By Rob Jacobs
The purpose of this month’s column is to help the young equestrians of our sport develop and maintain healthy friendships within the industry. Cultivating healthy relationships with other members within the industry is not as easy as one may think. As a young equestrian, it may be difficult navigating friendships at the barn and at horse shows. Typically, kids have friendships within the barn they ride at but also friendships with others from different barns in their area. These are likely other riders they have met at horse shows and see on a frequent basis, or maybe friends from school that ride at a different facility. In today’s world, it has become very possible equestrians will connect on a wide range of social media platforms as well.
Initially it may seem as though making other friends in the sport would be easy and ideal; after all, there is the common interest of horses. However, because of the natural therapeutic benefits of horses, the sport has a history of attracting all types of people, with a wide range of personalities. This can be both an advantage and a drawback. We are now in an era that acknowledges the growing need to discuss and manage one’s mental health. Certainly, my two courses in undergraduate school and one course in graduate school do not make me a qualified mental health expert. However, I do have quite a bit of experience within the industry working with many different people in a variety of roles around the country.
One thing I have learned is that we are likely to notice mental health challenges at an age younger than most people may think. Some of the friendship dynamics I have observed over the years have caused me to pause and really think about the future of our sport. Without looking for a source to blame for the cause of this, i.e. social media, parents, school, teachers etc., I think if all adults involved worked to encourage, affirm, love and respect our youth, the likelihood of them developing authentic friendships with their peers may increase. Breaking a cycle of insecurity and/or entitlement is not easy, and breaking that cycle should not be the burden of one person.
There are so many factors that impact how a child is able to connect with their peers. Below you will find some helpful tips I would like to recommend to the future generations of our sport. These recommendations will help young equestrians further develop relationships with their barn friends. The overarching theme is to treat your barn friends the way you want to be treated.
- Encourage your friends when they are feeling unsure about something specific
- Look to offer help to your friends without expecting something in return
- Sportsmanship is important; there are many sportsmanship awards for a reason
- Find common interests with your friends outside of horses
- Share things with your friends generously
- Practice listening
- Laugh often
Both humans and horses were designed to have connected relationships. These relationships allow a greater sense of security when one experiences challenges in life. Cultivating the quality and authenticity of these relationships requires intentional work. Developing these skills at a foundational level starts at a young age and continues as one gets older. I dream of an industry that is kind, loving, encouraging, inclusive and a healthy place for people from every background to feel comfortable and a strong sense of community.
Photo by Blenheim Equisports