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Just over two years ago, Riders for Well-Being came to be after one somewhat angry blog post written by yours truly went viral (here’s a link to that famed article to jog your memory).
I wrote about a topic that felt like a festering wound in our sport because I was angry; angry that my love of horses had been diminished by a few hurtful words about my weight from my trainer, angry that the “Big Eq Diet” was a term so commonly tossed around on social media, and angry at the prospect of adorable little girls on adorable little ponies eventually growing up and realizing how ugly this sport can really be.
Since then, I’ve heard a lot of your stories, and some of you have even been strong enough to share them right here on the blog. I’ve expanded our social media following, I’ve laughed with you, I’ve cried with you, and maybe I’ve even succeeded in making some of you feel more comfortable in your own skin. I’ve struggled with my own body image, and sometimes, I’ve felt like a fraud for advising my readers to embrace their unique bodies while I continue to resent my own.
Sure, Riders for Well-Being has come a long way since April 2015, but after spending the winter in Wellington, Florida, I’ve felt stuck.
I’ve been honest from the beginning, but in case you’re new here or haven’t paid attention to my riding background, I will remind you all that I am an equestrian of great privilege. I have three wonderful horses of my own and have shown on the A/AA circuit since I was 15. I have been exposed to some of the most glamorous parts of this sport, and am lucky to wear the “trendiest” riding clothes and ride in custom tack. Here’s why I’m stuck: though I am a part of the “glamorous” world of horseback riding, I have always felt that it was too superficial, too exclusive, and too quick to judge newcomers or people who don’t look like Instagram models. As you might expect, spending the winter alongside the top 1% of the equestrian population only heightened these feelings.
I don’t know how to get unstuck. To try and change the mindset of elite show hunters and jumpers is nearly impossible, because it all starts with the top judges and trainers who have established programs and preferences that have been successful for decades. For example, most hunter/equitation judges wouldn’t appreciate it if I trotted into the ring and over to the judge’s booth and said, “Hey, I’ve been struggling with my weight and body image my whole life, so maybe cut me some slack because I know my muffin top is visible in this show coat, okay?” And certainly, not one person at WEF would have judged me any less had they known I put myself on NutriSystem at age 15.
At the top levels, this sport is truly cutthroat, and because of that, we have a generation of young women who have conditioned themselves to be the “tough” gals. Some of these girls hide behind beautiful snapshots plastered across social media outlets to make it seem like they live perfect lives despite suffering from low self-esteem. The new motto seems to be “Life is easy, life is carefree, life is great when you jump horses over big jumps.”
I’m stuck because I want to make the equestrian community the kind of place 15 year old me would have felt more comfortable, but I know that the attitude at the top level will be slow to change, if it ever does. More than anything, I know that this shift in attitude will have to come from the top down.
So, where do we go from here? I know that my efforts aren’t all in vain, but I want R4WB’s impact to be as big as it possibly can. We owe it to the little ones grinning all the way around the leadline class to make this community more accepting, and that can only be achieved by being honest with ourselves about the mentality of our sport. Thanks for hanging in there with me.