I recently created a TikTok account. Call it my COVID-19 indulgence. As a journalist and newspaper editor during a global pandemic, devastating wildfires and the biggest civil rights movement in 50 years, my life has not slowed down one bit. But my need for short, fun clips has grown.
I have decided that it’s possible that equestrian TikTok is a training ground for young riders looking to grow up to be adult internet trolls.
Now before you get your dander up, and go, “I don’t snark in the comments,” I know you don’t.
Most commenters are sweet and fun, and overall, the majority of comments I get on my COTH blogs are positive. And I have made some fantastic virtual friends who have been wonderful and supportive. And I have had people reach out and bring gifts to my life just because they got to know Cairo and me through the blogs. That’s so amazing.
But there’s something about human nature that leads us to focus on the negative feedback and the mean comments. I think it’s a survival skill, like an early human who ate something noxious and never ate it again, thus saving herself from illness or death. We respond to negative stimuli and avoid the trigger.
The problem is sometimes that makes us afraid to put ourselves out there and try.
Some people stop blogging; some riders get scared of posting videos or even riding in front of others and showing. Journalists have to have thick skin. Riders require a different sort of thick skin for the bruises and equine-provided lumps, but contrary to the rhyme, names do hurt us.
In addition to journalism and of course riding, I teach writing at the local community college. I use something called the “compliment sandwich” in writing feedback. Say what the writer did well, give constructive criticism, and then end with something else that was good. Make the good things stick in the writer’s (and rider’s) head, not just the weak areas. Then when they write—or ride—they remember to repeat what they did well.
I haven’t blogged much lately because of, well, the aforementioned pandemic and much-needed and tough civil rights movement. There were protests every night for two months here in Eugene, Oregon, and they still continue. It’s hard to write about my horse when people are struggling for their lives and right to exist. The fires I’ll get to in a blog once I know if I need to evacuate or not.
But Cairo is also my safe harbor, heart horse and place I go to in order to just be me.
Let’s pause for a minute here while I admit my safe harbor and heart horse spends a lot of time bucking, twerking, gnashing her teeth and giving me the hoof. And I spend a lot of money on supplements, vet bills, bodywork and anything that will make her wild bay heart happy. And when she’s happy and nuzzling me for treats, it’s so worth it.
It’s been one step forward, two steps back. We started jumping after a year of rehab, and then she banged her leg, got a weird swelling, and we went to two months of light work, slowly building back up. That’s OK. I am not showing, I have lots of things to concentrate on, and it’s important she rehabs correctly.
But we are back at it, and because Cairo is so darn funny and sassy, I post some of her videos on TikTok. Flailing over beginning novice height fences, twerking when she should be cantering and so on.
It was bad enough when a COTH commenter snarked me for riding Cairo alone during her rehab after my little mare bucked me off (thanks to the two months of physical therapy I now have a working shoulder again). That bugged me I admit, because most folks know me as brave. But lord help me, thanks to TikTok I have now taken to blocking tween-aged girls snarking my riding.
I tried to dialogue, but while I don’t have kids, I do know enough about children and internet commenters to know there’s only so much you can accomplish in the comments section. And you know what? It’s so much more fun to dialogue with the people who say, “Nice ride!” “Right on,” and “I love your horse!”
More recently, in addition to our bloopers, I have begun posting videos of Cairo and me being rockstars. Prelim cross-country, (so I might have used WAP as the soundtrack to an up bank out of water), big fences and good times. I need to stop concentrating only on our past problems and also focus on what we do well.
I need to be my own compliment sandwich for Cairo and me: Remember what we are good at, work on our weak spots, and then remind myself again of what we can do when we are on our game. I can’t control what other people say, (well, I can block them on TikTok), but I can concentrate on the positive and make myself a better writer, rider and journalist.
See you in the comments section and, soon, out on cross-country again!
Camilla Mortensen is an amateur eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana. Camilla works as a newspaper reporter by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job.