Are you are just too fat to ride? Then go wait in your room.
Did that work? Did you actually go? Of course not. Can we stop this now?
I have a video a friend shot of my horse and I competing many years ago. Showing was challenging in the beginning but we progressed. This was a second or third level test, and things were really coming together.
I remember this video especially because my friend was reluctant to give my camera back to me and the reason became obvious. As my horse and I started the test, the first movement was an extended trot on the diagonal, and that was when I heard them. There were two unfamiliar voices recorded; they must have been standing next to the camera. The first voice mentions how bad she thinks I look in my show coat. The second voice agrees that we’re unattractive–and that rider’s my size always look dumpy on a horse.
Next I hear my friend clear her throat loudly, twice, and then a small gasp. There was conspicuous silence for the rest of the test.
International competition is one thing, and amateurs showing at the local fairgrounds is another. For the record, I wasn’t wild about my coat either but if you manage to get your horse past second level, you really have to focus on more than fashion. Too many times, women are their own worst enemies on the subject of self-image. We let extra weight betray us, or give us the right to betray other women. It’s a cheap shot. Judge the ride, judge our understanding of dressage principles, but can we air-brush out superficial rail-birds?
Educated opinion advises that a rider and tack be about 20% of the horse’s weight, give or take. This arbitrary number doesn’t consider the horse’s age or confirmation, the type of riding being done, or the rider’s balance and skill in the saddle.
Don’t misunderstand. Nothing makes me crazier than seeing a grown man on a small pony or a rider so out of balance that the horse’s stride is tense and uneven. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of horses struggle with light riders as well. A horse/rider partnership is a bit more complicated than a math equation.
Serious obesity is a concern, but if you are killing yourself over 20 pounds, lighten up. I’m going to make an assumption now, since I’ve never in my life met a woman so pleased with her body that she was physically confident, and give some tips for over-weight riders. Yes, I would know.
First, feed your horse as you tack him up. Horses are grazers and create about 2 liters of stomach acid an hour, so he’ll do better if he has something in his stomach. And watch your own blood sugar and keep hydrated. If you’ve been on your horse for more than 90 minutes, give him a break to eat. Riding a horse all day long is cruel, no matter what you weigh.
If you want to look better in the saddle, put a helmet on. Then work on your riding position. Let your body move with the horse, don’t brace your legs, let your elbows breathe. Remember, horses have a stronger opinion about bad hands than any other body part.
Riding well is about transitions. Be gentle; ride rhythmic and smooth gait changes. Be soft in the seat of your saddle, go slow and be polite.
Asking your horse to hold your weight at the halt, like gossiping cowboys with their legs hooked over their saddle-horns, is much harder for a horse than moving with weight on his back. When you’re not riding, kindly get off his back.
Think about positive energy. Horses are good therapists, but leave your mental baggage it at the mounting block. It’s heavier for a horse to carry your depression and anxiety than a few extra pounds.
If you have no confidence, pretend you do. Fake it–breathe deep, ignore the outside noise, and know in your heart that you’re right where you belong. Then let your horse carry you like family.
This is my secret game…Brag about your weight every now and then, followed by a big fat smile. It’s a stress-reliever for everyone. A woman who brags about her weight is someone who’s unpredictable and probably crazy. Oddly, it cheers people up.
Most certainly be concerned about your health–your horse depends on you outliving him. Eat healthy food, do your own barn chores, and inhale horse mane regularly. Get a good athletic bra, a saddle that fits, and reward your horse, all the time, for the tiniest things. Then let the kindness you show your horse, rub off on yourself as well.
Most of all, stop holding your breath. It makes you stiff and that anxiety is unattractive–to your horse. Pouch out your belly some, give your hips a wiggle and laugh out loud. Your horse will thank you. Maybe it’s just your attitude that needs to lose some weight?
In case I’m not being obvious, these tips for overweight riders are also my tips for timid riders, or novice riders, or intermediate riders looking to improve their skills. Put your horse first. In the end, it’s always about your horsemanship.
When people will judge you, it says much more about them than it does you. Horses will judge you as well, but they don’t care about your appearance, only that you actually appear, hopefully with a curry and a soft eye. You can trust horses, they will always judge character above the size of your breeches.
So set that weight free. It will never be the most important thing to your horse. Or people with any horse sense.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.