There are so many sports dictating what our bodies should look like. Gymnastics is notorious for bringing body-image terror to many girls and boys. Cheer-leading and dancing are two other activities where skinny is perfect. Anything less than swan-grace and long legs isn’t enough. Not even talent.
Unfortunately, equestrian sports aren’t much different. Junior equitation riders envy one another for having the perfect “body to ride a horse”. What does that even mean?
Here’s the deal. We’re not all 5’8”. We’re not all 125-150 pounds. Some of us have shorter necks, longer arms. Big heads. Whatever – we’re not all the same shape or size, and we never will be.
I’m not too tall, I’m quite small. Petite, thick, thin… all those things, I’ve been. Most days and more often than not, I am conscious of my small stature. Especially in the barn, with animals far, far larger than me.
Things are out of reach, literally. Even though my birth year in the Chinese zodiac is a monkey, I don’t like climbing up grocery store shelves just to get a better cereal. Why do they put the healthier ones on the top, anyway? It can be embarrassing, much like similar situations are where I need someone’s help to get something down. To put something up. I’m 25. I’d love to put my saddle on the horse myself. I’d love to hang my bridle in the trailer. But the horse’s back is too tall, and the bridle hooks are too high on the wall.
People tell me it’s wonderful to be so small. You can ride ponies! The idea of only riding ponies gives me stank-face. I want to climb on a big warmblood and gallop around a course of jumps too high for a pony. I want a horse that I don’t have to constantly push to make it down the lines.
But at 5’1, sometimes that’s too much to ask. I know I’m equally capable as another rider regardless of my size. But I can’t help the shades of green I turn when I watch a rider with the right legs, the right torso, beautiful arms, and even more beautiful form.
Certain brands of show coats will always make me look lumpy in the most unflattering of ways. Breeches are always too long. Half chaps never fit properly. My saddle is 15 3/4″. It’s safe to say I’m very conscious of my size when it comes to the equestrian world.
I don’t think I have the “perfect rider” body. I may be thin, I may be small. Those two adjectives feel very limiting, and I’m corralled into thinking I don’t look suitable on a horse. I may not be picture perfect mounted on a thick 17.1 horse, but I’ve got to (and you do, too) stop thinking that means I can’t effectively ride said horse.
Have you seen Margie Engle? She’s 5’1, and 10-time American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year.
We need to take our focus away from an expectation of perfect, an unattainable standardized body image. I know we can’t change how we physically look on a horse, and frankly we shouldn’t have to. But what we can do is to have our personal horses “tailored” to us. This compliments an overall picture, masking what we see as personal confirmation flaws. I need a horse with a shorter neck to accommodate my lack of torso (and substantial body mass). A close friend of mine needs a tall, leggy horse with a short back to keep her own long legs looking suitable.
It’s all about perspective, but remember this. Dr. Seuss said, “A person is a person, no matter how small.” The same goes for all us riders.
After all, a rider is a rider, no matter how big or small.