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Eyes Up Grab Mane: My Equestrian Body Image Story

horse riding body image
Written by Andrea Parker

Meet Cindy of the equestrian Instagram account Eyes Up Grab Mane. Cindy is an adult returning to the saddle documenting her journey. She was kind enough to share her experiences of being a rider in a bigger body.

NOTE: You may notice throughout her story Cindy refers to herself as fat – within the Health at Every Size and fat positivity communities, people will often self identify as being fat. They use it as a neutral descriptor the same way that other people might refer to themselves as tall and blonde. It’s also an often preferred descriptor to the medicalised and stigmatised words ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’.

Have You Ever Received Any Negativity About Your Body?

I want to say I’m…relatively lucky. I’ve never been outright bullied or abused about my weight. I did, however, grow up in the toxic soup of body shaming that is America. I grew up with occasional “concerned” comments about my measurements, adults around me going on and off diets or making negative comments about their own weight, and never saw people on TV who were my size unless they were villains or objects of pity or in weight loss commercials.

I remember deciding to go to prom at the last minute, trying to find a plus size dress at my (very large!) mall, and going home to sob on my mother’s bed when there was nothing remotely my size. I was definitely aware of being fat and sometimes? It really sucked.

But mostly, I was lucky. Most of the time I just got irritated about any comments about my weight.

I was a nerd who spent most of my weekends at the Girl Scout year-round riding camp barn. I wasn’t trying to run with popular kids and wasn’t interested in dating. The prom dress disaster? I cried for an hour, went to bed, and then went to camp and rode in a parade instead. There were other fat teenagers and adults at camp, so I wasn’t the only one, and mostly folks were pretty chill about it. Other than occasional discussions about weight limits and which horses X or Y could ride, it wasn’t an issue at camp.

University was a little different — riding classes there were often with people who really showed and/or with the equestrian team athletes, who all worked out and practiced together. There were some self conscious moments and it sucked feeling like an outsider but….I was just as much an outsider because I was older, and not on the team, and a weaker rider, and missed a lot of class due to health issues.

The closest I’ve gotten to negative comments around my body and riding has been in the hunt for a lesson barn in the last few years. I would email places saying I was a plus size adult rider looking for lessons, and most of them wouldn’t even bother to reply. Of course, I understand lesson barns are often geared toward kids/teenagers! I know they’re going to have mostly ponies or smaller horses.

It was just really upsetting to not get an answer — or to be in conversation with a barn owner, tell them what I weigh, and then never hear from them again.

One barn was willing to let me come out and talk to them, and then told me if I lost 25 pounds they could maybe let me ride one of their horses. The worst part is I bought into it for like, 2 weeks! And was working there for free to “pay off” future lessons and “work out” and then one morning I woke up and wondered what the hell I was doing and put a stop to that nonsense.

That feeling — that I was too fat to ride unless I got enough money to buy my own horse — was incredibly demoralizing and really didn’t help when I was working through some serious mental & physical health issues on top of life difficulties.

Additionally, it’s *incredibly* difficult to find plus size riding gear. There’s only one or two brands who carry breeches in my size, and same for sun shirts — I’ve only found *one* that’s big enough to be truly comfortable. That market’s gotten a lot better in the 15 years since I was a teenager, but it’s still extremely difficult. Even my head is too big for most budget helmets!

How Do You Feel About Your Body And Appearance? How Has This Changed Over Time?

Honestly, I’ve always been a little…disconnected from my body. I didn’t feel fat until I saw pictures of myself, even though rationally I knew my weight was X and that was more than most people. It could do what I wanted to do, and I was strong and healthy. On the other hand, I rarely felt cute or sexy or attractive. I just…ignored being sad about that.

I avoided cameras and tried not to look at pictures of myself, because my first thought was always “ugh, fat,” even if I would then focus on something else. I did my best to ignore or block off negative self thoughts — just closing things up in boxes. All of that is its own kind of messed up. Being diagnosed with depression was, in retrospect, not exactly surprising.

This disconnection from my body is something I’ve been working on in recent years, thanks largely to the Healthy at Every Size and body positive movements and friends who are into selfies and Instagram and fashion things. It’s part of why I started a public Instagram for riding. It’s important to me to document my journey and to show other people that there are different body types out there who can ride too.

What Steps Do You Take To Look After Your Horse?

I don’t own a horse, so this is a little out of my hands. That said, there are some things my trainer and I do. I think foremost is that he keeps his horses in excellent condition. They get walk/trot time in an European style horse walker every day and he carefully manages how many lessons they’re in. We keep an eagle eye on his feet and movement and health and if anything seems a little off, we give him a day off. I use an extra tall mounting block every ride and always check after rides for any tenderness or uneven sweating that might indicate a saddle fit issue.

My lesson horse is a 16.3hh warmblood with excellent bone, nice big feet, and good conformation, all of which I think are super important for carrying weight. I also work really hard on my technique and balance in the saddle and work out regularly out of the saddle, because a fit and balanced rider is easier on any horse to carry.

To be clear, though, none of this is exclusively because I’m fat. My trainer’s horses are fit because he believes in fit horses, and they rest when they’re off because he values long-term soundness over short-term saddle time.

In my opinion, all riders would be doing their horse a kindness by being generous with time off and using mounting blocks and working out. I don’t think horses carrying larger riders particularly need extra special care….but they are doing more work and it behooves riders and trainers to be conscious of that. Ultimately horses are doing us a favor by letting us sit on them, and it’s only right that we uphold our part of the bargain by taking care of them.

Follow social media accounts of other plus size equestrians and athletes; unfollow diet and weight loss accounts. 

For my fellow plus size equestrians: surround yourself with people who support you. Find a barn with people who are warm and positive. Stay away from discussion forums and message boards. Know how to spot concern trolls and ignore them. Know how to spot genuine, if misplaced, concern and decide whether you want to educate people or ignore them. Get a saddle and gear that fits, because nothing is worse than cramming yourself into small things. Follow social media accounts of other plus size equestrians and athletes; unfollow diet and weight loss accounts.

Do You Have Any Equestrian Idols Who Are In Bigger Bodies?

As far as idols….plus size riders on the internet are pretty far and few in between. The closest I have to an “idol” is the blog/Facebook account A Fat Girl & A Fat Horse — her blog was a big inspiration for me. I have recently found a warm and welcoming community on Instagram, though, and that’s been incredible.

Be sure to follow Cindy’s adventures over at @eyesupgrabmane. If you enjoyed reading her story be sure to check out our body image stories from other riders.

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About the author


Hey, I'm Andrea Parker, an adult amateur dressage enthusiast on a remarkable journey with my 13-year-old mare, Mon Ami. Delving into the equestrian world, I recount the highs and the hurdles on my blog, The Sand Arena Ballerina. I'm also passionately working on crafting an equestrian podcast titled Equestrian Pulse.