Spending time with horses is good for people.
Spending time in the horse industry is an entirely different story.
The horse industry is nothing less than toxic. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say there is no industry better equipped to turn perfectly good humans into full-fledged narcissists than the horse industry. And as for horses? Well, the horse industry does everything it can to remind them that their “proper” place in the emotional food-chain of human society is that of prey.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not going to mince my words here. There’s simply too much at stake. We need a revolution in the horse industry, and not just for the sake of the horses. The mentality that has dominated the horse industry for generations breeds the exact kind of human leaders (and followers) that are driving our country (and world) to the brink of disaster. Call me melodramatic if you want. My response?
It’s time to take the blinders off.
You’re not seeing the whole picture.
The horse industry attracts thousands of wonderful, good-hearted people into its fold every year. People who love horses. People who admire and respect horses. People who genuinely want to learn more about horses and how to have meaningful relationships with them. And the horses stand ready to love, mentor, teach and heal!
Sadly, the toxic mentality that is rampant in the horse industry quickly swallows these kind people up, devours their good intentions and preys on their vulnerability. Humans of all ages come into the horse industry full of light and hope and love… and soon become jaded, frustrated, insecure, broken, anxious, and ultimately, hard-hearted. I’ve personally seen it happen hundreds of times, at least. It happened to me too.
The good news is, horses still have the potential to save us from this toxic cycle. But first we have to get out of the way and let them lead for a while. Additionally, enough of us must find the courage to recognize and speak the truth on their behalf, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people within the existing industry.
I recently saw an article entitled “Ten Reasons Your Teenager Daughter Should Own a Horse”. The author’s list reminded me what the horse industry looks like to those who still have blinders on:
- It will keep your teenage daughter out of trouble.
- It will teach your teenage daughter about money.
- It builds responsibility.
- It builds self-confidence.
- It will help your daughter meet new friends.
- The barn offers a good variety of role models of all ages.
- It will keep your teenage daughter humble.
- It will keep her fit and physically active.
- It will help your daughter become a creative, active teacher.
- It will teach her brain to learn new things.
While it’s possible your teenage daughter (or son) might reap some of these benefits while spending time at a traditional lesson or show barn, I’m far more worried about the long-term emotional and physical damage he/she is likely to receive as a result of the narcissistic mentality that’s rampant among humans in these settings. Let me explain…
Sander van der Linden, Ph.D. is a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge. He determined that there are two types of narcissists: grandiose and vulnerable. In my experience, the horse industry (generally speaking) is a virtual breeding ground for both. As with anything in life, there are certainly exceptions (and thankfully a slowly growing number of them are gaining success in the horse industry). But the average person will need to work really hard to find them!
As Dr. van der Linden’s labels suggest, the grandiose narcissist is more outspoken, while the vulnerable narcissist is more introverted. Both, however, are deeply insecure and become addicted to the quest for positive affirmations and accomplishments. As with all personality disorders, the severity of the symptoms can fall anywhere along a broad spectrum.
Below are some of the characteristics Dr. van der Linden says define a grandiose narcissist. You tell me whether this list “fits the bill” on any equestrians (or instructors/trainers/parents of said equestrians!) that you know?
People who are easily angered or frustrated when others (including horses) don’t give them the full attention or admiration they consider to be their birthright.
People who exhibit a lack of empathy toward others (including horses) and are unable or unwilling to recognize or understand the needs and feelings of those others.
People who fantasize or obsess about control, power, success and having the “perfect” partner (or student or child).
People who feel superior over others (including horses or students) and focus on the flaws of those others.
People who expect to be recognized by others (including the horse or their students or their peers) as superior even without achievements, knowledge or skills that would warrant such a title.
People who set boundless ambitions for themselves (or their horse or their students or their child) and fantasize about being the best.
People who have a sense of entitlement and expect others (or the horse) to fulfill their requests or instructions without question.
People who often get angry or impatient when others (including the horse or their students or their child) don’t live up to their expectations.
People who manipulate or take advantage of others (including horses) simply because they know they can.
People who tend to dominate conversations and don’t listen to what others (including horses) have to say.
Meanwhile, the vulnerable narcissists, according to Dr. van der Linden, constantly question whether or not they are as special, powerful or superior as they think they should be and therefore become addicted to seeking positive affirmations from others (human or equine). In the horse industry I often see how these vulnerable narcissists become victims of the grandiose narcissists and many spend irrational amounts of money seeking the magic “system”, “method”, “tool” or “teacher” that they believe is going to unlock the elusive perfection or status they crave.
While I’m sure it could be said that MANY competitive sports or hobbies have their fair share of people with this mentality, the horse industry is far worse for one simple reason:
Success, as it’s currently defined in the industry, is based on using living, breathing, peaceful, sentient prey animals as tools or pawns in achieving that success, for no possible purposes other than ego or financial gain.
No other sport, activity or industry does this so blatantly while still being considered an almost universally “wholesome” activity.
But here’s the real kicker:
As long as we humans consider it generally acceptable to disregard the horse’s experience and feelings on the road to “success” in the horse-industry, we are missing a monumental opportunity to capitalize on the unique and countless opportunities horses provide to actually teach empathy (which is the direct opposite of – and counter to – narcissism).
To everyone out there who claims to love horses, I want to extend a challenge. If there were a different model for “success” in the horse industry, one that focuses primarily on teaching humans to be more empathetic vs. more narcissistic, would you embrace it? What if it means un-learning everything you’ve been taught to believe is important in your relationship with horses? What if it means re-envisioning YOUR OWN business within the horse industry? What if it means risking the loss of current clients or students and making a decision to nurture and welcome new ones? What if it means making an investment of time and money to learn how to become a completely new kind of role model for the next generation of horse lovers?
Most of all, what if it means becoming the human your horse already knows you have the potential to be?
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