In her book, Yes Please, Amy Poehler writes about “the voice.” The voice is that nagging thing in your head who likes to look at your body and say, “No way you are good enough.”

No one is totally immune to the voice. My skinny friends complain about their arms or supposed muffin tops. It’s not just women either – everyone hears the voice from time to time.

You should change this. You should fix that. No way you are good enough.

I’m sure it’s true with all sports, but the equestrian world comes with a heavy dose of the voice. Kristen from If the Saddle Fits wrote a well thought out post about this issue last week. Part of it resonated particularly well with me:

If not now, then when?

I’d had my fabulous Elf for a year but we hadn’t done much besides putter. All of my goals, this list of things that I wanted to do, felt incredibly untouchable.

When I first started riding again in Texas, I mostly purchased (long story) a draft cross pleasure horse named Teaspoon. I thought that being as overweight as I am, some kind of draft was the only kind of horse I could ride. Additionally, my showing days were behind me because the hunter/jumper world was one of thin princesses and I would never be able to hold my own at any level.

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There were multiple problems with this mindset, the first being that I’m a seriously competitive person. After a few months of pleasure riding, I got super bored. Teaspoon would buck and play on trails, which scared me, but in the arena he was pretty well behaved. I moved him to a hunter/jumper barn, and started investing in training and lessons. I worked with what I had, but Teaspoon was never destined to be a serious sport horse. After some physical issues cropped up, he went back to the pleasure riders I got him from.

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When my trainer offered to let me lesson and hack some of her horses, I constantly asked, “Are you sure I’m not too big? Is this okay? Am I too heavy?” She always assured me that it was fine. So I rode Thoroughbreds again, and even leased one a while. The idea of doing the jumpers crept into my head, but I felt like people would look at a heavy girl riding a jumper and think it was ridiculous. I thought I would never be good enough, fit enough or skinny enough to get around even a low level jumper ring. The voice was winning.

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I met my Simon, who has a voice of his own. Unlike mine that sprouts from low self esteem, Simon’s voice comes from enjoyment. Jumping is fun! Jumpers are fun! I love this! Can we do this? This is fun!

And really, it was fun. If not now, when? I had a happy horse I adored who wanted to do jumpers, and … well I started running out of excuses. So we do it. We try and struggle and strain to get better, but I tell the voice to shut up and I just do it.

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Which is what made me really mad when I saw the comments on Reddit about Kristen’s body shaming post. I know most of the people are ignorant and judgmental, but the theme is so negative. They are the voice, but personified in real life. It’s not fair, because Kristen works hard (much harder than I do… I should start running) and does well with her very appropriate horse but the voice’s army is out there beating her down just the same. I promise you, every plus size rider I know questions their size and suitability to their horse way more than you can possibly imagine. Believe me, we’ve thought about this shit already… you don’t have to do it for us.

Riding is just one part of life, but it’s important to us. I can’t erase the people who are going to point out your flaws on the internet, and I can’t make you look at pictures of yourself without noticing those extra 10 lbs that you wish weren’t there.

This video still originally haunted my dreams, but...
This video still originally haunted my dreams, but…

What I can say to you is don’t let the voice win. I hear the voice when I look at a picture of my flabby stomach poking out over my breeches, but the snide things it whispers to me never comes close to overcoming the joy and fulfillment I get from riding and showing my horse.

33 COMMENTS

  1. I read through some of those Reddit comments (couldn’t bear to read more than a few) and I was appalled. I have also read Kristen’s post, and thought it was very thoughtful and well written. Her and her horse look like a well suited pair and her horse appears very happy to do his job.

    The fat shaming issue, while it stems from a larger mainstream society issue/mindset, is so prevalent in equestrian sports. People don’t realize that a heavier person who knows how to ride and can balance their weight is much easier for a horse to carry than a lighter person who is flopping around and/or using the reins for balance.

    It is so sad that this is such a problem, and causing eating disorders in junior hunter/jumper riders. Riders for Wellbeing is an organization that was created (I think this year?) to try to combat the skewed body image that is rampant among riders.

    Everyone hears “the voice”, because nobody is perfect!

  2. My voice has changed a lot recently, from being nitpicky and unsatisfied towards my body to very encouraging and positive. I got turned on to weight training about seven months ago and it’s completely changed how I regard my body and what I deem beautiful about it. Slogging on the treadmill for thirty minutes every day bored me to death and I never liked how I felt or looked. Ironically, I’m eating more (albeit better) and getting bigger than I was before in my cardio bunny days and I couldn’t be any more excited about how I’m watching my body get stronger and loving it for it’s capabilities. (My ass also looks great haha) In short, weights>running, lifting voice > cardio bunny voice 🙂

  3. I’ve gone through phases of feeling like I really should spent more time/energy on fitness so that I can ride better…and then I would think, but there’s only so much time/energy to go around, and if I’m getting fitter so I can ride better but then I’m not riding as much as I’d like (because I’m always in the gym or whatever instead), what’s the point?

    I like feeling capable and comfortable in my skin; I enjoy many forms of exercise for their own sake as well as for the results. But I’m so over doing less of what I love. Everything’s a set of choices; everybody gets to figure out their own priority and path.

    (I simultaneously want to say, I think you and Simon look great together, and don’t want to say it, because what I think on that front is totally not the point. And then I thought about deleting that sentence altogether, but I want to acknowledge the not-the-pointness of it, so I won’t! Instead: I think it’s fantastic that you’re so in tune with Simon’s voice — and with your own, for that matter.)

  4. And thanks for the tip re: If the Saddle Fits… Not a blog that was on my radar before, but I’m adding it to my Feedly now; looks great!

  5. Yes to all of this. I had a friend taking pictures of me riding last night and the video where Copper isn’t being a wild man is good…but my butt looks HUGE. Plus my wordpress package doesn’t allow video, so it won’t get posted. But it still bothers me. :/ oh that voice. I was watching My Big Fat Fab Life last night when I was going through the media and Whitney made me feel better though. I recommend you watch her if you don’t already. She offers great perspective.

  6. I read Kristin’s post and thought it was lovely and spot on. I had no idea there was a negative reaction to it–that’s just awful. How very uncalled for, especially on a post that addressed that very issue head on.

    I don’t think it matters who you are or where you fit in the horse world–there’s always going to be the segment that says you’re not good enough. I’m aiming for the dressage world, aka “the land of horrifyingly tight white pants”. As a fellow rider who is definitely not pixie sized, I can say that’s one of the things I look forward to the least. I don’t care what I cram on underneath or how “flattering” the cut of any pair of pants is–nothing white and spandex is going to make me go from looking like a bigger girl to a tiny, socially-appropriate pixie.

    So yeah. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will raise their eyebrows and make snide remarks (and possibly malign me on websites I barely even know exist), but that’s not anything I can care about or fix.

    All I can do is work on my partnership with my horse.

  7. Man, I hate that voice. It’s been screaming in my head especially loud this week since we have a show this weekend. So hard to make it be quiet and let me ride!

    It is some comfort to know that it’s not just me.

  8. I wasn’t aware of that Reddit post (seriously starting to hate Reddit users) – wow. WOW. People are so blind, stupid, and lemmings. I counted only two people who had anything positive to say – no one else was willing to think critically and for themselves. For shame.

    As for you lovely lady, like Sprinklerbandit is doing, I think you need to yell “Penis!” everytime that voice speaks up.

  9. Kristen’s post was well written, and she is so dedicated to her health that I’m appalled there’s a negative reaction. I’m not even clicking over to Reddit, because I will spend the rest of the day fuming.

    Weight was a very real issue in therapeutic riding, because people who have limited mobility are sometimes overweight, especially adults. I knew several centers who implemented weight limits, not because they didn’t want to serve fat people, but because they were concerned about a) the health of their horses and b) the safety of their staff/volunteers/riders in an emergency (e.g. rider requires very fast dismount in dangerous situation, can volunteers get rider to the ground safely?). The general consensus among TR professionals is that a horse can capably and comfortably carry a heavy rider who is balanced and effective MUCH more easily than a less heavy rider who is unbalanced and ineffective. I’ve seen this in action: I knew horses that didn’t struggle to carry 200 pound able bodied riders, but seemed sore and stiff after a 45 minute walk lesson with a rider who couldn’t sit up or stay straight in the saddle.

    I wish people understood that most riders think of themselves as athletes and do their best to be fit for their sport. They run, do yoga, go to the gym, try to eat healthily. No one wants to make their horse struggle!

    • I think places like that (and trail riding places) need weight limits to be safe for the horses. It’s hard, because I would never want to fat shame or body shame anyone but you also have to protect the animals who can’t speak up and say “This is too much.”

      • It’s very hard, because not only do you not want to fat-shame or body-shame someone, you also don’t want to get sued! For example, if you implement a weight limit, does it apply to everyone, or just clients? Does that mean staff members or volunteers who exercise the horses outside of lessons need to meet the weight criteria? What if someone lies about their weight?

        The center where I worked did not have a weight limit (which I disagreed with); it wasn’t usually a problem, because most of the clients were children. But there were a couple of very heavy clients in their late teens and one adult woman who needed a lot of assistance to ride who made me VERY nervous. I didn’t worry about the horses as much as I worried about the elderly people who were our usual volunteers!

      • I was actually coming down to the comments to mention the paid trail riding weight restriction.

        On vacation once, I wanted to go trail riding with my husband but he weighed like 230lbs and they had a weight restriction (220 I think), but said if he paid an extra $10 he could ride. What is the point of the weight restriction if $10 will make it better? Does the horse get an extra helping of grain for $10? It was bizarre, and if they want a weight restriction, they should stick with it, not say $10 will somehow make my husband lighter, or make the horse sturdier.

        I think it was just a scheme to make more money off the tourists in general though, as many adults are at or above 220. We didn’t end up going there, went to another place that didn’t say anything about it.

  10. What the hell?!?!? There are not enough words for what I want to say to the people on that website and more to the people that created it (and websites like it). There is a large portion of society that I just don’t understand. Maybe society is the problem. It certainly encourages that kind of judgmental bullying behavior. Just take a look at the headlines the next time you’re in a lineup. I cringe at how bad things will become for future generations.
    This crap makes me so angry.

  11. None of this is helped by the fact that it is impossible to find breeches or show coats in a size that is both attractive and comfortable. It is a humiliating prospect to drive an hour to Dover to walk away empty handed, because the manufacturers of said breeches believe no one should ride with a larger than 32″ waist, or Dover doesn’t carry them. And being helped by a Twigbitch (from Pitch Perfect) looking down their nose at you struggling to find one pair of breeches in the store that fit is just too much.

    It is hard to silence that voice in your head when surrounded by clothes that will never fit.

    • Yes, this exactly. I sometimes go to tack stores with the specific plan in mind of trying on breeches or coats or show boots, then see the twiggy, perfectly-turned-out employees, and just don’t. Asking for larger sizes just isn’t worth the humiliation to me. I’ll do the buy-online-and-return dance just to avoid it.

  12. Lauren, I had taken a break from the blogosphere and from horses after Trinity died. I just couldn’t do it anymore I am finally back and getting caught up on everything. First, let me offer my condolences and prayers on your past several months. I can’t imagine. As for this post, I have gained about 50 pounds since Trinity passed and the last time I rode a horse. I have let that voice creep in. I now run a barn and am hesitant to ride the school horses, because I had a “trainer” tell me one time (when I was 50 pounds lighter” I was too fat to ride a certain horse. I used to be petite and ride all the little horses, so it is a shift for me. I know I can ride these horses, but it is getting past that voice. Thank you for this post. It was really something I needed to hear.

  13. Whatever happened to people being supportive of others that are trying to better themselves? Being an ignorant asshole is not a prerequisite of being an equestrian. Reading the comments by those shitheads (Reddit) and listening to dumb ass comments from the know-it-all railbirds is way more offensive than someone’s weight. Maybe they should consider the fact that it isn’t their business and, that if they started worrying about themselves more than everyone else, they might become good enough that they wouldn’t have to bring someone else down to make themselves feel better.

    Anyway, this is a really great post. Everyone has struggles and the inner voice is the worst. If you can defeat that, nothing will stop you.

  14. There’s nothing I can say that anyone hasn’t already said above. Definitely on my books to read list though, if I ever start reading more than blogs again. You are beautiful. You are an inspiration. But you know all of this already. Stick it girl. You and Simon rock.

  15. I read this post last night, just after seeing recent pictures of myself riding Quill (in the 19″ saddle I just purchased), and having That Bastard Voice telling me “You’re fat, you’re gross, and you’re hurting any horse you get on.” Part of the reason I didn’t want a petite thoroughbred again was because I felt my last two were way, WAY too small/narrow for me — even though I know they never complained or showed any issues due to carrying my weight. Either way, I hate the way I look in pictures, and its so hard to accept it – but why should I let my shame in my body get in the way of enjoying my horse? He weighs over 1400 lbs and is more than capable of schlepping me around — he seems to enjoy it, too.

    So thanks, Lauren, for reminding me to tell the Voice to stfu <3

  16. Thank you SO much for sharing. I have an appendix bred gelding who loooooves to run. Centering around is his thing. Its his passion. He’ll walk and jog for me, but sometimes I’ll break down and ask for a big trot or canter and he just brightens. I’ve always felt like I was just too big for him, even though the numbers, our fitness, etc. say he’s fine. This post really makes me want to say “Ok, let’s trot. Ok, lets canter” and let him tell me what his limits are instead of the voice!

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