I was an oddly skinny child—so skinny my mother invested in the type of weight-gain powder given to really sick hospital patients, which I shoveled in nightly in the hopes that one day, I might attend a pool party not as Skeletor. There were regular teary, empty-handed retreats from stores without small enough sizing, and tack stores were no exception; I remember lusting after beautiful blue size 26 riding pants, too huge to ever fit me. I hated the saggy back of my green-beige breeches, I hated the extra folds around the ankles of my tall boots, and I hated the way my helmet perched like a mushroom cap on top of my tiny, jaw-y head. The awkward, baby giraffe years were endless.
Until I did. Until I saw a photo of myself tilting toward an oxer in unforgiving tan breeches. Until I caught myself staring longingly at the way a tiny-waisted friend looks—that is, perfect—on every horse. Until I realized most of my barn consists of size 26 breeches and flat chests that don’t overwhelm the buttons of show coats. I felt a tiny voice inside start to get ugly with me, and I know where I’ve heard it before.
I’ve heard it in every ringside whisper behind the back of a plus-sized hunter goddess who rode (beautifully!) an awesome draft cross in local shows. It’s been every ounce of praise I heard for being a 102-pound teen in the hack. It’s been other riders praising someone who “really has the body for this sport” (that is, the rail-thin body of a 5’9” supermodel). It’s been a previous trainer (not so svelte herself, which really lends a raw edge to the comment in retrospect) who once announced at a horse show that “no one wants to watch a big fat girl on a horse.”
I hated myself for ogling these small-hipped women, I hated myself for pining for something I knew made me miserable, and I hated myself for hating myself. I thought of how younger, tiny-headed Emily would murder grown-up Emily if she knew what I was thinking. After decades as a stick, I was thrilled to have the comfort of extra weight—how could I let a few extra pounds in the saddle unglue me? No, riding clothes are not especially merciful. And yes, there are mean folks out there. But do most of us really not want to see a “big fat girl on a horse” totally dominate a difficult equitation round? I think we do. This sport is hard. And life is hard. And balancing this sport with life is hard. And if you’re a healthy, good, kind rider, that’s more than enough.
One of my child-bearing-sized hips might flirt with fitting into a pair of size 26 breeches. When the camera shutter strikes over fences—Chin City, population: me. I jiggle endlessly when I sit the trot. But you know what? I’m a better, happier rider than when I was tiny and young, and I have years of muscle memory and horse show crepes in my system to prove it. And I look just fine on a horse. But more importantly, I ride just fine (as long as I packed a sports bra—because if not, God help us all), and most days I’m healthy, and many days I’m decent, and all days I’m trying to be kind. And if it takes a few extra pounds for me to get to be that kind of rider, I will happily shelve the size 26 breeches.
I asked a wonderful fellow-non-size-26 friend what we could take away from this article. What are the magic words to make us stop feeling bad about something we shouldn’t feel bad about? She had an on-point three-word response:
Pass the Oreos.
Emily Bogenschutz lives in Texas and is a freelance writer,
recent hunter-turned-jumper, and professional sneaker of saddle pads
into the washing machine. Follow her on Twitter: @EJBog.