Trainer welfare - what can be done to help trainers combat 'trolling' online?

Trainer welfare - what can be done to help trainers combat 'trolling' online?

Cyberbullying is something we’re all aware of but generally only associate with teenagers on Facebook or celebrities being attacked on Twitter. Not surprisingly, recent studies in the United States have linked it to poor sleep and depression, so it’s not to be taken so lightly.  With modern trainers needing a more public face and social media presence, online abuse or ‘trolling’, as it’s known, is quietly creeping into the racing industry and threatens to become racing’s dirtiest secret. While it’s not yet prevalent, complaints are beginning to filter through, and it’s therefore worth familiarising yourself with how to deal with the issue.  Trolling and cyberbullying are two slightly different problems—cyberbullying being more personal and the targeting of a victim, usually by someone known to the victim. This can be particularly hurtful as it will involve direct personal insults, and the bully may feed off the victim’s fears and weaknesses.  Trolling is more general online abuse, like strangers who simply want to get a reaction from the online community. They crave attention, good or bad. The more their victim engages with them, the more hateful comments they will post.  The important thing to remember is that if you experience trolling or cyberbullying, it is not your fault. You did not deserve to be targeted. Do not allow what happened to you define you as a person.  Jockey Alan Lee pointed out a similar observation during the short JETS (Jockeys Education & Training Scheme) information film “Resilience”, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of it. It is important for us to recognise self-worth. The mistake for jockeys and trainers is often in basing our sense of self-worth on the performance of our horse, when in fact we should distance ourselves from racecourse results and recognise that our self-worth is measured by how we are as a person and how we behave as a partner, as a parent, as an employer or as an employee. As Lee warned, losing a race should hurt and will hurt, but only for about ten minutes. After that, move on and move forward.  Abuse need not only be online. Trainer Conny Whitfield has suffered first-hand experience of personal abuse at a German racecourse. As her horse was led out for its race, one of the syndicate members enquired of its chances. She suggested that with a fair run, it could be involved in the finish. As it was, the saddle slipped and although involved in the finish, her horse was beaten two lengths by the winner.  Sadly, Conny was then subjected to alarming abuse by the syndicate member in the very public surroundings of the unsaddling area. To make matters worse, she was in the company of her husband and very young daughter, who naturally found it distressing and was close to tears.  “He told me I was too stupid to saddle a horse and as a result he had lost €500”, Conny relates. Among other abuse, he threatened that the horse would leave her yard. Thankfully, it was the irate punter who left and, while the horse remains with her, the punter is no longer with the syndicate.  “It left me dreadfully depressed for days afterwards”, Conny admits. “I’m OK now, but it wasn’t a nice experience to have on a packed racecourse, where all sane people know that we strive to do our best”.  It seems obvious to us that we arrive at the races wanting to win, but a misconception of malpractice still haunts our sport. And even if most racegoers are aware of integrity and desire to succeed, as Irish trainer John McConnell points out, “punters and even owners have a strange perception that we all know when our horse is going to win”!  He has had some experience of online abuse, but admits that jockeys probably get a lot more abuse than trainers. “Most of it comes from guys just talking out of their pocket, and the sensible thing is to ignore it”, he says. “I’ve had a little tiny bit of it, which I found quite amusing, actually! I had a winner at Hamilton and received an email calling me a cheating scumbag. I’d just been reading Mick Channon’s autobiography and he’d shown a few offensive tweets he’d received and there was my man among them! I got quite a kick out of it, that I was up there on a par with Mick Channon”!  Michael Grassick of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association reports, “I’ve had one complaint in the last two years and that wasn’t serious abusiveness. My advice is just to keep away from social media. If an owner wants to find you, they’ll find you. You can afford to come offline if you need to. The right people always know how to get in touch”. Criquette Head-Maarek shares Grassick’s view. “There is always a risk with social media”, she agrees. “If a trainer is not on social media, then there is no problem”.  Abuse does not always stem from losing punters, and social media can sometimes be used as a tool in defence, as Ger Lyons demonstrated on Twitter recently. When comedian Ricky Gervais attacked the welfare of the racehorse following the Grand National, Lyons had a simple response: “visit my yard”. This is also a policy sometimes adopted by Jamie Osborne, and it’s possible that educating critics, rather than arguing fruitlessly, could be a more positive solution. Clearly with more vicious personal attacks, it is not the answer, however.  “I will sometimes reply to social media insults. It very much depends on my mood at the time and what is said and how it has been said, and whether the person making the remark has any credibility”, Osborne says. “These days we must accept that everybody has an opinion and everyone can voice their opinion. If it is constructive then I’ve no problem at all, and if they are just confused I will politely correct them. It’s when the comments become insulting that it creates a problem. I should ignore them, but often I find it hard to do so, so I will often reply publicly, simply to close the curtain for being insulting, which is unnecessary.  “There is a school of thought on the worldwide web that trainers and jockeys almost know the result before the race. Those who believe that to be the case don’t know the details of the many infinite things that may occur in the days leading up to a race that may affect the result. We are talking about half a tonne of strong-willed animal being asked to race against several other half-tonne strong-willed animals and sometimes we are at the mercy of circumstances outside our control. Because of this, there is no absolute in racing, but some less-informed people on the worldwide web believe in that absolute and feel it necessary to insult those of us involved. I should ignore them, but I don’t.  “Sometimes on Twitter I re-tweet without a comment, which makes them look stupid. If I feel strongly enough I’ll rip them apart! Luckily, I’m not sensitive, and a part of me finds it mildly amusing; and I enjoy starting an argument! It will never be eradicated because there’s one born every day”. Some who are somewhat lacking in intelligence find the need to publicly display their lack of intelligence, and we should feel rather sorry for them.  “I did see Ger Lyons’ invitation to Ricky Gervais, and I have done that a few times. I always find it shuts the really gobby ones up! I’ve had some very nice people come to the yard and they have helped, but the really insulting ones never reply. An invitation frightens them away completely. I think they are afraid of being found out and proved wrong”. Osborne sums it up perfectly when he concludes, “I don’t have to be on Twitter, but I enjoy it”!  Vicious trolling is becoming a growing concern in Britain, where Rupert Arnold of the NTF tells us, “It’s pretty prevalent already and there are different approaches that can be taken: either put up with it and ignore it, or reach out for help where it becomes hard to take. Examples I see tend to follow a pattern, often with the same offensive language used.  “The BHA collects examples to pass on to the police where necessary and track down those responsible. Surprisingly, some don’t cover their tracks and are perfectly traceable. One trainer tracked down the home address and challenged the person sending the emails.  “Anyone in the public domain is now a target; it’s a phenomenon of social media and you must take that risk. It’s a difficult dilemma. Trainers take the view that they are trying to engage with the public and create a good public image of racing, which is good for the sport and for their business”.  There are some simple ways to maintain an online presence with safeguards in place, particularly on a personal website or Facebook group page. The first step is to establish a policy for user comments. These policies should clearly detail what kind of comments are allowed and be outlined on your website and social media accounts. Most social networks have community policies for being respectful. Create one of your own as a reminder of acceptable behaviour for posts, comments and shares. Should someone breach that respect, point them back to your policy. This will, at least, help to prevent bitter recrimination should they then be blocked from the site.  If you would like to block or report abusive comments, sign in to your Facebook account and go to the person's profile who is causing offence. Scroll to the bottom of the left column and click the "Report/Block This Person" link. Select one of the appropriate options for the situation, such as "This person is annoying me" or "This person is bullying or harassing me." These options are available on all social media platforms.  Nicolas Clément, like Grassick, can report no complaints from trainers of abuse, and in Austria Ziva Prunk tells us, “As betting is not much developed yet, we are not yet seeing abuse on social media. Actually, I never heard or experienced that anyone has had problems with it, but my advice would be to report it to the police immediately”!  We may think such advice perhaps too extreme, but in Britain, trainer Mark Johnston did just that, resulting in a successful conclusion. “Online abuse is very common for me,” he says. “I get them at least once a week, usually after a favourite is beaten. Some can be very nasty indeed. The NTF are recommending that these are reported to the BHA.  “I reported some recently that seemed to have a similar theme. The BHA advised me to report it to the police. I believe the police replied to the emails warning the person off. That was just this week and I haven’t had one from that person since. Hopefully it has worked.  “Most come from anonymous email addresses. Where the email addresses were real, or there was evidence of the identity of the person, I used to publish them on my website. Amazingly, somebody accused me of bullying for doing that. I think these people are really despicable and should be exposed if at all possible. Maybe if more were exposed, it would act as a deterrent”.  Similarly, Eve Johnson Houghton feels it is all too common in Britain and has been subjected to distressing emails. “I reported it to the BHA, which I believe we should all do, as I am sure it is a few repeat offenders who should be stopped”, she says.  There is a recurring theme from various sources on how to deal with and cope with such abuse, typified by ReachOut.com which suggests five simple steps to deal with trolling and cyberbullying:   Starve them  – it’s totally understandable to want to wage a war on trolls with your keyboard, but trolls thrive on others’ anger, frustration and annoyance. The angrier you get, the stronger they become, so starve them of a reaction. The best action is to ignore the posts.   Record it  – take a screenshot so that you have a record of the original post. This covers you if the person tries to edit or delete their post once they realise it could get them in trouble. These records can also be handy if things escalate and you need to take the matter further.   Stand up for yourself  – you can ignore trolls and still make a stand against them. Most social media sites have special functions in place to keep you feeling safe online. Report harmful posts and block the user so they can’t annoy you anymore.   Log off  – it can be really overwhelming when trolls are constantly pestering you. While you can’t control other people’s trolling behaviour, you can try to limit the amount of time you spend dealing with it. You may find logging off social media difficult, but it’s a good idea if you’re feeling upset. You don’t have to go completely off the grid; you could just try turning off push notifications, logging off from the accounts that are most affected by trolling, or deleting social media apps from your phone and only logging on when you’re in the office.   Talk to someone  – it can help to talk to someone if trolls are getting you down. This can be really tough, but it can make you to feel a lot better. Choose someone who you trust and who will be able to give you the help you need. Work out what you want to say beforehand, focusing on how the experience is affecting you and what help you want from them. If they don’t give you the support you’re looking for, try speaking to someone else.  Remember, you can as easily become an online bully as an online victim. Think before you type! Rationally consider the feelings of others, be civil and never respond with rudeness if someone is rude towards you. If a potentially damaging comment is posted, respond as quickly as possible with a well-considered and positive reply that draws a firm line underneath the topic.  Whether or not a victim of online abuse, the stresses of training can take their toll, and every trainer should look out for the warning signs of depression and seek help immediately. If you suffer mood swings, find that you dislike doing the things you previously enjoyed, are irritable with people you like and are close to, or not sleeping well, then seek support.

By Lissa Oliver


Cyberbullying is something we’re all aware of but generally only associate with teenagers on Facebook or celebrities being attacked on Twitter. Not surprisingly, recent studies in the United States have linked it to poor sleep and depression, so it’s not to be taken so lightly. 

With modern trainers needing a more public face and social media presence, online abuse or ‘trolling’, as it’s known, is quietly creeping into the racing industry and threatens to become racing’s dirtiest secret. While it’s not yet prevalent, complaints are beginning to filter through, and it’s therefore worth familiarising yourself with how to deal with the issue.

Trolling and cyberbullying are two slightly different problems—cyberbullying being more personal and the targeting of a victim, usually by someone known to the victim. This can be particularly hurtful as it will involve direct personal insults, and the bully may feed off the victim’s fears and weaknesses. 

Trolling is more general online abuse, like strangers who simply want to get a reaction from the online community. They crave attention, good or bad. The more their victim engages with them, the more hateful comments they will post.

The important thing to remember is that if you experience trolling or cyberbullying, it is not your fault. You did not deserve to be targeted. Do not allow what happened to you define you as a person.

Jockey Alan Lee pointed out a similar observation during the short JETS (Jockeys Education & Training Scheme) information film “Resilience”, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of it. It is important for us to recognise self-worth. The mistake for jockeys and trainers is often in basing our sense of self-worth on the performance of our horse, when in fact we should distance ourselves from racecourse results and recognise that our self-worth is measured by how we are as a person and how we behave as a partner, as a parent, as an employer or as an employee. As Lee warned, losing a race should hurt and will hurt, but only for about ten minutes. After that, move on and move forward.

Abuse need not only be online. Trainer Conny Whitfield has suffered first-hand experience of personal abuse at a German racecourse. As her horse was led out for its race, one of the syndicate members enquired of its chances. She suggested that with a fair run, it could be involved in the finish. As it was, the saddle slipped and although involved in the finish, her horse was beaten two lengths by the winner. 

Sadly, Conny was then subjected to alarming abuse by the syndicate member in the very public surroundings of the unsaddling area. To make matters worse, she was in the company of her husband and very young daughter, who naturally found it distressing and was close to tears.

“He told me I was too stupid to saddle a horse and as a result he had lost €500”, Conny relates. Among other abuse, he threatened that the horse would leave her yard. Thankfully, it was the irate punter who left and, while the horse remains with her, the punter is no longer with the syndicate.

“It left me dreadfully depressed for days afterwards”, Conny admits. “I’m OK now, but it wasn’t a nice experience to have on a packed racecourse, where all sane people know that we strive to do our best”.

“Punters and even owners have a strange perception that we all know when our horse is going to win!” John McConnell

“Punters and even owners have a strange perception that we all know when our horse is going to win!” John McConnell

It seems obvious to us that we arrive at the races wanting to win, but a misconception of malpractice still haunts our sport. And even if most racegoers are aware of integrity and desire to succeed, as Irish trainer John McConnell points out, “punters and even owners have a strange perception that we all know when our horse is going to win”! 

He has had some experience of online abuse, but admits that jockeys probably get a lot more abuse than trainers. “Most of it comes from guys just talking out of their pocket, and the sensible thing is to ignore it”, he says. “I’ve had a little tiny bit of it, which I found quite amusing, actually! I had a winner at Hamilton and received an email calling me a cheating scumbag. I’d just been reading Mick Channon’s autobiography and he’d shown a few offensive tweets he’d received and there was my man among them! I got quite a kick out of it, that I was up there on a par with Mick Channon”!

Michael Grassick of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association reports, “I’ve had one complaint in the last two years and that wasn’t serious abusiveness. My advice is just to keep away from social media. If an owner wants to find you, they’ll find you. You can afford to come offline if you need to. The right people always know how to get in touch”. Criquette Head-Maarek shares Grassick’s view. “There is always a risk with social media”, she agrees. “If a trainer is not on social media, then there is no problem”. 

Abuse does not always stem from losing punters, and social media can sometimes be used as a tool in defence, as Ger Lyons demonstrated on Twitter recently. When comedian Ricky Gervais attacked the welfare of the racehorse following the Grand National, Lyons had a simple response: “visit my yard”. This is also a policy sometimes adopted by Jamie Osborne, and it’s possible that educating critics, rather than arguing fruitlessly, could be a more positive solution. Clearly with more vicious personal attacks, it is not the answer, however.

“I will sometimes reply to social media insults. It very much depends on my mood at the time and what is said and how it has been said, and whether the person making the remark has any credibility”, Osborne says. “These days we must accept that everybody has an opinion and everyone can voice their opinion. If it is constructive then I’ve no problem at all, and if they are just confused I will politely correct them. It’s when the comments become insulting that it creates a problem. I should ignore them, but often I find it hard to do so, so I will often reply publicly, simply to close the curtain for being insulting, which is unnecessary.

“There is a school of thought on the worldwide web that trainers and jockeys almost know the result before the race. Those who believe that to be the case don’t know the details of the many infinite things that may occur in the days leading up to a race that may affect the result. We are talking about half a tonne of strong-willed animal being asked to race against several other half-tonne strong-willed animals and sometimes we are at the mercy of circumstances outside our control. Because of this, there is no absolute in racing, but some less-informed people on the worldwide web believe in that absolute and feel it necessary to insult those of us involved. I should ignore them, but I don’t. 

“Sometimes on Twitter I re-tweet without a comment, which makes them look stupid. If I feel strongly enough I’ll rip them apart! Luckily, I’m not sensitive, and a part of me finds it mildly amusing; and I enjoy starting an argument! It will never be eradicated because there’s one born every day”. Some who are somewhat lacking in intelligence find the need to publicly display their lack of intelligence, and we should feel rather sorry for them. 

“I did see Ger Lyons’ invitation to Ricky Gervais, and I have done that a few times. I always find it shuts the really gobby ones up! I’ve had some very nice people come to the yard and they have helped, but the really insulting ones never reply. An invitation frightens them away completely. I think they are afraid of being found out and proved wrong”. Osborne sums it up perfectly when he concludes, “I don’t have to be on Twitter, but I enjoy it”!

Vicious trolling is becoming a growing concern in Britain…

TO READ MORE —

BUY THIS ISSUE IN PRINT OR DOWNLOAD

July - September, issue 66 (PRINT)
6.95
Quantity:
Add to Cart

WHY NOT SUBSCRIBE?

DON'T MISS OUT AND SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE THE NEXT FOUR ISSUES!

Print & Online subscription
24.95 every 12 months

4 x print issue and online subscription to European Trainer & online North American Trainer. Access to all digital back issues of both editions.

Add to Cart




Tech advances - opportunities for trainers

News from the European Mediterranean Horseracing Federation 2019 General Assembly

News from the European Mediterranean Horseracing Federation 2019 General Assembly

0