The Academic Equestrian: Small Advantages

Or is that… advantages to being small?

The cutest and widest Haflinger aptly named Butter, on our way into my Advanced WTC class this past weekend. Photo by Peggy Shank.

As a participant in a sport that is still working on promoting inclusivity and body positivity, I have had the privilege of riding with coaches and trainers who have pushed me to change the way I ride, not the way I look. They’ve helped me to use my frame to my advantage, given me exercises to strengthen muscles that help me be more effective, and done the same for all of my teammates, regardless of height or weight. While some of us are more naturally predisposed to correctness of position than others, those who don’t exactly fit the mold can still claim their space in the horse world. It often seems easier to complain about my height than to look at the positives of being short, but since complaining won’t make me any taller, I’ve looked at some of the benefits associated with a shorter stature.

1. You can ride all the ponies and not look disproportionate. You may bounce around like an uncoordinated oompa-loompa aboard big horses, but you never have to worry about drawing a pony at a show and being “heighted” onto a taller horse. You never got too tall to ride the lesson pony you started on, and can still occasionally take him out when he’s misbehaving for the next generation of lesson kids.

2. You never outgrow your show clothes. Although I haven’t shown hunt seat since high school, when I dug out all my old show clothes (which weren’t new then), they still fit me. When you stop growing in the ninth grade, you can hold onto your expensive equipment and attire until it either falls apart or goes out of style, which saves a lot of money in the long run.

3. You can fit anywhere. All those times someone dropped a hoof pick behind the tack lockers, you just squeezed in behind the set of lockers to get it out rather than move the whole unit.

4. You get lots of practice riding without stirrups because most saddles don’t go short enough for you. To save yourself the hassle of having to trade saddles for a smaller one, you earned balance and thigh muscles by just going without stirrups.

5. You never have to deal with the struggle of jeans that aren’t long enough. Sure, you may have to roll them up to walk around (or keep your spurs on to stop them from dragging on the ground), but once you’re riding, they never ride up halfway to your knees like they do for your tall friends.

6. Your shirts stay tucked in. As with the jeans issue, your shirts are probably also slightly too long. However, when your shirt falls to mid-thigh, you can guarantee that it will stay tucked in all day long without you needing to constantly re-adjust it.

7. You retain some of your little-kid cuteness when you have the chance to ride a pony. Even after the days of garter straps and braids with bows are over, you still hear “aww”s when you ride by on a smaller mount. Riding ponies so often also gives you a keen awareness and preparedness for shenanigans and misbehaving, are ponies are wont to do, which ultimately makes riding a well-behaved horse seem much easier.

Since we can’t all be tall and willowy, born with the “ideal” equitation body (which, of course, has its own set of both benefits and challenges), those among us who stand head and shoulders below our competition should always look for ways to appreciate the diversity of builds capable of finding success as equestrians.

Haley will continue to share more adventures from the perspective of a collegiate equestrian! Keep an eye out for The Academic Equestrian weekly.

Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English with a minor in Equine Business Management. She owns two Quarter Horse geldings, Cricket (“At Last an Invitation”) and Slide (“HH Slick N Slide”). Haley is a captain of the AU western equestrian team, competing in horsemanship, reining and hunt seat. She also loves trail riding.

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