Think Before You Write

As the old saying goes, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and I should know I have scorned more than my fair share in my time – but that is one for the autobiography.

Anyway, as I have recently discovered there is something even worse, even more angry, than a woman scorned and that is an owner scorned, especially when the criticism wasn’t exactly couched in diplomatic terms.

It is said you can insult a man’s wife but insult his horse (and his jockey as well for good measure) and you are in serious trouble.

Interestingly my run-in came not in an article I wrote but on an internet forum.

Ah ha - the good old internet forum.

Internet racing forums are a mixed blessing they allow good lively debate regarding issues relating to racing and most of the time the majority of comment is informed if not sometimes robust.

One of my personal pets hates with internet forums is the anonymous poster who is quite happy to sling abuse at others, hiding behind a nickname like a coward.

The majority of posters, even those who use anonymous user names, are decent people who make valid points, enjoy a robust debate yet at the same time know where to draw the line.

Now I am the first to admit I am not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to criticising something or someone, I freely admit I hold trenchant views on some matters and I am not afraid to express them.

As the old acronym  says WYSIWYG – “what you see is what you get”. You may not like me or what I say but at least you know who or what is coming at you.

Anyway I digress because it is, sadly, also possible to overstep the mark when not hiding behind a nickname.

As I have already said, I am one that is not backward in coming forward and many a time I have stopped myself posting something I may later regret or, perhaps, not regret but could possibly phrase better.

Indeed there are certain individuals who, when I respond to them on a forum, I deliberately step back before replying.

With those posters, or if I am thinking of posting something controversial, I tend to write my response out in Word*, go away, have a cup of tea then, usually, delete the response or re-write it before finally posting.

However occasionally, even I sometimes fail to follow my basic rule and that happened a few days ago.

Ironically the thread where all the trouble started was actually quite innocuous, it was about the BHA’s seemingly indifferent attitude to race times clashing.

In the thread, as an aside, somebody asked about what happened to a horse who failed to start a race at Huntingdon.

As I had been at Huntingdon, I responded the horse had planted itself at the start and had refused to race, although he looked OK going down to the start.

A simple enough and innocent enough response, or so I thought. What I hadn’t twigged was the horses owner is also a regular poster on the said forum.

He was quick to respond that the horse had not planted itself at the start. Indeed his horse had been kicked coming out onto the course and that immediately before the start the horse that had kicked him had walked in front of him and his horse had backed off.

However he also added that his jockey, being “unsure of the rules”, held the horse back at the start hoping he would be declared a non-runner.

He, I should also add, said his jockey had called to the starter not to let the field go off but the starter had not heard the request.

Now in hindsight, I should have just had accepted what he said and shut up, or if not ignore it, couched my subsequent response more diplomatically, but I din not.

I picked up on the comment about the jockey and raised a point about it being unfair on punters who backed the horse and I have to admit my response was direct.

Unsurprisingly the response from the owner was very robust, which is fair enough. Unfortunately, immediately below his response was a response from a particular poster who has this ability to, and seems to delight in taking every opportunity possible to, wind me up.

This time I really should have stopped and follow my golden rule of write, sit back, go away, come back and refine the response.

Unfortunately the two posts together, coupled with being absolutely shattered having been up since 04:00 to catch an early flight and the tail end of a bout of ‘flu – none of which are, of course, excuses but are, just maybe, mitigating factors – I fired with both barrels and posted my initial thoughts and response.

To cut a long story short all hell broke loose and I succeeded in not only offending the owner in question but I also attracted a large number of critical, indeed vitriolic, responses from other forum users.

I have to admit most of the responses were justified although some did go over the top and it is no surprise some of the most vitriolic and “personal” comments did come from the cowardly anonymous posters.

I wonder if they are the same people who would be nice to your face and then stab you in the back as soon as you walk away?

However, as I said I did deserve the criticism and I was quick to apologise both publicly and privately to the owner concerned.

It was also an important lesson about the importance of thinking very carefully before you commit your thoughts.

Doing it on paper you have a chance to re-think – with electronic media it is very different matter. It is instant, perhaps too instant. It is oh so easy to fire something off without thinking.

It has been a sobering experience and I have to confess the response to my posting hit me harder than I expected it would (I hope I am not going soft in my dotage) – hopefully it will concentrate my mind and make me follow my own golden rule more strictly in future.

It doesn’t mean, of course, I am going to stop speak my mind but I am certainly going to be more careful in how I phrase my comments in future and everything I post or write will go through the write, cuppa, review process.

As I said a  salutary and painful lesson.

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