Right out of college, I interviewed for an assistant trainer position at a boarding facility in central New York. It was a riding interview. The owner of the barn was looking for someone to teach lower-level lessons and possibly exercise some of the lesser-used school horses. I got to ride her beautiful, homebred hunter and pop him over a couple jumps. It was a fun ride and I enjoyed the horse even with the deafening rain beating down on the roof of the indoor arena.
While I was untacking the horse and putting him up, the trainer told me I was a great rider but I probably “get the chubby comment” a lot. I thanked her for the ride and the opportunity and left the barn. Even though I laughed when I told my boyfriend about it that night, it stung. I gained 20 pounds after changing medication for my Multiple Sclerosis. Part of me wanted to march back to the barn and tell her that and to think before she speaks next time, but that wasn’t the point.
I have never been one to care about the way other people see me, but with the move from an amateur to a professional came a new wave of self-consciousness that I had never experienced before. Her comment made me wonder if that is all other people think when they see me ride. Do they see how my horse is properly engaged behind, tracking up, and moving forward and freely? Or do they see that my muffin top is hanging over the top of my belt?
“As the typical equitation body seems to get taller and smaller, I find myself in a place where I feel I need to speak out for those of us horsewomen who do not fit the mold.”
I like to think that worry is gone for the most part, as I post public videos of me breaking horses in my penguin pajamas, but as the typical equitation body seems to get taller and smaller, I find myself in a place where I feel I need to speak out for those of us horsewomen who do not fit the mold.
Being fit is something that is absolutely crucial to the success of a horse and rider team. You need to have muscles in your legs, back, and core in order to be fair to your horse and not land on his back in the air over a fence. You need to be able to hold yourself in a position that is safe for both of you as you hack around the field. And you need to be able to get yourself out of a dangerous situation, should one occur. This is not to say that even the fittest rider at 200 pounds should be jumping around on a 13-hand pony—size and weight does need to come into play when determining a mount.
I know a horse should not be asked to carry more than he can handle. And I am certainly not saying that you do not have to be in shape to ride a horse. I truly believe that the most successful riders are those who are athletes and we owe it to our horses to keep ourselves physically fit outside of the tack. But no one should ride in fear of getting “the chubby comment.”
“My muffin top does not make me an ineffective rider.”
At the time this comment was made I was in the gym six days a week and riding a minimum of two hours every single day, but I had a muffin top. Even now I work out outside of the saddle doing cardio and lifting weights three days a week and I have a muffin top—and guess what? My muffin top does not make me an ineffective rider nor does it inhibit my horses from doing any of the things I ask of them.
So maybe I am chubby. Maybe people do think about my muffin top when I am in the show ring or when they see a video of me mounting a colt for the first time. But if everything is going so perfectly that the only thing someone sees wrong is my “chubby” belly, I must be doing something right.