This is a subject I’ve been considering writing about for a long time, but never could seem to quite organize my thoughts well enough. Take a look around horse shows these days and an overwhelming majority of what you see is very thin girls on very fat horses. I never could figure out why the “ideal” rider shape was rail thin with mile long legs, and the “ideal” horse shape was fat as a tick.
When I saw this blog post on Horse Nation yesterday, I thought the author really had some great points. The line “Who made me believe that the most beautiful part of me is my negative space?” is pretty poignant. I was lucky enough to show in the jumpers as a junior so I didn’t feel the same pressure that I know the equitation and hunter girls felt in regards to being thin, but I think that learning to love our bodies as they are – thin or not – is something that every woman struggles with at some point. I will never be rail thin and I’ve never really felt the compulsion to be, but I know exactly what the author is talking about regarding body shaming, and she’s right.
It also bothered me a couple weeks ago when this article about Selena Gomez’s recent weight gain was popping up all over facebook. I’m pretty disappointed that we, as a culture, would call that fat. Why do we think that skeleton thin and bony is what looks good? It’s not strong. It’s not healthy. Why aren’t strong and healthy our paramount goals, regardless of what size it comes in? I’d be pretty thrilled if I could ride as well as any of these ladies:
And yet to hear people talk about it from the horse perspective (in the hunter ring at least), there is no such thing as too fat. Obese hunter after obese hunter plods around the ring these days, usually looking tired and winded by the end of an 8-10 fence course. A fit horse is seen as a negative thing in the hunter world, because a fit horse is hard to make tired, and a tired horse is a quiet horse. How did this sport get so far from it’s roots of foxhunting, where a fit, healthy, athletic creature was required and a tired horse was dangerous? Of course there is the saying that fat and chrome can hide a multitude of conformation “sins”, especially to the less educated eye, so I suppose that has a lot to do with it.
I can’t really speak to any of the other horse sports outside of h/j and eventing because I haven’t participated in them enough to understand what their outlook is or where their prejudices lie. It has been a gradual process, and still one that I have to consciously make, to get my eye re-tuned to being ok with seeing a hint of rib on my horse. Or in the case of the truly fit event horse – seeing lots of ribs. For some reason we get programmed to think that a horse in good shape is a horse who has a liberal coating of fat, and yet we see a rider with a little bit of fluff, or even just a lot of muscle, and immediately assume they’re lazy and out of shape. We think truly fat ponies are adorable (“give them cookies!”) and average sized people are repulsive (“put the fork down, fattie”, which I have actually heard from another spectator sitting ringside at a hunter show). Why? What makes us programmed that way?
In reality, a horse that is healthy is one that is fit, well cared for, and well conditioned for his job. His bones and tendons are strong, his muscles are toned, he can easily carry himself and his rider around and do his job without becoming excessively labored, and he has the stamina to perform the tasks we set in front of them. An obese, un-fit horse is none of those things… he is more prone to injury and more prone to sourness. On the same token, a rider that is healthy is one that is strong enough to help the horse rather than hinder it, strong enough to keep a proper position, and has the stamina to not “peter out” by end and leave the horse to do it’s job on it’s own. We are both athletes, we need to have the same expectations of each other. Weak and unfit is not okay, whether it’s too thin or too fat. The size of your breeches is just a number, and seeing a couple ribs on a horse doesn’t mean it isn’t in top condition. We both need to be healthy and strong, for each other, and at the end of the day that’s what really matters.