Silencing the Haters: Learning Self-Acceptance as a Rider

Learning self-acceptance can be a lifelong quest for any rider, but it’s well worthwhile.

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Kylie Standish and Noodle - self-acceptance as a rider
Noodle is Kylie’s 7-year-old Dutch Harness Horse/Clydesdale cross. Photo Courtesy Kylie Standish

Learning self-acceptance as a rider can be key for our confidence and happiness, but overall as a person, it can mean even more. Learn how important this was for equestrian Kylie Standish, especially if you are someone who struggles with weight.

At the age of 2, I stood on the top of a hill at my grandmother’s company picnic. From my vantage point, I could see pony rides being given down at the bottom. I looked for my parents and then I made my escape. I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me. I ran down that hill toward those ponies, screaming the whole time, “Need to ride the pony!” And ride the pony I did.

From that moment on, I was hooked. I began lessons at the age of 7, and here I am 25 years later, the proud owner of four beautiful horses and just as in love with the equine species as I was at the age of 2.

Challenges with Learning Self-Acceptance

I’ve also always been plus-sized. In elementary school, I was forever the tallest child in class, and the heaviest. No matter how I ate, no matter how much I did or didn’t exercise, I remained heavy.

To some, being plus-sized and being an equestrian don’t necessarily mesh. I grew up with a trainer who was one of these people. She taught me a lot, but she also left me with some deep emotional scars due to her near-constant body shaming.

I vividly recall a lesson when I was around the age of 10. I was riding a 14-something-hand Mustang pony that I had enjoyed dozens of times. On that particular day, my trainer, for whatever reason, decided that I was suddenly too big for this pony. She stopped the lesson out of the blue, had me dismount and follow her up to her house.

When we got to the house, she pulled out a scale and made me get on it. She then proceeded to tell me that I could no longer ride that pony. That was the first time I really began to understand that I was different, that I may have a harder time gaining acceptance in the equestrian world because of how I looked. I was once told at a show that if I lost some weight, I would probably place higher.

How is that acceptable? If a rider is properly matched to their horse and rides well, that is all that should matter in the show ring. In the years that have passed since the day that I was forced off the pony and onto a scale, acceptance of plus-sized riders has definitely improved; however, there is still a long way to go before we are seen simply as equestrians and not as plus-sized.

Kylie Standish and Noodle - self-acceptance as a rider
Photo Courtesy Kylie Standish

The Ups and Downs

I run a social media account that’s dedicated to being a role model for other plus-sized riders. On a daily basis, I receive messages from plus-sized equestrians around the globe telling me their stories: how they’re afraid to post photos or videos of themselves online because of the backlash they may face. How they thought they were limited in what they could do with horses, and then they see my account and realize that there’s someone out there who looks like them that’s going out and doing all of the things they wish they could.

Back in April I took my horse, Noodle, to an eventing clinic. The clinic was being taught by international five-star rider Will Coleman. I signed up on a whim and was so nervous. Not only had I never ridden with someone of this caliber before, but I was also afraid of being shamed for being overweight and daring to ride horses.

I have encountered this type of hate so much in my life that I was terrified that this acclaimed rider would feel the same way and berate me for it, or even worse, refuse to teach me.

Little did I know that I had nothing to worry about. Not only was Will one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, he thought I was a lovely, talented, and balanced rider who fit her horse just fine. That makes learning self-acceptance easier for a person.

I rode the high of that clinic for days afterward until an international friend of mine shared a photo of Noodle and I from the clinic, sporting her company saddle pad, on her Instagram account.

The next morning I woke up to hateful comment after hateful comment: strangers telling me I was too fat, and how dare I get on any horse, judging me, calling me lazy, sloppy and an animal abuser.

They rattled off the phrases “poor horse” and “try eating a salad once in a while.” It broke my heart. I cried. A lot.

Then I dried my tears, blocked and deleted all of the hate, and moved on with my life. Not because I’m brave or immune to the evil and bullying in this world, but because I know that the only way to silence the haters and learn self-acceptance is to go out there and prove them wrong.

In the end, a love for horses doesn’t have a size, and it’s what unites us as equestrians. It overrides the negativity and judgement that divides us. Remember being a kid who just loved horses and wanted to ride. Don’t judge. Be kind. Ride above the hate!

This article about learning self-acceptance as a rider originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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