“You’re too heavy to ride that horse.”
“People that ride horses should be under xxx weight.”
“If you ride your horse, you will cause him/her lameness issues.”
“At that weight, he/she can’t be a good rider.”
“Look at that cow riding that horse.”
These are only a HANDFUL of the things that plus size riders hear in the equestrian industry. The equestrian sport is unique because it stigmatizes body type as it relates to the individual AND to animal cruelty.
In order to ride horses, and do well in the ring, you must look a certain way; long torso, long legs, size 0-2. Anything outside of that, you run the risk of being perceived as “big”. Clothes aren’t made to fit you that well, and even training programs can be exclusive. Girls that I perceived as “skinny” at a size 4-6 can be ridiculed, called “fat”, and humiliated both in and out of the saddle. So, if that is the case, where does that leave those of us who are, well, more than a size 6? Sized out of our passion. That’s where it leaves most of us.
So, the size of a saddle’s seat is an issue, the “weight limits” of lesson programs can become an issue, clothing becomes an issue, and then there's bullying. Horses are supposed to be a labor of love - and they are a passion for those of us who have that fire for these four-legged money eaters in our veins. Is it fair to deny someone the right to ride horses as a result of their weight? No, it’s not. I’m not advocating letting someone who is 250 pounds ride a pony, but as long as the rider is appropriately sized with their horse, allowing a plus size rider to ride, and NOT be bullied for it, is something that the equestrian world needs to re-evaluate.
As a “plus size” equestrian and athlete, I am the first one to say that weight often means very little as far as your athletic ability. I am 250 pounds, 5’10” tall, I ride 5 days a week, workout 6 days a week, do yoga, and teach spin classes. I’m incredibly fit despite my weight, and could probably do circles around most “thin” riders with my athletic ability. There are so many factors that go into what makes a horse and rider team, such as the rider’s seat, correct use of hands, and the rider’s responsiveness to the horse. None of these essential factors have anything to do with weight; rather, they have to do with rider competency and the horse’s trust in who is holding the reins.
This leads to the additional concern that the weight of a rider can also adversely impact the health of a horse. Interestingly, most derogatory comments in this regard are being directed at female riders. I rarely see anyone on the internet commenting on a reining or western pleasure class and saying “Look at that 300-pound man riding that 14 hand quarter horse. That’s so gross! Get that bull of a man off that horse.” This is a whole other subject, but as a female business owner with a brand that focuses on women lifting each other up, I feel like it is something I had to toss into this blog post. We need to start being aware of when we are actually mentioning weight to care about an animal, or when we are using an animal as a vehicle to bully other women.
With all of this being said, I want to wrap it up with some statistics: According to NATA Journals, 52% of equestrians currently struggle with eating disorders or body dysmorphia. This heartbreaking statistic emphasizes how critically important it is to urge trainers and judges to prioritize effective riding over size. I also think it is essential to urge my fellow equestrian clothing brands to be more inclusive with their sizing - there is no need to continue promoting a culture of unhealthy, disordered eating.
One more alarming statistic from a study done by the University of the West of England: 30% of women would trade at least one year of their life to achieve their ideal body weight and shape. This makes my heart sink into my chest for my fellow women. Culture, the media, clothing brands, you name it, have drilled into us how much we need to hate our bodies - and we finally believe them. Here’s a harsh reminder for you - every single insecurity you have, and every insecurity that you put onto your fellow women was created by a boardroom full of men, but is now also being perpetuated by women. Know this: You are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to be comfortable in your own skin and in your own clothing. The clothes YOU buy are made to fit YOU. Not you to fit them. Let that sink in for a second.
People are always going to say you can’t. Do it anyway.
Not to prove them wrong.
But to prove to yourself that they aren’t right.
“You’re too big to ride horses” “you’re too heavy” again and again they’ll tell you, and again and again you will get on your horse, kick some a**, continue to ride well, continue to have soft hands, a good seat, and continue to support your horse as he or she strives to be an athlete. Learn how to be a team by focusing on proper training and riding. Your weight is NOT a factor in this sport. Your beautiful, curvy, imperfect body IS an equestrian’s body.
EVERY BODY IS AN EQUESTRIAN’S BODY.
Now go ride your horse.
Thank you so much for this post! I’m heavy too and honestly I’m so tired of the discriminating against us. Yes I get really really jealous of the “skinny “ riders but also am extremely hard on myself. But your post finally made me realize that size doesn’t matter. I should be happy with how I look. I’ve been struggling with my weight since my preteen ages and I’m 31 now. Thank you for sharing this! Your amazing!
Yesssss!!!! I couldn’t love this more!!
This is a beautifully written article. Importantly, it addresses how body type and weight can play a major role in the ability to participate in equestrian activities. Plus size women, in particular, are made to feel self-conscious and humiliated in general. However, their participation in sports, especially equine activities has not been openly discussed. Your article shines a bright light on the dark stain of body shaming within the equestrian community. The necessary dialogue that precedes change starts with awareness. You provided the latter, so change can start now. Every body needs to add their voice to this movement to order to achieve the transformation from body shaming to body positivity in the equestrian world!