After years of watching her A/AA-circuit peers starve them bodies into an “acceptable” shape, Riders for Well-Being founder Kate Kosnoff decided that enough was enough.
Who taught me to suck in my stomach or my cheeks?
Who told me to stand with my legs apart and my hips thrust back to create the illusion of a gap between my thighs?
Who made me believe that the most beautiful part of me is my negative space?
I found the above poem on Tumblr a few years ago and wrote it down because of how much it resonated with me. I’ve reread it often, and it always startles me how powerful it is. What doesn’t surprise me, however, is my ability to connect with this poem. When I read this, I immediately think of my fellow equestrians who are tortured by eating disorders, low self-esteem and mental disorders. I think of how these issues have gone largely unnoticed in the equestrian community or how they have been covered up and ignored — until now.
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, and for many years, I was ignorant. I didn’t realize that young riders felt that they needed to be thin and well-proportioned in order to place in the show ring. I didn’t know that trainers and judges told their students that they needed to lose weight in order to show, or that they put their riders on special diets that cannot adequately sustain growing tweens and teens. I wasn’t aware that so many of my fellow horse-lovers suffered from eating disorders and mental issues like depression or anxiety because of the pressures they faced as equestrians.
I am no expert. I’m not a psychologist or a doctor or an analyst. However, what I do have is the experience of passing through adolescence and teen-hood on the A/AA circuit. I have seen firsthand the weak and broken bodies of equitation riders. I have seen strong women crack under pressure. I have heard trainers tell their clients to lose weight, and I have heard the whispers of spectators when a heavier rider trotted into the show ring.
I have felt myself become increasingly self-conscious about how I looked in my show coat or worry about my breech size. I’ve caught myself longing for the sleek, delicate limbs of our nation’s top eq riders. I have cried, wondering why my metabolism can’t be just a little bit faster and my stomach a little flatter. I have felt guilty for ordering dessert at dinner or eating anything other than salad. I have even helped some of my closest friends through eating disorders and watched them torture themselves trying to stick to the “big eq” diet.
Recently, I started to wonder. Why hasn’t anyone done anything to stop these horrible practices? Why are we teaching short stirrup riders that they better grow up to be tall and thin so that they place well in the junior hunters? Why does anyone believe this to be acceptable?
So, I decided to be the agent of change that our little community of horse people needs. I can no longer stand idly by and watch people lose their passion and fire for riding thanks to the impossible standards they’re held to. My goal is to reshape the horse industry into what I wish it had been during my junior years: more welcoming, less judgmental, and better at promoting healthy, positive lifestyles. I want to remind people what it’s all about — a shared love of horses.
I encourage you to love yourself first; to admire your strength and beauty and amazing abilities as a human being. Yes, riding is a sport and should be treated as such, but don’t lose sight of who you are just to wear a smaller pair of Tailored Sportsmans. Use good judgement and be healthy. I promise that you will have a renewed vigor for riding and showing once you alter your mindset. I implore you to stop the body-shaming (this occurs on both ends of the spectrum, both thin and curvy — neither are acceptable), the nasty comments, and the overly-competitive attitudes. Learn to be more accepting and positive towards every rider you meet; after all, we’re all the same crazy kids who never grew out of their pony phases.
In the short span of time that has passed since I decided to start Riders For Well-Being, a small but growing group of equestrians in support of positive body image, I have received an outpouring of love and support from horse people across the globe. I am so touched by some of the personal stories and experiences people have shared with me, and I am so honored that you trust me to change the industry. However, I can’t do this by myself. If you identify with my message, or simply want to be the a part of the evolution of the equestrian world, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or share this mission with your friends and family.
In an April 2014 issue of O Magazine, Oprah Winfrey wrote in her editor’s note:
“I’ve spent way too many years resisting, neglecting, and negating my body … I can see clearly how futile it is for any of us to have anything but praise and awe for these vessels that house our humanity. All the years I dieted, complained, and was less than satisfied with my shape have yielded to a new perspective, an appreciation for the body that’s brought me this far.”
I think Oprah couldn’t have said it better. Love yourself for who you are, not what you wish you could (or “should”) be.
Kate Kosnoff, R4WB Founder