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Part of what I do for a living involves writing blogs. Still, finding the right words to say for this blog was challenging. Opening up to show your stripes can take some serious guts!
I consider myself an advocate for body positivity in the equestrian community (when I learned that the Herd of Zebras message celebrates inclusivity, I knew I wanted to join the herd!). As a rider who is not plus-sized but has always been reasonably bigger than a size 2, I haven't always felt like the equestrian world accepted my body. This feeling has held especially true while showing on the A show hunter/jumper circuit in the equitation divisions.
At age 12, I won junior equitation champion in my zone. The same year, my former trainer also told me that I was fat. Not only did that hurt, like, a lot, but it also put a lot of pressure on me because I felt like there was something wrong with my body. When I began showing in the 3'6" equitation divisions, I couldn't help but start comparing myself--especially my body--to other riders. I was short and curvy; they were tall and slender. It didn't help that I felt like some of my best-executed rounds deserved a higher placing than they got. There were rounds where my rollback turns were tight and balanced, my lead changes were smooth, my distances were precise, and my seat was on-point. And yet, the winning rider, who looked skinny compared to me, made mistakes and reaped all the rewards. I still can't help but wonder if my not being stick-thin had anything to do with me not winning those classes.
It was around this time that I started to feel pretty burnt out from riding. But despite the severe body dysmorphia that had developed, my love for horses and competing was still present and as strong as ever. Channeling that love, I decided to take my hunter/equitation horse, McGuire, into the jumper ring, where I felt no pressure. Since jumper scoring is objective rather than subjective, my good riding finally got rewarded for precisely that-- good riding. All of a sudden, my riding McGuire with precision and balance was paying off! We won countless championships in the Children's Jumper division together. Fast-forward to my late teens/early twenties, and I was winning championships in the Low Junior Jumper division on my more advanced jumper, Nirvana. And most importantly, I was accomplishing all of these things without shrinking my body. I never went back to an equitation class for any reason other than to have fun for the rest of my junior career.
Today, I'm an amateur rider who is still happiest showing in the jumper ring where I don't have to worry about subjective scoring. Do I still have body dysmorphia? Unfortunately, yes, but it's better than it used to be. Do I want people to think my experiences are typical and to be expected when riding horses? No. I've developed a decent-sized social media following over the last year, and most of my followers are junior riders who are a lot younger than me and impressionable. I see more and more diversity in equitation divisions and don't think we should entertain the notion of normalizing body dysmorphia on social media.
I'd instead like to use my platform to emphasize these core messages to my followers: every body is an equestrian body with the right-sized horse. How well we ride is not determined by our body type. We ride our best when we're strong, and we are always capable of getting stronger.
Follow me on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube for more positivity: @TheJillT