I recently came across an article about body shaming. But not in the typical manner that we see it portrayed in the media today. It was one woman’s experience with body shaming in the show ring, a place where a million other stressors are in play and our weight should not be the most memorable part of the class. I think, on some level we can all relate to her story and the shock her husband felt when he heard the ladies commenting on his wife’s weight in direct correlation to that horses ability to complete the dressage test. I have had my own share of experiences with body shaming in the horse industry and feel it is an issue we need to address and have an open discussion about.
Kristen starts her journey when she made an educated decision to correct Elf, her horse, on a maneuver that caused a break in the pattern. After the show Kristen and her husband were discussing the day and he mentioned that a few of the women who were watching the test, began commenting on the break in pattern and assuming a direct correlation to Kristen’s weight. I can say that she is not alone. I’ve heard many comments about a riders weight when they have a bad go. Many correlate the bad day with a number on the scale. This is not breed show specific or even limited to women; the shaming has no limits. Showing horses and working for a number of horse trainers since high school, has brought me long hours of watching classes and listening to the commentary of the surrounding spectators. The commentary tends to be negative towards the riders appearances or skill level, and is intensified when a rider is overweight.
So where does the vicious cycle begin? The shaming generally starts in the warm-up pen, and an assumption is made on the riders capabilities based on their weight. The shaming can also begin when you enter the arena. When you enter the show ring, you are making a first impression on the judge. You want to show off yourself as well as your horse, in the best light. Your weight should not be a factor in this impression. If you carry yourself in a correct position, ride effectively and are dressed appropriately, the size 14 should have the same chances of winning the class as the size 2. Kristen states in her blog that her weight makes her work that much harder to be the best rider in the pen. I have personally never been a size 2 and will probably never be one. I do my best to eat right and one of my favorite post-grad hobbies has been running with my dog. It is unfair to judge my talents and capabilities on a bad day in the show ring. Looks are truly not everything.
How do we break the cycle? We get the facts. According to EQUUS Magazine, in an article “How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry?” the end result was gray to say the least. On the other hand, they mentioned a safe weight was 20% of the horse’s body weight. You should take this into consideration when any of us are on a horse, whether it be breaking out a two year old, buying a new show prospect, and even a trusty ranch hand. It should be a safety and ethical issue, not an appearances issue.
Where do we go from here? We begin looking at the good things the riders around us are doing. As riders at any level, assessing those around us is a part of how we grow. The learning never stops. It is easy to look at a warm-up pen or show-ring and pin point the negative things happening. But that’s not how we end the cycle. We should point the positives out, and seek out things to learn from. This is where we work to better the industry and ourselves. As human beings in society we all have insecurities that eat away at us, and most of us put them in a box on the shelf when we put our foot in the stirrup and present ourselves, our horses and our long hours of work to the world.
Like Kristen, I have insecurities that I let keep me from performing my best. All of us do, to some extent. A college professor told me once that if you look good, you feel good, simple as that. The same is true for your horse. No matter what the scales say, anyone who has put their blood, sweat and tears into this industry deserves an equal playing field.
To check out Kristen’s story and the EQUUS article use the links below: