Herd Member | Kylie Schariff

“Horses must be in your blood,” as equestrians we hear this line all of the time, from other horse and non-horse people alike. It suggests that equestrians must be pre-disposed to loving horses, perhaps there is a kink in our genetic makeup that makes us love the idea of placing our lives in the hooves of thousand pound animals. I was adopted as an infant, so I don’t know if I was genetically destined to fall in love with horses, but I do know that at the age of two I took my first pony ride and that was that. Here I am 32 years later and just as in love and enthralled by the idea of horses as I was at two years old running down a grassy hill toward the pony rides at the bottom, screaming “need to ride the pony!”

When I was seven years old I began taking riding lessons. I learned to groom and tack and ride on a fat bay pony named Pepsi. I did my first walk trot horse show when I was eight on a pale palomino named Luke and got 4th place, I still have that ribbon. I learned to canter on a chestnut quarter horse with a big blaze named Flash. Flash also taught me how to fall. In my early years of riding I knew nothing but fat ponies, and horse camp, and pigtails, and ribbons. It wasn’t until I was around 11 that I began to realize that I was different.

If my genetic makeup gave me a love of horses, it didn’t go far enough to give me a conventionally acceptable body to ride them with. I have always been big, there’s no other way to put it. When I was in elementary school I was forever the tallest in the class. When I stopped growing, at the age of 14, I was nearly 6 feet tall. Besides tall I’ve always been chubby, I was incredibly active as a child and teenager, I ate well and took care of myself but I was still big. Now at the age of 34 I’m still active, I still eat healthy and I’m still big. I’ve been checked by doctors and besides the unfortunate 60lbs I put on due to hormonal birth control (that I still have on) I am very healthy.

When I was 11 I was taking a riding lesson on a 14+ hand mustang pony named Twinkle. In the middle of the lesson my trainer told me to stop and get off. She handed the pony to another student to hold and told me to come up to the house with her. When we got to the house she made me get on a scale. She then declared that I would no longer be able to ride Twinkle. A lot of my self esteem issues can be traced back to the mental abuse I suffered at the hands of that trainer. She told me I would never be able to jump higher than two feet because of my size. She would put me on new horses to test “how they handled fat people”, and she told me that I would never be able to ride any horses that weren’t draft horses.

As a child and teenager, much of the fat shaming I endured came in person. From my trainer, from whispered insults and demeaning looks at shows, from judges telling me that I would have placed better if I lost some weight, and from my peers at the barn that I took lessons at. When I got home at the end of the day I didn’t have to hear it anymore, I could regroup and live to fight another day. These days however, with the invention of social media, the fat shaming is everywhere. It’s a constant battle that I fight on a daily basis. I rarely have a day go by that I don’t get a comment on something I posted telling me that I’m too big, or telling me what I need to change, or simply saying “poor horse”

It gets tiring. The fatphobia and uneducated entitled opinions that run rampant in the equestrian world, especially on social media, need to end. I am a firm believer that every body is an equestrian body, regardless of size, shape or ability. Equestrians have horses in their blood right? So why should that love be regulated to those are deemed equestrians because they “look the part.” Do you love horses? You do? Okay, then do me a favor and go look in the mirror. What do you see? Short? Tall? Skinny? Curvy? Round? Flaws? That’s fine. Do you know what I see when I look at your beautiful, flawed, human reflection? I see an equestrian.

For more of my journey, follow me on Instagram: @ride_above_hate_