Street to Stable Column Two Point with Darby Bonomi, PhD - Envy at the Barn? Say No to Negativity

I am pleased to share my experience and expertise with our community in a regular feature column for

I get a lot of suggestions for articles; one of the topics that comes up most frequently is envy among fellow riders and the discomfort it creates at the barn.  

Let’s start by defining our terms so we know what we’re talking about.  What is envy?  

Here’s one definition: ‘a feeling of resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck.’  It’s a two person situation—for example, ‘I am envious of your riding ability.’  Jealousy, which is often confused with envy, is a three person situation, and involves people’s affections rather than qualities.  (For example, I’m jealous of your friendship with Joe.) Jealousy is often used interchangeably with envy, so it’s no wonder many people are confused.  The insidious twist with envy is that it usually involves an intent to spoil what the other person has.  It looks like this: ‘I am resentful, longing for a quality you have, and I’d like for you not to have it so I won’t feel envious anymore.’ 

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Equestrians seem to experience more than their fair share of envy. Envy between barn mates is often the rule rather than the exception. We hear disparaging remarks such as, ‘so-and-so is not a great rider; she just has a great horse.’  It often seems hard for others to be truly happy for someone else’s success.  Even I was subject to an unkind—envious—remark at a show recently, and it took me by surprise.  I have the resilience and old-girl experience to let it roll off my back, but for a second it poked a little hole in my enjoyment of a successful round. 

How do we protect ourselves from others’ envy and unkindness—and, even more importantly, how to we keep ourselves from falling into the trap of feeling envious?

First, it’s important to realize that people who are feeling envious are experiencing a void of some sort.  They are not feeling full of themselves, grateful for who they are and for what they have.  Similar to a bully, an envious person needs to put someone else down in an effort to (temporarily) feel better.  This insidious quality leads someone to feel pleasure in another’s failures.  Let’s face it: envy creates a very negative atmosphere at the barn—or anywhere else for that matter. My advice? Distance yourself from envy at all costs; don’t participate in it, and name it when you see it.  It is often easier to speak up for a friend than for yourself.  Help each other. Stand together with those who are similarly-minded and create an environment of support and kindness.

How do we not fall prey to envy ourselves? It takes a commitment to a firm belief that we are riding for ourselves and no one else. We are on our own path, not anyone else’s.  Your success is yours—it has nothing to do with me, even if we’re in the same class.  I define my own success or failure on any given day, not measuring myself by anyone else’s performance.  This is not just a riding lesson, but a life lesson.  Hopefully we learn early on that if we allow ourselves to take an envious stance, we will be perpetually dissatisfied.  No matter how much we have or how accomplished we are, there is always someone who is or has more.

One tip:  if you do find yourself envying someone or something, take a hard look at what’s missing in your life.  You might use it as a motivator to do something different.  Used in this way, envy can be a tool for self reflection.  Maybe your envy arises from a desire that you haven’t allowed yourself to explore.  Instead of spoiling someone else’s success, why not channel your energy into figuring out what you need to change in your life or develop in yourself.

The good news is that there is a lot of new interest in this subject, and increased awareness will help us keep barn envy to a minimum.  Check out Izzy Baker’s The Kindness Movement for an innovative solution. Featured in Street to Stable last December, Izzy, a high school student, has started conversations around the country about the importance of kindness in the horse industry.  Brava, Izzy! You’ve made an important contribution to the equestrian world.

All the best,