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The other equestrian athlete

woman eating a cake
Written by Andrea Parker

Our horses are athletes and we care for them accordingly. But what about us riders? I couldn’t help but ponder this question as I watched Nonie fall asleep under the therapeutic touch of our incredible equine body worker Penny. While my horse gets fairly regular tune ups to keep her supple and fit, I have never had a massage.

Equestrians will often joke that their horses diet has been analysed and balanced through the latest high tech computer program. They on the other hand grab McDonald’s on the way home from the barn.

Nonie works through a range of exercises five to six days per week aimed at optimising her suppleness, physical fitness and building strength. I other the other hand participate in non horse related exercise on a sporadic basis.

Historically we riders have forgotten that we are the other equestrian athlete. But there is a rising awareness in the broader equine community about the importance of rider fitness and nutrition. As a dietitian this fills me with equal parts excitement and dread. Optimising fitness and nutrition can offer advantages in the competition arena. Although I dare say that the nutrition side of things looks very different than many would expect. In sports such as horse riding extreme measures do not need to be taken and the results may not be visible.

I fear that this message has been contorted into something that it was never meant to be. We live in a society where our cultural obsession with thinness has seeped into our understanding of health and our perception of what an athlete should look like. But you cannot possibly determine a persons health, fitness or athletic ability by looking at them. My fear is, that for some riders their pursuit of becoming the best athlete they can be is a facade for their desire to meet society’s ridiculous beauty ideals. All too often they themselves may not realise that this is occuring.

I want to open up the conversation about body image within the equestrian community. I want to talk about the myth that you have to look a certain way to be a good rider. Let’s talk about no nonsense nutrition information with the aim of improving performance NOT manipulating and controlling your body.

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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.


  • Looking forward to reading more about this! I am currently dieting to lose weight, but my focus is more on getting fitter and stronger rather than thinner!

  • Bravo! My daughter went through a terrible time some years ago with anorexia. She overcame it and continues on now with the awareness that it will always be there with her. She is very open about it so she will not mind that I have written this. I cannot agree more with you about the “image” thing and that everyone in breeches looks better thinner. It is a disaster. How can we be strong athletes if we are too thin to be strong or if we are not eating enough to maintain strength? I am 68 and I do have massages and I go to the gym and I try to eat well. If I don’t do these things I would not be able to ride. As you get older you are forced into looking after yourself or you are forced into the wheelchair and the nursing home. Thanks for this post. It is an important topic especially for the young women riders.

    • I am so sorry to hear that you daughter has had to deal with that. It’s such a horrible disease and so complex.
      I think that as a community we need to be aware of the potential issues that can arise when we place emphasis on appearance or being lean. It can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health as well as our performance

  • Very true my horse is getting everything monitored and gets massages, special exercises and stretches, a fitness diary, a diary of his injuries etc and I don’t do really anything for myself! (I exercise specifically to improve my riding but that’s it).

  • As a mother of three I often lament my nutritious choices, opting for quick and easy over what is best for me. Of course this translates into my riding and energy level. I am interested in following along. Also, as an equine massage therapist I am so happy to hear that your horse benefits!

  • Woops hadn’t quite finished that comment.
    I think many of us struggle with being time poor. It’s a topic I plan to cover soon!
    Nonie loves her sessions and always feels so much freer afterwards.