Body Image. Most women experience some amount of discomfort about their body image,(thanks, society-at-large) and for horsewomen, the negative feelings are compounded because we don’t want to over-tax our horses. Midlife (and beyond) horsewomen have the additional factor of age – both society’s perceived idea of what a horsewoman “should” look like, and in our own insecurities about the capabilities, and limitations, of our changing bodies.
This post isn’t going to change society’s impression of how our bodies relate to the “ideal” equestrian body, but I hope it does encourage you to have a little think about the way you perceive your own body, and, ultimately, to offer yourself some grace. We were never meant to look like a 20-something Instagram influencer.
Interestingly enough, I ran into a very stark display of the marginalization of women who are considered “overweight” or “old(er)” – none of the photo sites I use for free downloads came up with anything when I searched for “large horsewoman”, “heavy horsewoman”, “older horsewoman”, or “old horsewoman”, so – enjoy the nice picture of the unicorn – it’s about as realistic as society’s idea of the perfect body image.
How Horsewomen Perceive Their Bodies
In the study Potential Impacts of Body Image Perception in Female Equestrians, researchers Sofia Forino, Lorna Cameron, Natalie Stones, and Marianne Freeman collected responses from nearly 500 horsewomen about their perceptions of ideal body image for the female equestrian. Respondents of all age groups and sizes felt that a small body type was preferable. “More respondents perceived the ideal equestrian BI (Body Image) to be smaller than theirs and an association between those dissatisfied with their BI and self-consciousness when riding was seen.”
Further, “Perception of the ideal equestrian frame is smaller than many riders’ own BI, and a larger BI perception negatively impacts self-confidence, potentially hindering performance and participation. Female riders with a larger frame feel they are perceived negatively by judges…”
How Much Does Weight Matter?
For horsewomen, weight issues can be more problematic than for the general population – we have our horses to consider. We love them and would never want to do something to cause them pain, so it runs through a lot of our minds ), “Am I too heavy to be riding this horse right now?”
According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the basic guideline is that a horse can comfortably carry about 20% of its body weight. Factors such as fitness, confirmation, type and length of work, and terrain.
But, just as a horse’s confirmation can affect his weight carrying abilities, not every 150 lb rider has the same body body type. Proportion, balance, fitness, and skill all play a part. A well-balanced experienced 170 lb rider might be easier for a horse to carry than a novice who tips the scale at just 150. Properly fitted, appropriate tack is also vital to preserving the comfort and soundness of your horse.
And What About Age?
Midlife and older horsewomen have additional body image challenges around our bodies and the changes they’re going through. We might not be as flexible as we were, and, as we age, the risk of a bone fracture should we fall carries more serious consequences than it did when we were in our teens and twenties. However, just as not all 150 lb riders are the same, not all 60, 70, or 80-year-old riders are the same.
None of this is meant to discourage you, rather to encourage you to look at your own body from a standpoint of your functionality as a rider.
Interestingly enough, I ran into a very stark display of the marginalization of women who are considered “overweight” or “old(er)” – none of the photo sites I use for free downloads came up with anything relevant when I searched for “large horsewoman”, “heavy horsewoman”, “fat horsewoman”, older horsewoman”, or “old horsewoman”, so – enjoy the nice picture of the unicorn – it’s about as realistic as society’s idea of the perfect body image.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a resource to help you find your calm, just click below to download my free guide, 60 Seconds to Calm! Quick exercises that are short on duration, but long on effect!