Sir Lee Pearson, Nick Skelton CBE, Charlotte Dujardin CBE, Anne Dunham OBE, Sophie Christiansen CBE, Carl Hester… nothing! How the hell did that happen? That is the question posed on social media this week by irate and/or bewildered Carl fans, following the publication of the UK’s traditional New Year Honours. A bunch of horse people are up there, including Britain’s high achieving paras, but the world’s favourite dressage guru was omitted.
However a knighthood for Carl was only going to happen if someone lifted a finger to help it along in the real world. Social media can’t do it all. It’s all so easy to expect things to be done by “They,” the abstract party we like to blame when reality doesn’t pan out as we’d prefer.
It hasn’t taken long for supporters to start a Facebook page campaigning for this oversight to be rectified. At the time of writing it has nearly 4,000 likes. Let’s hope the posts from the proactive handful who have sought out the correct nomination and explained how to go about it [send to a UK government department, the Cabinet Office, which passes them to an Honours Committee for consideration] are not trampled in the virtual stampede proffering just more of the same outrage and dismay!
Don’t get me wrong, I have “Liked” that page myself, for I am as disappointed as anyone that Carl was not recognised. But I am highlighting this as an example of how, nowadays, we all think we have done our bit simply by firing off a one-liner or tapping an emoji that, in the main, will not be registered by anyone actually in a position to do anything about the issue that upsets us.
Social media is both blessing and curse. It’s especially baffling why the horse world has become quite so dependent and unquestioning of stuff they read on it. In other respects, horse people are among the least lazy souls on the planet, after all.
Surely I am not the only person concerned by this insidious change in human behaviour? You see it all the time on equestrian chatrooms/forums/social media groups: all those hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent confusing each other about whether X or Y is correct when the tiniest bit of research in the real world could provide the answer in minutes.
Depressingly, a lot of comment about Carl’s non-knighthood underlines how little Brits know about their nation’s Honours tradition, which dates back to 1890. I wonder how many of us would pass the test that foreign nationals have to sit in order to gain UK citizenship?!
I have read some truly daft posts blasting the Queen for “slighting” Carl (as if Her Majesty personally speed-reads tens of thousands of names to see if there are any horse people she knows!). Or if he was left off because, by some amazing piece of osmosis, decision-makers knew he was also to receive the Fellowship of the British Horse Society last month and were worried he’d end up with too many letters after his name!
This is all the more on my mind because this week our revered BBC channel, Radio 4, has run a daily discussion programme about the blurring of fact and perceived truths. The gist is that we enter an echo chamber of our personal opinions when we join any social media group which is, by definition, already going to be dominated by folk who think the same way. In turn this further stifles original thought because of the warping of the news feeds that a clever algorithm has decided we will receive via that group.
Carl must be chuffed to feel all this love while at the same time being uncomfortable that any “gong” – as Brits irreverently call the Honours – he might receive in future will be a knee-jerk consolation prize.
The Honours were originally devised to recognise war heroes, captains of industry and people who had tirelessly worked, unsung, for their community. Nowadays, sports stars and entertainers are recognised by Honours too, for being extremely good at their craft. After London 2012, just about everyone who won a team or individual medal of any colour got a gong (including an MBE for Carl). Following Rio, there has been a notable emphasis to award Olympic-related New Year’s Honours to individual medallists only, in all sports, not solely equestrian.
Carl got a team silver at Rio. So for him to receive a New Year’s Honour this time, it would need separately to recognise his peerless achievements in mentoring/training just about the entire British team, his pioneering of a new lighter way of riding dressage, and for being an all-around lovely guy. That couldn’t be known by the Honours Committee unless someone told them.
My New Year’s resolution is to eschew social media of any sort for at least one day a week, starting tomorrow, and to use the time saved on something constructive I would not otherwise tackle that day. I think it will be strangely liberating. Naturally, I am going to cross out drafting a citation for Carl from my “to do” list because thousands of other people are now going to send one in. Or at least I think they are…