The Horse Community Needs Healing- Could intergroup dialogue help?

The Horse Community Needs Healing- Could intergroup dialogue help?

December 26, 2023

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dialogue, equine

Hello Friends! I'm so glad you're here. If you're reading this, you have a deep love for horses, like I do. But maybe you've noticed that our shared love often gets lost in the all-too-common infighting in the horse community. Social media debates in our community turn mean-spirited quickly, with hurt feelings and personal attacks driving people's responses. People's shame moves the conversation, and people's shame is exploited.

A splintering community?

It's confusing watching this community I grew up in grow and change to become more humane and kind while also seeming to splinter. Right vs. wrong, positive vs. negative reinforcement, ethical vs. unethical, abusive vs. not abusive. It breaks my heart to watch this happen again and again. 

Rarely are things in life so all-or-nothing. We may joke that "horse people" are difficult, hard to talk to, or defensive, but our behavior with each other holds essential information about what is left unhealed in our community.

If we don't learn to be with each other across differences- holding close to what we have in common rather than what separates us, our community will only become more polarized, and ultimately, our horses will suffer.

The Impact of Infighting

Conflict is part of any vibrant community. It shows we care that we each want what we believe is best. But the infighting I see happening in all parts of the horse community causes so much damage—misinformation, blame, using shame to change minds or silence people. The costs of continuing to engage in this way ultimately hinder our shared learning and growth and our collective ability to make lasting systemic change. 

The Power of Intergroup Dialogue

I've had one foot in the horse community and one foot in the social justice community for a long time. Intergroup dialogue is a research-backed program in higher education aimed at helping students have difficult conversations about privilege and oppression. Intergroup dialogue:

  • facilitates mutual respect and empathy
  • Creates space for sharing experiences and knowledge.
  • Promotes a deeper understanding and cooperative solutions.

The differences between dialogue, discussion, and debate

There are essential differences between dialogue, discussion, and debate. The image below from the University of Washington explains these differences well.




I facilitate many hard conversations as a trauma therapist and social justice educator. It's essential to be intentional and aware of what type of interaction you're engaging in, knowing that change will most likely occur when people feel seen and heard. We contribute to the systems we want to dismantle by using shaming, blaming, and "might is right" ways of engaging.

Small steps you can take

Generally, intergroup dialogues are run by a trained facilitator(s) and are at least 8 to 10 weeks. But there are ways you can implement dialogue components into your interactions with other horse people now. Here are a few ideas: 

Protect your energy so you can show up generously. 

This is boundaries 101, my friends. If someone says something deliberately meant to be triggering, shaming, or to get a reaction, you can choose not to engage. In fact, you shouldn't engage unless that person is actively harming you. Protect your energy so that you can build genuine relationships with people across differences built on genuine respect and care. 

Changing Systems requires building relationships.

Dialogue is more than proving your point or talking to the people who agree with you. It's about creating relationships where shared humanity is more important than ideology. If you want to change systems, build relationships with people you don't necessarily agree with. Explore alternative views. Listen.  

Don't engage when you're activated.

 Notice your triggers. Take care of yourself when you're triggered. There is a better time to engage because when we're activated, we lose the ability to connect.

Multiple truths can exist simultaneously. 

This is why speaking from your own experience is so important when engaging in challenging conversations.

"In my experience, ____ feels true"

"In my experience, I have found _____ to be true."

"____ is true for me."

Leave room for other people's truth to be valid and even to contradict yours. 


I hope the horse community can prioritize our shared love of horses and work towards understanding and mutual respect. Our passion, resilience, and grit are not lost on me. If there is any community that can rise to the challenge, it's ours. But we do have a lot of work to do and some deep wounds to heal. Be on the lookout for dialogue workshops and training in the future! As always, reach out if you need support.

With Tenderness and care,

-Julia

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