5 Tips for Positive Body Image for Equestrian Athletes
Body image and acceptance of different body types is something that is rarely talked about in our sport. We are passionate about the fact that riders are athletes - what matters is our strength and technique in the saddle, not the shape of our bodies. We are all born with different body types, and that is a beautiful thing! Our world would be incredibly boring if we all looked exactly the same. It's time to ignore the outdated idea that to be a beautiful rider you must fit into a certain pant size or eat a specific number of calories per day.
Here are our 5 tips for a positive body image as an equestrian athlete:
1. There's no "Eq Body".
In the hunter/jumper discipline we have a set of classes called “Equitation” which judge the rider on his or her position and ability to guide their horse through challenging courses. The goal is to make the riding look effortless and smooth. Riders are expected to sit up straight with their shoulders back and leg tight against the horse’s side.
Is there anything about this that relates to the rider’s shape or size? There is a misconception that to be successful in an equitation division you must be thin and tall (AKA the “equitation body”), which is absolutely not true. What matters is the strength and ability of the rider to communicate seamlessly with his or her horse.
Some may argue that certain judges favor a specific body type and place the class accordingly. While we hope this is not true in most cases, it is up to us to help drive change in our sport - Encourage governing bodies and horse show management to employ judges who judge the competition based on skill and strength. It can be tough to speak up, but if we do we will see a new generation of horse show judges who are fair and accepting of all body types.
2. Your strength and technique in the saddle is what matters, not a number on the scale or the size of your breeches
What do you think of when you think of a beautiful rider?
A strong lower leg.
Hands that follow and guide the horse gently yet confidently.
Shoulders that roll back and open up the chest.
A quiet and stable seat.
The list goes on…but it’s clear that none of these details that make up what we see as a beautiful rider has anything to do with what pant size they wear. What’s important is how you feel. You should feel strong, healthy, and confident regardless of how others look. Start to think of riding as a sport (which it is…) and you’ll see a mindset change.
Comparison can be tricky in our sport. It’s best not to compare yourself to other riders when possible - If you absolutely have to, try comparing your riding technique or how long you can go without stirrups, not your body size or shape. You might even realize you are stronger than you thought!
3. Food is fuel for your body and brain - Nourish yourself with nutritious ingredients that make you feel good instead of restricting or dieting.
We often get questions from young women asking for an equestrian diet plan or how many calories they should eat per day. While we love sharing healthy meal ideas and “What I Eat In a Day” videos from different equestrian athletes, it’s impossible for us to know exactly how much or what you should be eating. Why? Because every single person has different needs and those needs change from day to day depending on how much activity you have done or even certain hormonal changes.
Food is fuel! We need carbohydrates, protein, and fats and lots of different micronutrients to function properly as athletes. Eat food that makes you feel good and helps you perform your best. If you feel lightheaded from not eating enough (or uneasy from feeling too full) before riding, make a change! Try making a rough plan in your head of what you want to eat for the day and stay prepared. If you know you are always in a rush after school, don’t have time to eat, and feel weak and tired while riding, try keeping some protein bars in your tack trunk so you can get some fuel in before you ride. Figure out what works for you and your body and stick with it, just like an athlete would!
If you struggle with restricting or disordered eating, or just want to learn more about your needs as an athlete, we encourage you to seek professional help. We highly recommend Natalie Gavi (@the.equestrian.dietician on Instagram) for anyone looking for a dietician who specializes in helping equestrian athletes feel their best. You can check out her coaching at gavinutrition.com!
4. Train like an athlete, but also give yourself rest days when needed and practice balance.
Training like an athlete means cross-training outside of the saddle, stretching, and giving your body the rest that it needs. For most riders, we recommend doing some sort of exercise out of the saddle a few times a week (or when possible) to improve your riding. Over the years we’ve seen hundreds of riders claim they felt a huge difference in their riding after working out at the gym or doing a home workout program. This is called cross-training, something most professional athletes participate in to complement their training in their sport. Cross-training can help prevent injuries and improve our balance, strength, stamina, and much more!
It’s also important to rest and recover. Everybody is different, but in general we suggest that you have one day per week where you take a break from riding and other strenuous exercise. This is a great day to go on a walk (a form of “active recovery”) or spend lots of time grooming and grazing your horse. You might find you perform best with more than one day of rest, especially if you are particularly active throughout the week. Figure out a schedule that works for you to give your body the time it needs to recover.
5. Everyone has different nutritional needs and genetics. Don’t compare yourself to other riders based on how they look or what they eat.
Comparison can be extremely dangerous. What we see on the outside is likely not the whole story. Genetics are something that we can’t change. It’s up to us to make the most of what we are given and love our bodies.
You may envy someone’s body type or the fact that they have a small appetite, but you never know what is going on inside their head. A lot of times we worry what people are thinking about what we look like, what we wear, eat, do, say, or if they saw that huge miss to that one jump in your lesson…we promise they aren’t thinking about it as much as you are!
Eat what makes you feel good.
Wear clothes that make you feel good.
Surround yourself with people that make you feel good.
Have a tip that we missed? Let us know in the comments below or connect with us on Instagram @thefit.equestrian.