he topic of plus-size riders and body positivity is a big, purple elephant in the room. It lingers, following us around the barn and horse shows, but no one really wants to talk about it. I think it’s time we start talking. We are in a time of change and acceptance. It’s time to expose this big, fat lie that plus-size people aren't good enough or worthy of being successful horseback riders.
Body image is a huge part of our industry. It's imprinted in our minds from a young age that good equestrians look a very particular way. I refuse to believe it. Horses have saved me in so many ways and they’ve been there for me through the hardest times of my life. For someone to tell me that I’m not worthy of a horse’s love, grace, and amazing power just because my body type is larger than some others — it’s simply not true.
I recently stumbled across an old photo of myself as a child. I’m standing with my pony at the ring, wearing my ridiculously high-waisted breeches and velvet riding helmet, and holding my rainbow reins. As I looked at this photo, I thought to myself, “This wouldn’t exactly be what the equestrian world today would call the ‘ideal’ body type.” It made me giggle at first because my outfit was so hilarious, but then it made me sad. I’m not the pity-party guest of choice, but the thought made me sad for every single child, teenager, and adult who’s ever been told they aren't the right fit or body type for horseback riding.
That feeling of sadness quickly turned into a fire, and that’s when I knew I was ready to share my story.
I’ve been showing on the ‘A’ hunter/jumper circuit for years and have been so blessed to be able to ride with many of the greats. I moved up from ponies to children’s hunters and jumpers, then the juniors, and so on. I’m now 30 years old and still have incredible success in the amateur/owner ring. But, I'm still the “big girl.”
I’m 5 feet, 10 inches tall. I have broad shoulders and long legs. Over the years I've identified this stigma swarming the equestrian world; this idea that big people, for some reason, cannot and should not pursue the sport. Not only does the stigma tell us that we shouldn't pursue it, it tells us that we will not be good at it. I disagree. Good riding is good riding, no matter what size or shape you are. And to know that horses are capable of helping us heal, no matter what struggle comes our way, is gold.
I started riding because I was getting bullied in school and my amazing mother wanted me to have a positive, healthy outlet. My parents signed me up for hunter/jumper riding lessons for my fifth birthday. The feeling of being on top of a horse was something I had never felt before. I felt free. I felt fast. I felt able. That young girl in the photo had been told most of her life that she’s “too big” to do most things. Being labeled at such a young age can shape the way we feel about ourselves. I have always been the big girl. I was born the big girl. I’ve never been light on my feet. I was never a fast runner or good at team sports, but I come alive on top of a horse.
'Horses never tell us we aren't good enough. If anything, they allow us to be enough just as we are.'
I was born a horse lover, but I was also born with a very rare disease called Acromegaly. It’s a disease that affects your pituitary gland in your brain and makes your growth hormone continue to produce even after you're supposed to stop growing. I was just diagnosed last year, but Acromegaly is the reason why I've always been the big girl. I continued to grow for years after I should have stopped. The disease is usually the result of a brain tumor; my tumor was removed in March of 2018. I wasn't able to ride for five months following brain surgery, but I would visit my horses almost every day. They were a huge part of my successful recovery.
The most magical thing about horses is that they never tell us we aren't good enough. If anything, they allow us to be enough just as we are. They do not judge. They are pure love and instinct, and you get back exactly what you give to them. It’s an unspoken bond that most equestrians understand. And everyone becomes powerful and able to take on the world in the presence of a horse. It’s a bond I believe every person should be able to experience in their lifetime. Horses don't see disabilities, size, weight, color, class — they simply feel. They feel our passion and love and our need for validation that we so tightly cling on to in the hopes someone will understand us.
The biggest lesson horses can teach us is to be less judgmental and more inclusive and understanding. We are all worthy of living out our dreams and connecting to our inner child who so badly wants us to do what we love so much. If it’s horses that you love, like me, if you’re different, like we’re all different, if you’ve struggled to find acceptance and truth in this world, like most of us have, I want to tell you that you are worthy. You are able. And you have every right in the world to believe in that one thing that brings you the most joy.
We are so quick to judge one another, but we never truly know what someone is going through. I can guarantee every person you see at the barn or at the show is fighting a battle you don't know about. I was fighting an uphill battle for years with my weight and body type and I didn't even know why. Even in today’s mainstream, where body positivity has gone viral and self-acceptance is a marketing tool, we are still so quick to pass judgement. It’s a negative habit in our world that needs to be changed. I think we can start a more positive movement to be kind, accepting and gracious with one another in the equestrian world. I hope that this movement becomes a good habit that, in time, replaces the old one.
'I’ve never been light on my feet. I was never a fast runner or good at team sports, but I come alive on top of a horse.'
My horses were my best friends when I felt alone, they brought me so much happiness and could always bring a smile to my face no matter what happened earlier that day. Horses have been able to bring a smile to my face for the last 25 years. They are gracious enough to share their amazing strengths with us no matter what we feel like we’re lacking. Somehow, they make up for all of our insecurities, and for me, that’s been the biggest blessing in my life. Horses have lent me their strength and speed for as long as I can remember. They have been my wings and make me feel like I can fly. When I’ve felt heavy and unworthy, horses made me feel light and capable.
My disease will never go away, but that’s why I want to share this story of hardship with all of you. It’s been a rough road to say the least, but the lessons and blessings I’ve received from this disease are ones that have been vital for my emotional and spiritual growth. We all have things we struggle with that we cannot change. We cannot control our destiny, but we can control how we deal with it. Being different and unique is what unites us, and owning our truth is so powerful.
Read this next: Boss Up: How to Become the Most Confident Rider You Can Be
Images by Alli Addison.