Pretty Is As Pretty Does

Life lessons from an Appaloosa/Friesian.

This weekend marked a milestone for me. For the first time in my life, I wore a bathing suit and didn’t feel self-conscious. I know,crazy! Right!? We live in a very superficial society, and woman in particular are conditioned from a young age to attach their feelings of self-worth to their physical appearance. Don’t get me wrong — it’s great to feel good about the way you look, but the negative feelings associated with feeling physically inadequate is a nasty reality that most of us face on a daily basis.

Anyway, back to me feeling good about myself in a bathing suit. It was a glorious feeling to lounge by the pool and not worry about whether or not my thighs looked pudgy, and to laugh with my friends without caring if my belly jiggled in the process. So how did I get here? I’ve been many different weights over the course of my 30-something years, from overweight to very slim, and even at my thinnest I still wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. So what changed?

Sure. The spacecat bathing suit helped, but isn’t main reason behind my newly discovered self confidence. Photo by Ana Barros.

Let me tell you the story of a horse named Dressed up in Dots (Dotty for short), and how her story serves as an allegory for how I finally learned how to attach my feelings of self-worth to something other than my  physical appearance. Dotty was a Friesian/Appaloosa cross that came to me to be started under saddle several years back while on consignment with a sales agent. Dotty was not a horse one would call traditionally beautiful. While she had inherited much of the conformation and movement from her Friesian half, she had also inherited the freckled eye rims and lack of hair from her Appy half.

Dressed up in Dots (Dotty) taking her new fake tail for a spin because her tail was quite literally a dock with a few wispy hairs. Photo by Dannette Landes.

Poor Dotty was the butt of many jokes when she first came to our barn, and let’s be clear, these were jokes made in good fun about a horse who had no clue what we were saying. All Dotty knew was that we were giggling amongst ourselves while giving her scratches and feeding her cookies. There was nothing mean-spirited about it, but nonetheless, it was made clear by all that Dotty was not so easy on the eyes.

Initially I joined in on poking fun at her appearance, but the more I got to know her, the more I came to love her. Dotty was a doer, always excited to take on whatever task I set in front of her. She took on these tasks with such gusto, and even things she didn’t get perfectly the first time around, she kept the same enthusiastic attitude while navigating her way through foreign maneuvers. Soon I began to respond to comments about Dotty’s appearance with the retort “pretty is as pretty does,” and using that metric, Dotty was one of the most beautiful horses in the world.

The night Dotty found her people could hardly be called a typical night on the farm. There was a raging wind and rain storm that had caused a power outage. The hammering of rain on the tin roof of the arena combined with the raking of branches along the walls made for an atmosphere that would cause even a seasoned horse to be nervous, never mind a recently started four year old. To top it off, I was recovering from a knee injury and had only been able to lunge Dotty during the week prior. We had informed the prospective buyers of the conditions and asked if they’d like to reschedule. They asked if they could still come, and we agreed, not knowing how Dotty would perform.

When they arrived, I brought Dotty out of her stall and set her in the cross-ties to be groomed and saddled. She was relaxed as ever and stood patiently while we got her ready. I then put her on the lunge line and she warmed up in the same, focused manner she would on any other day. After being reassured by her performance on the lunge that getting on her back wouldn’t lead to further injury, I hopped on her for the first time in days (though couldn’t go faster than a slow trot due my knee). She was just as attentive and obedient as ever. I then watched in awe as she carried around two new riders, one a young girl, as if she had been under saddle for years and not just two months.

At that moment, the truth in front of me couldn’t have been clearer: Dotty was a valuable horse. Her value had nothing to do with her outward appearance, and everything to do with her mind that allowed her unflappably handle less than ideal circumstances, and cheerfully put in the work needed to develop new skills.

It didn’t happen immediately, but over the years I’ve begun to embrace my inner Dotty. I’ve become a doer (or at least I’m trying my darnedest!). I put in the hours of needed practice to acquire a new skill with a smile on my face, and take the time to give myself a pat on the back when I power on under adverse circumstances. Instead of setting goals related to way I look on the outside (fitting in a particular pant size, for instance), I resolve to ride at a particular level, run so many miles, grow professionally and emotionally. With each goal accomplished, my confidence grows, because, gosh-darn-it, I’m a bada$$ who can DO all these things!

Allowing myself to find value in what I can do rather than what I look like at the Peterson Ridge Rumble 20-miler. Photo by Paul Nelson.

So as I lay there in my spacecat bathing suit, I’m not worried about what I look like, because it’s irrelevant! My value as a human is determined by so much more than my exterior, and as I slowly, but surely start to tap into my inner Dotty, the person I’m becoming on the inside is someone I’m happy to be. My confidence still isn’t perfect. I still catch myself feeling insecure about my appearance from time to time. The difference now is that instead of dwelling on it, I tell myself “pretty is as does, Biz,” and set out to do something awesome.

Go Dotty, and Go Riding!

Biz Stamm is a horse trainer/mad scientists who enjoys spending her free time running like a gentle breeze in the foothills of the Oregon coast range.  Specializing in starting young horses under saddle at Stamm Sport Horse LLC, she brings the analytical approach she has acquired while working in laboratory to her training. She currently owns two horses: the Kalvin Cycle (Kalvin), a 10-year-old half-Arabian gelding, and DB’s Alpha Helix (Helix), a 5-year-old Kiger mustang gelding. While she is currently pursuing competitive goals, her main goal is to enjoy her horses, and for her horses to enjoy her.

Photo by Ana Barros

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