BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I have always been cognizant of my weight when it came to riding. Even though I didn’t grow up horse showing, all it took for me to realize I was “too big” was flipping through the pages of any magazine or catalog. My body wasn’t right for breeches. It didn’t want to equitate properly. When I finally did starting horse showing, it didn’t take long for me to learn that I had to really out perform the other riders in order to pin.
Despite this, I kept at it. Riding is my favorite activity in the entire world, and I’m fiercely competitive. Showing provides goals, structure and tangible proof of my dedication to the equestrian sport. Even though I could barely find clothes to fit me at my heaviest weight, I wasn’t ever willing to quit.
But I did wonder what things might be like if I were thinner.
While I struggled to zip tall boots over my extra (extra) wide calves, I started to tell myself a story about how things would be different if I lost weight. My horse, magically unburdened by my excess fat, would perform better. Lead change issues would all resolve themselves, because I’d be more balanced in the saddle. My fears jumping bigger fences? Poof! Naturally, a thinner rider would be able to stick with the air time better. Equitation struggles would be a thing of the past, because I believed my body would finally obey me if I could just shrink it down.
It’s crazy the lies we tell when we’re struggling to love ourselves.
Earlier this year, I hit that magical place where I felt mentally strong enough to tackle weight loss and found a diet plan that worked for my body. By increasing my physical activity and completely changing what I ate, I was able to lose roughly 50 pounds in seven months. I’ve yo-yo dieted my entire life, but never lost more than twenty pounds. To hit fifty and see the scale finally dip below 200 was like magic. I felt bones emerge from my skin that had been hidden for years, and when I looked at a picture of me showing my horse in August, I barely recognized myself.
I’m proud of my accomplishment. For perhaps the first time in my life, my body is starting to match how I feel on the inside. I have a long way to go and I still struggle with massive self esteem issues, but I’m actually starting to recognize the person in the mirror. I’m also starting to recognize something else — losing weight was not the magic cure-all I thought it would be for my riding.
I can’t lie. Some things are way easier now. I can walk into tack stores, grab clothes off the rack and expect them to fit my curves. My tall boots zip up. It’s easier for me to build up my endurance in the saddle. As long as I keep to my riding schedule and push myself, I don’t get winded nearly as quickly as I used to.
But the rest? It turns out being skinnier doesn’t turn you into Beezie Madden.
My upper body is still unruly, despite dropping several bra sizes. I love to lean on my hands, brace with my stirrups and lock my elbows. My trainer has noticed my weight loss, complimented me on it and then barked for me to stop rocking my rib cage in the same breath. I’m not sure my wiggling fingers or stiff neck care one bit that my breeches run smaller these days.
Losing weight did not magically give me confidence when it came to jumping or showing. I am still the same nervous wreck that I was before. Compassionate instruction and my lovely horse are the only cures for my fear of wide oxers. Though I feel more comfortable in my skin, that didn’t automatically translate to confidence in the saddle.
When I go to horse shows now, I walk into the ring with the belief that I can win if I perform my best. For someone who has suffered from low self esteem their entire life, it’s hard for me to determine if that feeling comes from being thinner or all the careful hours I’ve spent improving my riding. If I had to guess, it has far more to do with the second.
For me, the gift of weight loss has been physical proof that I can accomplish something I set out to do. It’s objective. I worked hard, and I lost fifty pounds. Anyone who shows the hunters knows that hard work doesn’t always translate to glittering ribbons, but realizing I’m capable of achieving big goals helps me even if the final decision comes down to how the judge feels that day.
I remain confident that riders of all sizes can perform exceptionally. You do not have to fit into smaller breeches to achieve success in this sport. Being thinner does not fix your problems — whether it’s on a horse or on a date or living your life at home.
What you eat, what size you are or how you like to exercise is a personal choice. Determine your own markers for happiness. Listen to what your body tells you… that is unless it’s telling you to lock your elbows and plant your hands in your lap when doing a sitting trot. In that case, listen to your trainer — no matter what size you are.