Today, as I was browsing through my social medias, I came across a post regarding what is commonly known among young equestrians as “the big eq diet” and it sparked my inspiration for this blog. For those of you who do not know, the 3’6″ equitation classes such as the Medal, Maclay and WIHS equitation classes and finals in the United States are most often referred to as “the big eq.” If you are not familiar with said diet, it can range anywhere from restricting to salad and water to eating nothing at all. This diet originated as riders were pursuing what is seen as the “perfect picture” of an equitation rider — a long-legged, very thin individual. This tall, slim image is no longer solely an equitation ideal but a universally sought after appearance across all disciplines and with this comes a major issue regarding eating disorders among young equestrians.
While individuals of all ages are not immune to the effects of body shaming, young women are especially impressionable and also happen to occupy a very large percentage of equestrian sport competitors. In the media, we are constantly being told that thinner is better. In the world of competitive equestrian sport, that pressure is amplified to where your weight is more important than almost anything else. This pressure pushes riders to great lengths in order to be thin. Discussions of restricted, detailed and precise caloric intake are the norm and this is not right. I remember how I felt the first time I heard the phrase: “skinny in the real world is fat in the equestrian world.” In that moment, I felt what many other young girls around me were feeling: that I would never amount to anything if I wasn’t thin enough. This notion is perpetuated by trainers, brands, and the media alike. Of course, not every trainer or professional promotes this image nor does every brand, but those who do have a major effect on the psyche of young riders, especially those of great notoriety.
Riding and competing horses requires incredible strength and stamina, both physically and mentally. Effective riding is not possible when your body is in a deprived and frail state, lacking caloric and nutritional needs.
It is wrong that as riders, we are told to starve ourselves in order to become better riders. It is wrong to tell young riders that they are “too fat” to achieve their goals. It is wrong that a rider can pay to participate in a clinic with a respected professional to learn, only to be told to lose 10 pounds and that will fix their problems. Most often, those being told to lose weight are not overweight to begin with. This is why the young women and men of our sport are obsessed with being thin, because it is ingrained in us from the moment we begin our careers that to do what we love, we need to be as lean as possible and that is wrong.
The pressure to thin and the expectations of what a rider’s body should look like is physically draining and incredibly mentally damaging, which can and often does lead to body image issues that carry on throughout life. The body image issues that equestrians struggle with can often lead to depression, anxiety and OCD among other disorders that can be debilitating and potentially life threatening. Something’s got to give.
Equal acceptance and opportunity needs to be given to ALL riders, regardless of shape and size. Character, talent and skill needs to be acknowledged above weight. The phrase “she’s too fat to ride” must never be used again because ALL riders deserve to pursue their passion and do what they love with the incredible animals we are blessed with, regardless of the number on the scale.