Body Shaming in the Show Ring: Enough is Enough
Fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, short-shaming, tall-shaming… it all needs to stop! Kate Kosnoff of Riders for Well-Being is calling for change.
I can remember a time, so distant and long ago that it almost feels like a dream, when I had not yet “learned” to feel ashamed of my body or my appearance. Kids deserve to spend as much time as possible in this stage, before our sport (and society in general) tells them they’re too short, too curvy, too thin, too young, or too old to win a blue ribbon.
While I am adamant that kids be taught healthy habits from a young age, there is a line between encouragement and cruelty that is too often crossed by trainers and judges alike. Saying things like, “If you eat any more cupcakes, we’ll have to buy you a bigger horse!” or, “That show jacket would look even better if you lost ten pounds,” (both remarks I’ve received) to young girls prevents them from even developing their own self-confidence before they have a chance. This kind of body shaming creates a lack of confidence in one’s riding and can turn great riders into timid, embarrassed ones.
I took to Twitter and asked for personal stories about body shaming in the equestrian sport. What I was not prepared for was the overwhelming response I got from girls and women of all ages who shared accounts of fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, short-shaming, etc. I received THIRTY-SIX messages and dozens of tweets. Just let that sink in.
This sport is reaching a tipping point. The equestrian lifestyle is becoming increasingly elitist with a lack of emphasis on traditional horsemanship. The idea that riders should be thin, beautiful, and rich comes from the top down, and we have many trainers and judges to thank for that. I would like to thank all of the ladies that volunteered to share their stories below. I hope that for your sake, and for the future generation of horsemen and women, we can weed out the negativity.
Some of these stories may be triggering to those with a history of eating disorders or body dysmorphia.
- “At 11, I was told to get a gym membership and my diet was restricted due to doing the equitation and hunters. At 11, I weighed 50 pounds. I had to keep a food journal and everything.” [email protected]
- “At my first show ever, my trainer told me and my mom I lost my class because I was ‘bigger’.” –Anonymous
- “I’ve gotten comments about how much I eat and how skinny I am by my trainer and other trainers. Those remarks started when I was 13 or 14.” –Anonymous
- “Once, a judge told me I would’ve placed better if I wasn’t so top heavy. This was when I was 15.” [email protected]
- “My old trainer told me if I don’t diet, I’m not going to place because judges ‘don’t pin fat girls’. This was last year and I was 15.” –Anonymous
- “When I was 14, I went to Pony Finals with my trainer and my mom. We stopped somewhere and my mom told me to pick out some snacks. Like any 14-year-old kid, I grabbed a bunch of chips and candy and got a milkshake. Upon seeing this, my trainer lost her marbles right there in the gas station mini-mart. She ridiculed my food choices, saying I was going to get fat and judges would never like me, and how I’d blow my equitation career before it even began.” [email protected]
- “I’ve always had a fast metabolism and as a result, I could eat just about anything and not put on weight. When I was 14, I was about 5’6” and weighed a little over 100 pounds. I ate several thousand calories a day and worked with a doctor to make sure I was hitting nutritional milestones. Those who knew me knew this, but people who saw me at the shows every once in a while didn’t. A few of the trainers on my local circuit took it upon themselves to approach my trainer and tell her ‘she needed to be feeding me more’- that it was her responsibility to make sure I was eating enough. They also approached my mom and asked her if I had eating disorder issues. I know the comments were made out of concern, but it turned into a regular thing- every show, somebody said something.” –Anonymous
- “During IEA, I overheard a conversation with a judge who was saying, ‘If it were down to two riders and I couldn’t decide, I would always place the heavier rider below.’” –@Whatheheq
- “I was told by a judge a couple of months ago that I need to be ten times better than everyone else in my class because I’m a ‘bigger’ rider and everyone looks at me more.” [email protected]_its_alex
- “My trainer would make me run laps at 11 years old before my lessons and wouldn’t let me eat sweets or anything at barn parties if I ‘wanted a chance to be in the ribbons’. It was drilled into me from the time I started showing that if I wasn’t looking ‘ring ready’, it was a waste to show.” [email protected]
- “I ride for a college team in IHSA shows. The first coach we had would comment on how my stomach would look when I rode and even took it to the point of reenacting how I looked during a group lesson. As time went on, she would make comments like, ‘You don’t have a first place body,’ or ‘You don’t have the body for equitation.’” –Anonymous
- “I was a saddle seat equitation rider for 12 years. I was told not only by my trainer who wanted the ‘perfect picture’ that I needed to lose 15 pounds in order to continue showing, but also by judges that even though I had the best equitation in the class, I would get second or third or even last because my ‘overall picture was a little pudgy.’ This spiraled into me developing an eating disorder before I was 11 years old. I continued to ride and hear these things from my trainers—sometimes even from other trainers in the warm up. I eventually had to take a 3 year break because I became too weak to ride due to my eating disorder.” –Anonymous
- “When I was 16, I was showing at IEA Regional Finals and one of the coaches for a different team had written down comments next to every rider that had been in my class. She was discussing the results with my coach and me when I saw that she wrote ‘big girl’ next to my name. That was all she wrote and it felt as if that was all she noticed.” –Anonymous
- “I was told when I was about 7 that I was ‘overweight’ and that I would never win in the equitation classes.”
- “I cannot tell you how many times I won or did well in an equitation class and everyone said, ‘You only got that ribbon because you’re skinny.’ People have made blatant comments about how I look my entire life. As if all my hard work and riding ability meant nothing. That I only got this ribbon because of my breech size.”-Anonymous
In a perfect world, none of these remarks would ever be said aloud and we could all enjoy our riding in peace. But, the equestrian sport has never been low-key or subtle, and that often applies to the trainers and coaches that teach us and feel the need to comment on things that, for the most part, are none of their darn business.
For a long time, I truly believed my riding was inferior because of the baby weight I just couldn’t seem to lose, and that was a burden I carried throughout my teenage years thanks to a trainer who made me feel ashamed. I know now that unkind words are often spoken by people who are insecure or unhappy with themselves, and though those words may sting, my height, weight, and physical appearance are things that do not define my abilities as an equestrian.
If you or someone you know is struggling with body shaming, never hesitate to reach out to fellow equestrians, trusty barn mates, or even me! Right now, it’s the ugly backside of our sport, but I promise that things are changing for the better and a wave of positivity and inclusivity is just on the horizon.
Visit Riders for Well-Being to share your story and read the stories of other equestrians who are in support of positive body image. Be sure to “Like” the Riders for Well-Being Facebook page as well!
Kate Kosnoff is a senior at Denison University. She is the founder of ridersforwellbeing.com, a blog dedicated to promoting positivity in the equestrian sport. She is fond of photography, reading, napping, and showing her horse Waffle, aka Breakfast in Bed.
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