took breaks from social media when I saw other creators succumb to partaking in the same damaging trends that I hoped had stayed in 2014. It felt as though simply posting videos was no longer enough to receive likes; each video’s negativity had to one-up the next.
"Assumptions are made from 30-second video clips and pictures."
Additionally, I’ve seen people on TikTok and Instagram obsessively base their goals or happiness on successful equestrians or ones with a large following. Having role models is essential in forming ideas, but saying “this is what so and so is doing with their horse, so that’s going to be my goal” will inherently force you to compare yourself, your horse, and destroy your happiness- a lesson I learned the hard way. I’ve been guilty of doing this lately while developing my 4-year-old Scooby; no horse has taught me the dangers of comparison quite like he has. Scooby is a Westphalian with Olympic bloodlines, just shy of 17h, incredibly quirky, sensitive, and opinionated. To say he’s a lot of horse to handle would be the understatement of the century. I’ve spent countless hours feeling sorry for myself while scrolling through my Instagram feed and seeing others’ success and progress with their young horses. Am I good enough to be doing this? Why do I have to face these setbacks? Why can’t I have a horse that’s already going upper level? Is my horse even good enough? What a ridiculous, unfair assumption that doesn’t make me a better rider or expedite my horse’s training. If anything, I’m doing a disservice to myself and Scooby by ignoring and belittling our hard work and accomplishments.
We often joke at my barn that “this is your lot in life.” I repeat this to myself several times a day as a reminder that every rider is on a journey of growth that’s influenced by our personal lives, emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. Coping with comparison isn’t as simple as deciding to stop comparing yourself; it’s a dark, winding road that I’m steering myself off of almost every second of the day. Whether your riding goal for the year is going to your first horse show or competing in a Grand Prix, I want you to be fiercely proud of yourself. No social media post highlighting one’s accomplishments has the power to dim the light of yours. As my mom often likes to remind me, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Photos by Ayse Demircan Photography
Written by Megan Roswech
Megan Roswech is 20-year-old and a working student in Ocala, FL. Megan grew up in New Jersey showing in the hunters and equitation, but recently switched to eventing. She’s now pursuing her goals of being an upper level event rider while developing her young horse, Scooby.