From The Magazine: The Elephant In The Room

Oct 23, 2017 - 11:46 AM
Photo by Mollie Bailey.

We’ve all heard the rumors. Trainers who keep beers cold in ringside coolers, top riders who regularly come out of porta potties rubbing the last of the cocaine off their noses, members of ring crew selling illegal drugs after hours, professional riders so inebriated they miss their classes. We talk in hushed tones about who can’t handle her liquor, who lost his business—or worse—thanks to addiction.

We whisper about people in trouble all the time, but we never talk about the problem.

When Bill Rube called me to talk about addiction on the show circuit he wasn’t the first, second or fifth person to reach out to me specifically urging the Chronicle to write about the topic. After a long discussion Bill offered to share his own harrowing journey battling drug and alcohol abuse and his subsequent recovery, set against the backdrop of the horse show world. He wanted to help start a conversation by sharing his story, and we at the Chronicle agreed this was a good place to start.

(Read Bill Rube’s article in full.)

As horsemen we think that our lives on the road, our ethos of putting horses’ wellbeing ahead of everything including our own health and happiness, and the competitive nature of our sports make us different from others. But we’re still part of the greater society, and we aren’t immune from the same challenges that plague the civilian population, including addiction.

One study puts the number of Americans with a “substance use disorder” at 21.5 million, around one in 10 people over the age of 12. While there’s no reliable data on drug and alcohol abuse within the horse world, once you start to look you realize there are plenty of folks facing these demons, either publicly, like Bill, or privately, like untold numbers of others.

Many of those who have been public about their sustained sobriety in person and on social media have become beacons for others seeking support in someone who understands their challenges and the equine environment in which they’re happening. While addiction isn’t unique to the horse world, sometimes it’s easiest to talk to someone who understands why we set alarms for 4 a.m. to get a horse ready for an 8 a.m. ride time or the crushing disappointment of having a horse come up lame right before the biggest show of the season.

While Bill’s story will ring familiar to those in the recovery community, it may sound shocking to those outside it. One takeaway I hope everyone can have, not as horsemen, but as humans, is to remember that one never knows the personal challenges someone else is facing, and therefore we should choose empathy rather than rash judgment. Fellow competitors who just saw Bill at the show ring didn’t realize how badly he was suffering from the disease at the height of his addiction, how out of control he felt as the addiction took over his life, or how hard it was for him to finally get—and stay—sober.

I hope that his story will help soften some of the stigma surrounding addiction in our world and allow someone struggling with addiction to see there is a way out and a path forward.

Do you have a story to tell about drug or alcohol abuse or rehabilitation affecting your life on the horse show circuit or at your barn? We’re working on a broader story on this issue. Please email mbailey@coth.com with “addiction” in the subject line.  

This is a commentary “The Elephant In The Room” by Mollie Bailey, which originally appears in the Oct. 23 & 30 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse in response to Bill Rube’s article “Finding The Strength To Step Back For Sobriety.”

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