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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.