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Social media and its influence under the spotlight at equine charity conference

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Experts at the World Horse Welfare International Equine Conference opened up debate on who you should listen to, how to identify good and bad information and how you can protect yourself from negative feedback

The hot topic at this year’s World Horse Welfare International Equine Conference (Thursday 22 November) was “whose opinion matters?”. The infiltration of social media into people’s daily lives, opinions being more readily shared and their power to affect change in the horse industry were among some of the ideas discussed.­

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare coined that there are two definitions of opinion – one based on judgement and the other on knowledge. He emphasised that the opinion that matters most is your own, but that you owe it to your horse to make sure it’s a well-researched one, explaining, “[Your opinion] constantly feeds your values and actions, and only you can do something with it. If your opinion matters, you have a responsibility to have an informed one.”

Summing up the conference, HRH The Princess Royal drew parallels with World Horse Welfare’s founder and the ethos of the charity: “Ada Cole was a woman with strong opinions, but also a great ability to communicate and she used this to influence positive change for horses. However, her opinions were backed up with hard evidence, which she needed to demonstrate the accuracy of her views to drive that change.”

International Dressage rider and trainer, Pammy Hutton, looked at the positive side of social media, referencing her success in bringing issues such as rollkur, doping and tight nosebands to the attention of the masses. In addition, social media has been integral to fundraising efforts. She said: “I don’t always get the balance right, but I will make a U-turn. Try and be informed and do research, but open to learning new things. Staying up to date is almost impossible, things move so quickly, and it’s about getting the balance right.”

ITV Racing Lead Presenter Ed Chamberlin started by stating that everyone’s opinion matters but you can’t make everyone happy all the time. “Listen to as many opinions as possible,” he said. “Be proactive with education and information.” He also cautioned that “social media tends to reflect one end of the spectrum or the other – the very positive or the very negative. Remember that common sense and the middle road can get drowned out.”

Sharing a personal perspective, Jordan Headspeath, former groom at HM Highland Pony Stud and World Horse Welfare told a story on the dangers of social media, describing a video of one of her ponies walking through deep snow that went viral and generated many negative and abusive comments on social media from people who called her out for cruelty. “The responses were shocking and really brought about self-doubt,” she said. “Consider before you post and add context and background. If you’re commenting on someone else’s post, be careful what you say, be mindful that you’re just looking at a moment in time and won’t have all the details.”

Following Jordan’s story, performance psychologist Charlie Unwin explored how to handle negativity. He pointed out that people tend to focus on the bad points and can become preoccupied with things that are out of their control. He said: “Self-belief has a major role in how we deal with others’ opinions and negativity. We shouldn’t ignore the things we can’t control but accept them and develop a strategy to deal with them.”

Roly Owers ended the afternoon by saying: “Whose opinion matters? Your opinion matters because opinion influences the future. We mustn’t ignore the negative but turn it into a positive. And it’s how we speak to one another. Be compassionate and understanding, online or offline.”

The conference is available to watch online. To find out more, visit https://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/about-us/our-organisation/our-conference

Where do you get your information from? And whose opinion do you listen to the most? Let us know!

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