Hands up if you’ve ever heard George Morris call a rider “fat”.
OK, put your hands down.
We may “worship” old school trainers like George Morris for their unflappable ability to stay true to tradition and style, but we don’t need to put people down to do that. Being fat-shamed through a microphone in front of an audience is the stuff of nightmares – and a reality for some riders when it comes to tough coaching.
Has the dictatorial style of mentorship provided a platform for body-shaming? Critique and tough love is essential. Simpering niceness does not build the character needed in strong athletes. But limits do exist. Tearing a strip off a student for something they cannot easily control, like weight or physical abilities, is entirely counterproductive.
Let’s draw a line between constructive and destructive feedback. When does valuable instruction end and subjective opinion begin? Why must riders conform to their trainer’s aesthetic standards? Calling these riders fat effectively deflates their sense of self-worth. It’s impossible to ride well when you feel like crap.
Fitness and weight are two different things. I can show you someone 50 pounds heavier than me who is twice as fit, and someone 50 pounds lighter who would not be able to even get themselves up on a horse. Fitness is easily controlled. Run up some stairs. Stack some hay. Sweat, and it will happen. But someone’s pant size does not dictate their athleticism. Three-quarters of women have disordered eating habits and poor body images. They are already painfully aware of the issue. An empathetic, private discussion is the most productive course of action when it comes to these matters.
Traditional mentorship has taught equestrians that whining is for ninnies. Well I’m here, standing up for myself and any rider who has been shamed under the guise of coaching. Call me an over-sensitive armchair critic if you like, but this needs to change. The world is shifting for the better, and the equestrian world is slow on the uptake.
Read This Next: Friend Or Dictator: Which Coaching Style Gets Better Results?
So call your students lazy and sloppy, if they are such. Read them the riot act for their bumbling sitting trot. We should all be doing more no stirrups work, I agree. Tear a strip off of a rider for that dust mote on their boots. If you don’t keep us in line, who will?
But it’s not productive to make a student cry. To make them feel horrible, or scared. We are collectively here based on a shared passion. That passion can easily be carried away in the effort for each others’ success. It is evident that successful riders need not be a certain size or shape in order to perform at the highest level. We need to stand behind the sportsmanlike core values of our discipline – integrity and accountability.