After sharing my thoughts on body image as it relates to riders and my own story, I wanted to share the stories of other riders. So a little while back I put a call out on Instagram for fellow equestrians to share their experiences and stories with body image. I was completely overwhelmed by the response. These are their stories about how different riders relate to their bodies.
Commenting on other peoples bodies seems to be fairly common place. Sometimes those comments may be made with good intention, however they can often really negatively impact upon us. This is why I have a policy that it is NEVER ok to comment on someone’s weight. Blogger, Lauren Heavyside from Pony Pom Adventures from the UK explains that despite being straight sized she has still received negative comments about her weight. Comments insinuating that she may not eat enough.
Lauren went on to tell me that, ‘I feel positively about my own weight and appearance. I think this has changed over time, and I believe this is due to being older and realising that your appearance is not the be all and end all of everything. I feel that there has been a lot of change on social media and now all body sizes are celebrated.’
Australian dressage rider Armani (@Armanimakaj_equine_) told me about a negative experience she had and how this has affected her. ‘As a 16 year old girl I am already self conscious enough about my body without having people making comments about not being “typically Anglo skinny” I am Croatian and Egyptian so I am naturally quite curvy and being an athlete I’m pretty muscly. One day during PDHPE I had a teacher tell me “oh sweetheart there is no way that somebody with your physique could ever be an athlete. Maybe if you cut the carbs and ate a little less and maybe if you take up a real sport you’ll be a REAL athlete” this really made me think. I had never felt comfortable in my own skin and this situation did not make this better. Gradually I began doing just what that teacher told me I began being silly with my weight and eventually I came to a realisation, I want to ride more than I want anything in the world and I need to fuel my body with the things it needs to perform. 6 months on and I’m happier than I’ve ever been I still struggle sometimes but I’m performing better than I ever have.’
Armani went on to add, ‘I’ve never really been overly happy with my weight. The difference now is that I care about how I will perform physically and mentally and that I know I really am not overweight… My perspective has really changed for the better in the last year I’ve learned to be more comfortable in my own skin but this didn’t come without so many challenges that I’ve had to overcome.’
The comments that other people make about our bodies can leave a lasting impressive. Blogger Gaelann East also recounts some truly horrible experiences that she has encountered over her life time, from being weighed on arrival at pony club camp and being told she could not ride the ponies to being told later in life that she was too big for her horses. Gaelann reflects that, ‘Random statements like that can really dent someone’s confidence’.
Changes is lifestyle and life stage are often associated with changes in our bodies which can be disconcerting when we live in a culture where we are told that our bodies should never change. For Irish rider and blogger Catherine Meenaghan (Wild Atlantic Rider) her body and appearance changed when she went from working as a full time rider and coach to returning to university to complete her Masters degree.‘I try to be logical about it and remind myself that there is no way I could keep up the exercise and work regime I was under back then, and that my current body weight is not unhealthy, just normal!’ Catherine also explained that in general,‘Although my height and weight are relative, I do sometimes feel a little self conscience that I look “big” on my mare who is a slight build and stands at 16.1; sometimes I worry that I may be too heavy for her, despite having a normal/healthy body weight.’
Author, blogger and animal massage therapist, Heather Wallace (https://www.timidrider.com/blog/) reflects on the impact that pregnancy and child birth had upon her relationship with her body and self confidence, ‘I started riding again after I gave birth to my oldest daughter. Trying to put on fitted breeches with baby weight created a horrible feeling. I was incredibly self conscious of my thighs, hips, and waist. Two more children in the years following didn’t help. Now years later, I still have more curves than I’ve ever had in my life. Some days I feel better than others’
She goes on to say, ‘For the most part, I don’t focus on how I look. I try to focus on how many times I can canter around the ring or course without losing my breathe and needing a break. I’d like to improve my fitness to feel better and ride better. Now that I have my own horse, I can ride a lot more and put together a training program for the both of us!’
For Lindsey Rains of Alta Mira Horsemanship changing the way that she looked after herself. Lindsey explained that her husband helped her to look after herself better which for her resulted in weight loss. Importantly Lindsey acknowledged that, ‘Even though I’ve lost all this weight, I still struggle feeling that it’s not enough weight lost. My doctor, friends, and family all say that I look great and I’m at a healthy weight, but I still feel I would like to lose more weight. I’ve been practicing positive self-talk to retrain my thoughts towards more loving and whole words, and that seems to help quite a bit. I’ve noticed that on a day where I don’t eat well, I look in the mirror and think I’m overweight again. And on a day where I eat well, I look in the mirror and see myself as more slender (even if these are two sequential days were I can’t have gained or lost significant weight).’
Heather hits on another important point, ‘If I feel good, that relates to how I feel in the saddle. Increased confidence in my body = increased confidence in my riding.’ For me, this is where equestrian can actually play a really important role. Putting together a great outfit with gorgeous colours isn’t just fun. Clothes that fit well and compliment my shape and look great can really transform the way I am feeling.
Ruby Butcher from the popular British blog Equipepper explains, ‘When I’m busy with Scottie riding etc over the summer I drop some weight and then when I slow down over the winter I put it back on again. This makes me think that I am probably fairly close to what my weight should be and that just a tad more effort on my part would help me shift the belly.’ Ruby’s experience actually aligns with the theory of set point. This theory is the idea that our bodies have a set weight that no matter what we do (dieting, exercising) our bodies will ultimately return to that weight.
Derv from Ginger Ninja and Co says, ‘I think the biggest problem here, is that horse riding is still not considered to be an intensive sport by most. We have all heard from someone “sure that the horse does all the work” – I’d like to challenge these people to do a dressage test in sitting trot and be able to laugh after without pain. I have a body type more similar to that of a gymnast, a trait of that being muscular arms and legs. This is definitely something that garners a lot of attention and comments, to the point where I have been called “man arms” (not with intent to hurt but in jest however it is still a comment that sticks with you next time you try to wear a strapless dress).’
Thank you to Lauren, Armani, Gaelann, Catherine, Heather, Lindsey, Ruby and Derv for sharing their stories. Stay tuned for more stories from riders about body image.