The Equestrian Body

In Opinion

In a recent blog post to, Kristen Smith wrote about the rude awakening that her husband experienced when he joined her at two rated Dressage shows.

During my second test, I had the choice of letting Elf complete a movement incorrectly or making the correction and taking a hit on the score for that movement. I chose to make the correction, which totally blew that particular movement (it was the canter loop to the right, for my riding readers, he broke to the trot when strongly half halted to balance him). On our drive home, my husband told me that when that happened a group of 4 or 5 women standing behind him loudly proclaimed “THAT’S A MISTAKE” before going on to murmur for the remainder of my test over what a shame it was that my weight (or rather, my being overweight) made it impossible for me to get out of my obviously talented horse’s way.

It can be hard to hear other people talk about your wife at a horse show. Criticism about riding is one thing, particularly when it’s not fully informed. Hearing petty and irrelevant judgements about your wife’s body is another. Such judgments are not only insulting and rude, but also often ignorant in their own right. Here’s a helpful rule of thumb:

Always assume that the rider’s spouse is within earshot. They probably are.

I remember my first horse show. I remember seeing a larger woman on cross country, and making some comment about how I thought that her weight would put both her and her horse at a disadvantage. Knowing that I was new to the world of competitive equestrianism, Elisa and Rick were charitable, but nevertheless quick to correct me. The woman I was judging was US Olympian, Becky Holder. Using Becky as an example, they cautioned against confusing body-type with fitness. They emphasized that Becky was riding several horses at the competition, and that it was impossible to perform at her high level without being exceptionally fit.

In January 2010, an article in Practical Horseman titled “Winning the Fitness Battle,” quoted Becky as saying

“I was competing to prove a point– that a ‘fat girl’ could do it.”

Lesson learned.

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