Riders generally unsatisfied by quality of online horse content – study

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Where do riders get their online horse information, and how do they assess it?
Photo by Christine Benton

Equestrians are generally not satisfied with the availability and quality of horse-related online content, the findings of fresh Scandinavian research show.

Equestrian sport has centuries of tradition and knowledge behind it, but now operates in a fast-paced digital world that would have perplexed past generations of riders.

Lovisa Broms and her fellow researchers noted there was a growing body of research suggesting that traditional sports would benefit from adopting, or getting inspired by, the new, digitalized way of exchanging knowledge seen in self-organized lifestyle sports.

“However, what happens when practitioners in traditional sports ‘go online’ to obtain and exchange knowledge?” they asked in the journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living.

Equestrianism is a traditional sport with a military heritage, with learning cultures and institutionalized governance structures that can lead to slow development pathways. However, in parallel with changes in society and technology, there have been changes in how equestrians search for information about horses and riding.

“Several studies show that equestrians, just like practitioners in self-organized lifestyle sports, use new media to obtain and exchange knowledge.” This, they said, may have led to a change in ideas on formal and informal education and learning in the stable and equestrian ring.

In parallel, Swedish insurance companies see an increased number of cases where horse owners show a lack of care by not calling the veterinarian when their horse is injured or sick. “We believe that one explanation for this tendency toward such lack of care could be the increased accessibility of horse-related information through information and communications technologies (ICTs).

“Therefore, it would be of interest to investigate whether knowledge exchange through ICTs has already replaced or complemented the more traditional means of knowledge exchange, or if this is even possible.”

Recent research has shown that Swedish and Norwegian equestrians generally are comfortable with their own ability to critically assess information about horses and riding distributed online. However, many expressed a lack of trust toward other, less experienced, equestrians’ abilities to use these technologies as knowledge platforms.

The dichotomy of riders’ confidence in their own experience, their lack of trust toward other riders’ abilities, and the quickly developing digital landscapes is particularly interesting, the authors said.

It is, they proposed, important to further investigate the use of online knowledge platforms from the perspective of riders to create an increased understanding of the risks and benefits associated with developing digital media landscapes.

It is important, too, that sports and educational institutions recognize the increased role of the individual as “a facilitator of knowledge” through digital channels.

“For sport organizations and educational institutions to effectively reach out with knowledge and research, they need to know how individuals assess, value, and trust information sources.”

In their study, the researchers developed a 44-question survey, subsequently promoted online, with 1459 responses used in the final analysis.

This was followed by 28 focus group interviews with Swedish and Norwegian equestrians, to investigate how riders create their own repertoires of horse-knowledge online and what sources of knowledge they trust and prioritize.

In all, 97.7% of questionnaire respondents said they used social networking sites in general, with 47.2% saying they used them to find knowledge about horses, while 37.6% said they did not. The rest did not answer.

Search engines were used the most to obtain information about horses and riding, with social networking sites second and commercial websites third.

Even though the questionnaire focused on the use of digital technology, a few respondents – 15 – chose to answer that they would rather acquire information about horses and riding from “live sources” such as their trainer or a friend in the stable.

One focus group participant commented: “I use the internet a lot and google a lot. I get a lot of information and have used the internet for many years and use sites that I know are serious. Of course, there are many forums where people express different viewpoints about lots of different things, so it’s very important to use your common sense and ‘gut feeling’. I’m used to animals, and I’m brought up on a farm. So, I collect a lot of information from the internet, social media, and internet forums.”

When focus group members said they used online sources, they found it important to mention that one needs to have a certain amount of experience with horses to be able to assess and use the information in a correct and safe way.

“Further, the equestrians express that they mostly listen to, and rely on, equestrians they know. For example, friends or coaches who they meet at the stable or at the riding school.”

The researchers said the results show that accessibility, agency (experience), and trust are key terms when mapping equestrians’ preferred knowledge platforms, and that equestrians are generally not satisfied with the availability and the quality of horse-related online content.

Riders with less experience turn to social network sites more than riders with greater experience, they found.

“Equestrians find the ability to assess information as an important yet challenging task.”

The findings, they said, highlight the clash between the traditional culture in equestrian sports and the contemporary media user.

“On the one hand, many equestrians clearly express that they would rather stay away from obtaining information about horses and riding on ICTs.

“On the other hand, the data, together with previous research, indicates that many equestrians see ICTs as important platforms for discussing and exchanging information about horses and riding.”

Discussing their findings, the authors found the participants’ dissatisfaction with the availability and the quality of horse-related online content interesting.

They argued that the underdeveloped structural factors in relation to online horse-related information lead equestrians to turn to search engines such as Google, or social networking sites and commercial websites, instead of official websites and research.

The research, they said, also highlights the importance of horse experience.

“Horse experience seems to influence everyday online repertoires among equestrians. That is, the results reveal that online repertoires differ between equestrians with different levels of horse experience.

“Riders with less experience turn to social network sites to a higher extent than riders with more experience.”

Individually, online behaviours are defined by curiosity, eagerness to learn new things, and availability of information.

“We have taken a first stance toward new ways of understanding in what way equestrians shape their media environments, perceive them, and have agency within them.

“The results indicate that equestrians find the ability to assess information as an important yet challenging task.

“However, here, we see the results pointing in different directions. On the one hand, many equestrians clearly express that they would rather stay away from obtaining information about horses and riding on ICTs.

“On the other hand, the data, together with previous research, indicates that many equestrians see ICTs as important platforms for discussing and exchanging information about horses and riding.”

Many saw the internet as an ideal place to get inspiration from other riders and to stay up to date with what is going on in the equestrian world. At the same time, they express that they want to stay away from using it as a space for knowledge exchange.

“This is because they see ICTs as an unsafe space where too much false information is produced and shared by other, mostly more inexperienced, equestrians.”

In general, the participants saw themselves as confident evaluators of information. In contrast, they saw other groups of equestrians, specifically more inexperienced riders, as naïve or non-evaluators incapable of assessing information obtained through ICTs.

“These results indicate that it may be stigmatizing to openly communicate that one goes online to gain knowledge about equestrianism, at least if one is not that experienced with horses.”

Interviewees had pointed out that less experienced riders, and those without the financial means to consult a professional, are more likely to consult with online sources such as Facebook groups.

The study team argued that it may well be better for institutions to work in the online sphere instead of being critical and asking riders to refrain from using these sources.

If online sources are not seen as trustworthy, the results indicate a riskier situation where a lack of trustworthy online platforms for information exchange on equestrianism might lead riders increasingly to turn to friends in the stable. “Is that better than turning to reliable online sources? We argue that these questions need further focus in coming studies.”

They concluded: “Even if equestrian sport is unique in terms of the human-horse relationship, where the human must always have the horse’s welfare in mind, our study shows that ICTs play a role in the development and exchange of knowledge within sports in a wider perspective.

They suggest further studies focus on the relationship between the construction, mediation, and materialization of power and social relationships taking place through the internet.

The study team comprised Broms, Klara Boije af Gennäs and Susanna Hedenborg, all with the Department of Sport Science at Malmö University in Sweden; and Aage Radmann, with the Department of Teacher Education and Outdoor Life Studies at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

Broms L, Boije af Gennäs K, Radmann A and Hedenborg S (2022) Accessibility, Agency, and Trust: A Study About Equestrians’ (Online) Learning Repertoires. Front. Sports Act. Living 4:863014. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2022.863014 

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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