“You must play basketball!” No, I’m just a lowly horseback rider, thanks.
With my boots on, I hover around the 5’11”-6′ mark. My chosen discipline is reined cowhorse, meaning that my mounts are generally no taller than 15 hands. Why couldn’t I have fallen for a discipline requiring a 17-hand warmblood? Because life is cruel. Welcome to my world.
1. Every horse, regardless of actual measured height, is too small.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 15.2 or 17.3 — prepare yourself for a lifetime of dwarfing impressively-heighted horses into looking like stunted ponies. When you finally find a horse that actually takes up your leg, your torso will still be too long and you’ll wind up looking like a junior on her first real horse. Sure, you might be the world’s best catch-rider but it won’t matter if you always look perpetually out of place.
True story: A group of students from my equestrian program as an undergrad went to work for a weekend at a thoroughbred sale, and a student about my height was only allowed to handle the broodmares — the weanlings all looked like midgets next to her and no prospective buyer wants a tiny racehorse.
2. Looking for new tall boots/half chaps? Custom it is.
Yes, they’re expensive for everyone, but when you have to custom or semi-custom just about everything you own, buying new ANYTHING can mean some serious $$$$. In tall boots, I wear a size 11 in tall — and while you might imagine that many tall folks would have big feet, can you ever find that particular combination already stocked at the tack shop? No, of course not — so you ask them to order it, wait for it to ship in, then try it on, and then discover that maybe you’re actually an extra-tall. For years I wore men’s cowboy boots, because the western ladies boots in my size were about three times as expensive as they needed to be. (Does it really cost that much more in leather to cover my giant feet? Thanks, guys.)
3. …which means that you can’t borrow (or loan out) any of your clothing. To anyone. Ever.
I spent my four years of undergrad competing on my university’s western intercollegiate team, and then the next four years coaching the same team. Our teams’ running joke was that we had maybe 10 complete outfits of show clothes among a team of 30-plus riders — we borrowed and swapped from each other all the time, and the hunt seat team was pretty similar. In the western world, it was pretty easy to make size differences work; I loaned my chaps to the other tall riders on the team (of course, they were all men; I was the only Amazon) and you could get away with tucking in a western shirt to fit a smaller torso. On the hunt seat team, however, forget loaning your shirt or your jacket to a teammate if you’re around 5’10” or higher — it just doesn’t work. Snap a zipper right before your class? Better get out the electrical tape and hope the judge doesn’t notice, because ain’t nobody got your boot size.
4. And if you thought custom clothing was bad enough, you’ll need a custom saddle as well.
The photo below is my lovely friend Amelia (5’10”) with her Thoroughbred gelding Anteros “Piccadilly Circus” (17.2). Amelia’s custom saddle was designed to fit both her and Terry (as we call him), since Amelia, like myself, is built like a stork with legs up to here. As Amanda Uechi Ronan outlined in her piece earlier this week on saddle fit, getting the saddle to fit the person is just as challenging as getting it to fit the horse — and Amelia, naturally, required the extra-long flap so that her knees weren’t hanging out in space wishing there was a place for them in this world. The bottom line for this custom job? Over $5,000. (Good thing it fits, and good thing they both look so darn good in it.)
5. Going on a trail ride on your monstrously tall horse that finally takes up your leg? Watch your head.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory: All those nice branches that your normal-sized friends on their normal-sized horses fit so easily under become widow makers for you and your enormous draft/warmblood/giraffe that you’re riding. (Even if you’re like me on an average-sized Quarter horse, you’ll still need to duck. Often.) Sure, your friend in the front of the line might be getting all the spiderwebs out of the way — at what’s chest-height for you. Don’t worry, because you’ll still be eating every spider web that’s up at your level of the stratosphere.
6. Ready yourself to be the go-to guy for bridling/worming/ear plugs/getting the saddle off the high rack/changing the light bulb in the feed room/whatever.
Blaze throws his head up when it’s time to be bridled? Charlie doesn’t like getting his ear plugs in? Susie can’t reach the bridle on the rack in the tack room? Don’t worry, because you are there, tall rider, and you will get to help everyone with all of these problems. Able to braid Gustav the warmblood’s forelock without needing a stool to stand on? You are the man, and you’ve now inherited this duty for life — as well as other random things that no one else can reach, like washing the arena mirrors, getting things off the high shelf, fetching all that stuff from the gooseneck part of the horse trailer, and so on. You will never get the low rack in the tack room.
7. “But you have long legs! You can ride anything, you’ll never get bucked off!”
There is a saying among us tall riders, especially on those occasions in which someone thinks they have a sense of humor and asks you to ride their pony: “head down, man down.” Sure, we’ve got long legs, and yes, we can wrap those around the pony or horse and hang on pretty well… but we’re also proportionate beings, and if we have long legs, they’re usually balanced by a long torso that acts like a nice ol’ counterweight when things start going south. Lean a little bit and you’ve actually shifted your balance quite a lot… and on a pony, there’s nothing left to hang on to. So, yes, you’re right, we do have long legs… but we also have a better-than-average chance of getting thrown off balance on the top half, and down we go.
Not that this has ever stopped me from riding and falling off of ponies, mind you. Because I might be a tall rider, but I’m just as horse crazy as the rest of us.
Many thanks to fellow tall rider Amelia Maslen for photos and inspiration.