When I heard about the campaign #notonmyyard I knew I wanted to be involved. For a big part of my life, since I was old enough to remember, I felt empty, worthless and anxious…this is how bullying makes you feel. My mum lost her leg to cancer at 11 and grew up with children calling her names. She told me lots of stories of her childhood, which by today’s standards would be wholly unacceptable and bigoted.
When we walked down the street adults would stare, and shout out loud “OMG look at that women with one leg”. I also remember a girl who was the same age as me, crawling on the floor looking up her skirt to see where her other leg was. I was ready to stamp on her fingers! Her mum ignored this, all it would have taken is for her mum to quietly explain it to her. She was just being inquisitive.
I could not understand why people treated my mum like this and it made me think the world was a cruel place. I just bottled it up inside.
When I started school the kids were so cruel. One girl made a point to sit next to me each lunchtime and ask me why my mum had one leg. It turned into ‘Groundhog Day’ for me and I dreaded going to school. My mum reported it, nothing was done in fact it became worse and children became physical with me too. My behaviour slipped, I did not respect the teachers after this. ‘I’ was the one labelled ‘The Naughtiest Girl in School’. Not a great start! But at least I had my passion for horses, my weekly riding lesson was my sanctuary.
I saved my pocket money to buy a pony. Mum had a ride and drive pony as a child, and wanted to get back into carriage driving. Yet she was faced with unsupportive people representing organisations, who should have been quite the opposite. They told her she would not be able to cope with her own pony due to her disability. But luckily this made her more determined.
When Chips arrived I’d wanted him so much, and his stable became my haven. By this time I just didn’t fit in anywhere else. When you have been bullied it makes it really hard to relate to others. Trusting people enough to build new friendships with children in a livery yard, the type who’d had ponies for a lot longer than me was hard. They would tease me, chase me and laugh behind my back. I didn’t have the right gear or I could not ride as well as they could.
I now know I am dyslexic and also have dyspraxia, which is best described as being a bit clumsy and difficulty with your co-ordination. I did not find out until my second year in uni. I had a few instructors who made me look like an idiot in front of the other children. This did not help me and just added to the bait.
One such time was a rally, we were practising mounted games and I could not vault, I just don’t have the springy gene! The instructor snatched the pony off me and told me she was 50 years old but could still do it! Looking at that now, how was that teaching me and building my confidence? I am now knocking on in years myself, and coaching has moved on. The instructors who teach my 8 year old wouldn’t dream of this kind of behaviour. But you never know, there are so many ego’s flying round our industry.
There is a deeper problem when you have been bullied. You find yourself changing to fit in. I got mean to get even…that would show everyone I was worth something, right? Being bullied actually made me a bully to other children, once I could identify their weak spot.
Bullies are hurt people who hurt people
I am not proud of this, but it needs to be said. People need to know that bullies are hurt people who hurt people. Even though it is hard you need to find love and compassion for them. This is the only way to solve the problem long term. Adult bullies are still playing out their own insecurities from childhood, they need help.
I went up the ranks in the world of carriage driving, competing on the National Circuit. But looking back I was chasing something to prove my worth, but I chose quite a toxic environment to do it in. Some of the coaches were discouraging. A lady actually said to my face after I won the dressage element, the judge must have forgotten his glasses!
This was 21 years ago mind, and Carriage Driving was not what it is today for young people. There were a much older set of competitors who had ‘money’ and did not want to be beaten by teenagers. There were open discussions about keeping the sport for them! Thankfully some trailblazers came in and set up a young driver pathway, just after I left the sport competitively.
During my professional capacity in the equestrian world, the bullying did not stop. It was a shock for me after presenting a successful project, where I had nothing to prove and the results spoke for themselves. When this middle-aged man totally belittled me! I could not understand this behaviour or believe it.
I chatted to my mentor (GET ONE!) there are people in our sport who want to support you. They are someone who has been there done that and can be a sounding board and positive influence in times of need! She opened my eyes to how common it is for middle aged men to be the schoolyard bully, preying on the ambitious young females in their midst. They grew up in an era which had a very different perspective on the women’s place. I always thought bullies were other girls, but bullies can be anyone!!!
This pattern went on. My suggestions in the boardroom were often laughed at. Only to resurface a month later from another middle-aged man’s mouth, clutching at straws at the end of his career.
The other thing in the professional world I have learnt is not to be afraid to shine too brightly. People will try and put you down. But that is always their problem, not yours. So next time someone is putting you down after a recent success, understand this. Being mean is their reaction. They are feeling they should be doing something similar but perhaps don’t have the courage to go and get it for themselves.
The scars from my bulling have been deep and painful. I’ve only healed in recent years with the help of NLP. I think #notonmyyard is a great way to for people to share their experiences and support year other.
Don’t let a bully stop you do anything you want to do, and if you are struggling talk about it. Don’t bottle it up and let it fester. Don’t let the bully win or even worse become one.
Get involved and share your story join the #notonmyyard Facebook page and use the hashtag on Twitter.