P.O.V: It’s 2005 in the playground during first break. You’re finishing off your lunch when one of your friends asks if you want to play Saddle Club. You bags Lisa on Prancer even though Cobalt is the best horse. Memories of his death surface. Veronica di Angelo is a bitch. Someone sets up a jump course with sticks. Life is good.
The re-telling of this story in today’s internet age would have you label me as a ‘horse girl’. We may both laugh, we may both joke around a bit, but what do you really mean by that comment?
Do you mean that I’m a fun, free-wheeling type of person that knows the value of hard work and the importance of mutual trust in a two-way relationship? Or, do you mean that I’m an immature little girl that whinnies and canters in public to relive a fantasy of taming the wild stallion that bows to no man? Do you mean ‘horse girl’ as an insult?
In the year 2021, terms like ‘basic bitch’, ‘whore’, and ‘girlboss’ don’t even register as insults at first. Due to the comedic reclaims in everyday speech and online content, we aren’t as offended by them as we were in 2014 when they cropped up—and that’s great. People are comfortable enjoying their scented candle collection in front of their decorative bedroom lights; friends will call friends ‘whores’, ‘bitches’, and ‘sluts’ at every opportunity but will absolutely maul someone the second one of those words is used in a derogatory context; and everybody loves a girlboss who can slay all fucking day. So why can’t I be called a ‘horse girl’ without it being preceded by ‘no offense George, but…’?
It’s because there is still a stigma that surrounds the consumption and enjoyment of media aimed at young girls.
Countless studies have proven that once something has been adopted by a teenaged girl audience, the rest of society dismisses it as something contrived and unremarkable. Naïvely, I was under the impression that this culture had bettered since 2016 when I last heard this argument. No. Not at all. A Google search on the topic for this essay brought up articles as recent as August this year. How have we not moved on from this? No matter the decade, we still feel the need to insult what young girls have deemed popular.
Unsurprisingly, this notion stems from the societal hatred of women in general. It tracks back to the 18th century, where a severe gap in education lead to the ‘belittling of women and girl’s intelligences’, writes Charlotte Dekle for Tiger Newspaper in 2021. She says this continues today, presenting itself as criticism against the media they consume, which is often labelled as manufactured, shallow, and dumb. The prevalence of this in today’s culture turns everyone, including other teenaged girls, against teenaged girls and their interests.
Jane Carpenter of The Foreword posed in her 2020 article titled ‘Society Hates Teenage Girls’ that internalised misogyny is a key factor for this behaviour. ‘In order to avoid the criticism that society places on women who consume things largely marketed towards them, they completely reject them and place criticism on women who don’t,’ Carpenter says. This ugly rejection continues to manifest itself until every topic of interest is weaponised to use against children who are just trying to escape from mountains of homework and overbearing parents.
Over time though, if enough of another demographic has saturated the market, the media becomes acceptable for public consumption. This can be said for most pop culture content, except for anything involving horses. Horse media is almost exclusively aimed at a female audience. And that is why, in the year 2021, ‘horse girl’ is still an insult.
Research suggests that as the image of the horse devolved from a tool on the farm and a means of transportation to a pet for the lucky few, the appeal for men devolved too. Horses are now associated with women due to the nurturing and care factor involved with taking on the powerful and majestic animals. Yet, despite the role of the hard-working, empathetic nurturer, women are still quick to judge other women for consuming horse media for giving into the gendered pandering. However, underneath all the marketing, horse content, especially those aimed at young girls, provides important building blocks for making it in this harsh reality.
Let’s circle back to the introduction. For those that don’t know, The Saddle Club was an Australian/Canadian co-production adapted from the books of the same name, that followed the lives of best friends Carole, Stevie, and Lisa as they trained to compete in equestrian events while dealing with problems in their personal lives. It’s a pretty simple premise for a show aimed at a young audience. Each episode has its A plot, B plot, and occasional C plot with the main conflict being solved through the hard work, dedication, and teamwork of Lisa, Carole, and Stevie. While the stories can’t be so complex that they require a six-episode arc of 45 minutes each, they are by no means lacking in what’s important. Every one of those 25 minutes was enough to grip any obsessed five-year-old to the screen.
And watching them back as an adult, I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes and cringing at every possible moment. It wasn’t because, much like the dreaded horse girl, I was willing to overlook the obvious flaws of the beast in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough after hours of pain and torment. It was because the fundamentals of the show are something worth instilling in the minds of children.
At its core, the show contained positive representation for women that was otherwise lacking in the 2000s. Carole, Lisa, and Stevie had a healthy dynamic of female friendship; each girl was their own person with their own identities, strengths, and weaknesses, while also being an equal in a devoted and loyal companionship. Stevie was often used to voice the internal misogynistic opinions that were expressed in Australian playgrounds, and Carole and Lisa were used to remind her that everyone is allowed to express themselves however they want, provided it caused no harm. On the backdrop of Pine Hollow Stables, they took accountability for the consequences of their actions and used their intelligence and intellect to selflessly help those who needed it.
The Saddle Club fostered a healthy environment for young girls to learn real lessons. In episode seventeen of season two, Stevie stands up to a male vet who doesn’t believe that her horse is sick. It takes three visits and the horse literally collapsing in front of him for the vet to take her seriously and discover the splinter of lead paint that was slowly poisoning it. Men have a bad habit of dismissing women, believing that they know best, and their word is law. This horse show taught viewers to trust their instincts, and not to take the word of an authority figure if it didn’t sit right with them. There are countless stories of women getting fifth opinions from doctors because the first four thought they were faking a debilitating illness and needed to lose weight. Teaching girls early that their instincts are to be trusted may save their lives one day.
The stables may have been filled with horses, but the show was filled with lessons on how to navigate a world that looked down on girls. The taboo of horse media is all that stands in the way of this message being delivered. It’s 2021; The Saddle Club is 20 years old. Enough time has passed for this show to be respected alongside the ones it was aired with.
With everything discussed, ‘horse girl’ should no longer be an insult. Nothing relating to women’s media should be used as an insult. The belittling of teenage girls and their interests needs to stop. If not, the cycle of internalised misogyny will continue to rear its ugly head and in another 20 years, someone else will be writing this essay. We don’t have to like what isn’t aimed at our demographic, but we should view it objectively so that girls aren’t pressured out of safe spaces. If history shows us anything, it’s that teenage girls know what will make history. Why should we stand in their way when we could help them make history?
Let the record show that I don’t mind being a horse girl. To me, it means I’m a fun, free-wheeling type of person that knows the value of hard work and the importance of mutual trust in a two-way relationship. And I hope that’s what it means to you now too.
George C is an emerging Brisbane writer finishing her final year of their creative writing major at QUT. With a passion for the pessimistic, they enjoy taking a darker approach than typically recommended for a normal author. You can find George’s work all throughout ScratchThat.