engagement, ethics, and media silence

I, along with many others, am writing in response to the strange occurrence of blood in the mouths of three horses under one rider in the span of a year.  But I’m not here to talk about the blood, exactly.  If you’d like to read my favourite current article about this issue, look to Ruthie Meyer on Eventing Connect.  I also watched the video of the press conference after Fair Hill, almost all ten minutes of it.  The reporters asked the right questions, and they got answers.  But no resolution.

The problem isn’t just the blood on the horses or the mysterious black towels – it’s the radio silence from governing bodies and official channels and the curious attitude of some writers and riders that those of us questioning the situation should shut up and stop questioning our betters.

(however, update: you can read the opinions of several eventing seniors here)

Over and over and over we hear that eventing is a sport that not only values but lives upon its amateur base.  That those of us who ride in the lower levels, who may dabble in the upper levels but don’t live there, are the heart and soul of this sport.  That our engagement in this sport is critical to its survival.

So why is it that when we have serious questions and concerns about something going on in this sport, we are told to shut up?  We are looking to the officials – veterinarians, technical delegates, ground jury members – and other professional riders for some resolution in this matter, and instead of anything concrete we have gotten silence.

And I get it – we live in a world where something said once on the internet can be brought up again and again, forever and ever*.  But by the same token, the way this issue is being handled will permanently affect the future of our sport.  For future competitors watching upper level riders appear to skirt issues that directly affect horse welfare, what is this modeling?  Is this the type of horsemanship or showmanship that I want future technical delegates and judges to display?

And we do get to question our “betters”, because the moment they stepped into the public eye that’s what they were opening themselves up to.  If they want our support, be it emotional, financial, or social media, then they have to accept the questions that come with it.  That’s what engagement is.  No, we don’t get to be assholes about it (and of course vast swaths of people on the internet are because: the internet), but rational questions and serious concerns should be addressed.

Maybe we really are making too big of a deal out of this.  I’ve bitten my tongue plenty of times, and I live to tell the tale.  Is there an underlying issue that makes this horse particularly susceptible to tongue biting?  Well, don’t you think other officials would know that?  And if this really isn’t that big of a deal, teach us why.  It isn’t hard.  Don’t treat us like the small percentage of people on the internet too stupid to learn anything.

But it turns out that this is concerning.

(Here’s the math: If we make a few basic assumptions – that upper level riders are photographed equally, and that we can control for the number of horses you ride at any given event – we can see that this one rider has had four incidents to everyone else’s 0.  And a quick calculation makes that an approximately infinity % increase over the current industry standard.)

This chipped away a little bit of my appreciation for eventing as a sport and as a community.  And it wouldn’t have taken much to assure the public (read: me) that something is being done to get to the bottom of this situation – either by the rider or by officials.  And it makes me a little sad to know that I participate in a sport that isn’t as ethical as it could be.

* And whenever you introduce anything ever so slightly controversial on the internet the crazies come out of the woodwork.  I get that too.  The absurd comments that were made on some posts straight up challenged Poe’s law.

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8 thoughts on “engagement, ethics, and media silence

  1. thoughtful perspective, and i agree. it’s very discouraging that this issue keeps on cropping up, with all appearances of tacit approval indicated by the resounding silence from ruling organizations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah it always throws me when you get the “until you’ve been an upper level eventer, you don’t get to have an opinion” response because I’m pretty sure none of us have have been a multi billionaire presidential candidate and that doesn’t stop us from having opinions there either… and frankly, status as an upper level eventer does not make bleeding wounds more ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I seriously hate the condescending nature of what Aimee is talking about above me. WHO THE F cares if I haven’t ridden 4* or UL? I can still understand that being UL doesn’t make it OK. If anything, it makes it worse because they are in the public eye and considered the best of the best. What I can see is blood and I can see blood on 3 horses in 4 different situations in less than a year and I can see the officials being shady AF about ML. Still annoyed about all of this. Amanda posted a great article on her FB today, check it out

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    • I saw! and updated with it! I understand the reluctance of other upper level riders to come out and censure ML, but you can say something appropriate without getting yourself into trouble. A simple “the FEI/USEA/team veterinarian should look into this, as it is troubling and we want to make sure that if something is happening by accident it can be corrected” and boom — we know you don’t want it to happen again, but we also know you don’t think the rider is a horse abuser (which I don’t, necessarily).

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