Last week things got a little exciting on the internet when a thread was posted on COTH about an individual’s personal experiences with a particular trainer. Threads like that aren’t too uncommon, but usually they’re vague and don’t name the trainer or give a lot of details about their supposed transgressions. This one, however, did just that, and provided a veritable laundry list of complaints and bad experiences. The poster even said she had evidence to back it up and had consulted an attorney.
I’d already seen the beginnings of this situation unfolding on facebook, since I’m friends with some of the other people involved. Knowing both the accuser and the accused (not well, but I’ve seen them both at shows), I didn’t find a lot of it too hard to believe. But of course I kind of gave it the ol’ “Well, it’s probably half true” eyeball, because that’s usually the case. Of course, even if only half of it was true, it was pretty mind-boggling.
What I thought was really interesting though, complaints and situation aside, was the initial knee-jerk public response to the thread. A lot of people blamed the poster for putting her horses in that situation, or for not getting them out sooner, or called her a pot-stirrer. At one point someone even posted personal information about the poster’s occupation, which has absolutely zero bearing on the matter at hand. Initially, it sure looked a lot like bullying and victim-blaming instead of people trying to get genuine clarification on the situation.
This isn’t the first time that’s happened, and won’t be the last. For some reason that seems to be the MO of the internet in general, which seems to make a lot of people hesitant to say anything. When it comes to a client calling out a professional, the automatic assumption is pretty much always that the client is wrong… yet usually if you just ask the right questions, it’s pretty easy to get the gist of what really happened and where the fault my lie. While I certainly think that it’s 100% correct to meet stories like this with healthy skepticism and to do your own research before you cast judgment, it makes you think… is this why more people don’t speak out against well-known professionals?
Because the more that the thread went on, the more people came out of the woodwork with stories about this trainer (both on COTH and on the poster’s personal facebook page). At one point it was just nuts to see how many people had similar experiences but had been reluctant to speak up publicly. And of course, that was the point at which the tide began to turn in the COTH thread and people started to support to the poster, rather than attack her or point the finger (and the point at which several of the rudest comments from the first few pages magically went *poof*).
It was so interesting to watch this unfold, from a social and psychological aspect. On one hand, when you go so far as to publicly call out a professional, you have to be prepared for a lot of questions and some criticism, and rightly so. On the other hand, there was some downright bullying behavior from people who suddenly changed their tune later. A few people still criticized though, saying that they didn’t think making such a public display of their grievances was helpful.
I absolutely do see the potential harm if someone is hurling false allegations, but I was really glad to see this poster be brave enough (and it’s sad that it DOES require bravery) to speak out and be unafraid to name names in the process. While I had already seen enough of the trainer’s methods at shows to never give her my business, this person’s experience plus the experiences of everyone else that subsequently came forward and shared similar stories really sealed the deal on staying as far away as possible. And now that all of it is out there for everyone to see and discuss, there’s no burying it. Will it actually have any impact on her business? Well… probably not really. I mean, people like Paul Valliere still do just fine (which is a whole ‘nother subject entirely – wtf, horse world?). But at least the information is out there now for anyone who may Google her name.
What are your thoughts on public “whistle blowing” like this against trainers and industry professionals? Do you think all of it should be kept behind closed doors, or do you think it’s important for the public to hear about these things? And, maybe more importantly – why do you think there tends to be such a mob mentality type of reaction with bullying and victim-shaming, rather than intelligent questions or concerns?