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Eating Disorders and Equestrians?


I am doing a project for my college psychology class and I was hoping some of you would be willing to help me out with having positive discussion!

My project is on the prevalence of eating’s disorders and body shaming/discrimination in the equestrian world.

The purpose of this project is to raise awareness for the topic. If you have had an experience within the equestrian community (either in an interaction with other riders, your trainer, people online etc.) that caused you to feel insecure or just generally upset about your body image and you feel comfortable sharing it I would greatly appreciate it! The stories shared will be used (completely anonymously!) as an online poster campaign/video to raise awareness about body shamming and its affects in our sport (which I will gladly share with you guys once it has been finished)!

If you have any questions please feel free to ask!

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me with this project!!

I know someone that had an issue with this.

The kinda interesting thing about this sport is that there is this “perfect picture” promoted of a long-legged very thin person. However, having known someone who had this problem, they were a much more effective rider (and placed much better in competitions) when they were not harming themselves in such a way.

Now is this always the case? No, surely a lot of horses would benefit from a more frail, fly on the wall. However, these animals require work sometimes and when you are depriving your body of its caloric needs, it simply is not possible.

I had a blessing of a trainer who was equal in praise (and vitriol) with everyone, regardless of body shape and size. She happened to be a big regional eq trainer, which reinforced by idea that ANYONE can equitate. I also think looking up to Beezie Madden as a kid (who is an beautifully strong rider) helped ease any body discomfort I had with not being the thinnest.

One other thing that comes to mind was a conversation I had with a motherly middle-aged amateur who has been in the game for ever and quite a talented rider to boot. We had finished a clinic with a very respected professional and she said, “Well, that’s the first time I’ve haven’t been told to lose 10 lbs in a clinic”. This was not an overweight woman. That crosses a line.

To sum, body expectations exist in this subjective sport. They can be very damaging and have been normed in some respects. I think professionals need to be aware of the effect their advice, which we pay for by the way, is having. No 5 cent satin blue ribbon is worth your health.

Feel free to ask questions, this turned into a bit of a spitball rant.

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Oh me, pick me!

I’m 5’5 and built stocky. When I was a junior I was lean but still wide because of my body frame. My trainer’s SO would repeatedly tell me that I would never make a top rider because I was “too fat”. At one point, around age 16, myself and a few other girls in the barn struggled with eating disorders. I had dropped to 125 on a frame that is healthiest between 140-150. That trainer left shortly after and my weight returned to healthy.

Of course I have pictures
This was around the height of my eating disorder when I was 125. I was still being told I was “too fat”

My healthiest weight at 140

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Oh boy have I! I have always been “thick” never overweight as a kid or teen and always shocked the doctors who thought their scale was broken because I weighed a lot more than I looked. My body matured very fast compared to most girls and I became very insecure and developed anorexia at around age 12. I learnt about how to severely cut calories at summer camp in a horse program from another camper. I lost over 20 pounds in two weeks. I was around 135-145 in highschool, a size 8-10. That weight fit my body very well.

I became a working student. When I had first arrived my boss told me I needed to lose weight which I probably could’ve but I wasn’t an unhealthy weight, just not “eq ideal.” As I had already struggled at this point with taking off some weight gain that had occurred due to depression I was very upset by the remarks. I was probably burning around 3500 calories a day while restricting and had a body fat percentage of around 9% which is very unhealthy for a woman. My weight went down to 125 and a size 4 which I hadn’t weighed since 8th grade.

I’ve since gained over 100 pounds after a suicide attempt. I had horrible body issues that I’m still working on. I haven’t binged in over two years which is remarkable. I have lost around 25 pounds but really plateaued last year. Food is my choice of drug.

I’ve had other trainers make remarks about needing to lose weight and they are genuinely surprised when they see me ride as they assume I am mediocre based on my body shape. People are absolutely shocked by how I used to look as a size 4 vs a size 16. I would say the horse world really did influence my body issues. My
Mother also had anorexia and bulimia in college which I didn’t know until several years ago. I’ve heard that families can carry that onto their children either through genetics or unhealthy mentoring.

I think that their is absolutely a culture in middle to upperclass predominantly white culture to be thin. Women’s worth is based on appearance which includes weight and youth. As riders are predominantly that sector it carries over especially in heavy showing culture.

ETA photos of weight change over years since someone else
Was brave enough. Reading left to right on each row; 1. Highschool at size 10 140 pounds 2. After some weight gain of typical college student. Size 12 and around 190 3. Drastic weight loss size 4 125 pounds. 4. Overweight currently at 230 and size 16

Let’s just say that 30 years ago riders (of all ages) were told that diet pills and beer were all you needed to sustain life and win equitation. By certain trainers, anyway. :winkgrin:

This is an old problem in the horse world. It would be interesting to explore WHY that is so. Does it make someone a better rider if they lower their weight until they can slide through a martini straw?

The first time I recognized I had an eating disorder was during my freshman year of high school, but now that I think back, I remember my trainer verifying with my mother that I had eaten before I was allowed to get on my horse when I was 12.

I struggled off and on for years. I remained a pretty healthy weight throughout my later teen years, and I entered treatment for the first time when I was 20. This photo was taken a few months before my first stint in treatment (I was at a healthy weight, but my behaviors and mental state were anything but healthy): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=465898912358&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461908716.&type=3&theater

Things got better for a while, but it didn’t last. Graduating from college sent me into a tailspin. I was not ready to enter the real world. Within a few months, I was in treatment again. Insurance companies are terrible about eating disorder treatment. My coverage ran out after about two weeks, once I got back to a healthy weight.

Needless to say, that really didn’t stick. I was out and back to showing my horse that summer. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151757071197359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909261.&type=3&theater

By the time Fall rolled around, I was under 100 lbs. I am 5’8". Here I am showing a friend’s yearling in the hunter breeding. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151873588072359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909256.&type=3&theater

A month later, I was hospitalized with impending kidney failure. I weighed 94 lbs. After 12 days in the acute unit, I again returned to treatment. I only agreed to go because my mare was pregnant. If it hadn’t been for that, nothing could have convinced me not to give up on life. This time, my parents paid out of pocket for the remainder of my stay once insurance dropped me. This was tens of thousands of dollars. Here I am a month into treatment. Since horses are the single most important part of my life, my treatment team allowed me a 4 hour pass to go to the barn one day. My mom picked me up from the hospital and supervised the entire excursion, including snack time. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152030365527359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909256.&type=3&theater

I was released from treatment a few days before Christmas. I think I only lasted a few days before returning to ED behaviors.

I quickly lost most of the 50+ lbs I had gained in treatment, but I had a brand new colt! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152285538317359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909241.&type=3&theater

Things got worse and worse as Cohen started to grow up and I returned to school. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152516193467359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909200.&type=3&theater

My 24th birthday. In August. I’m wearing a sweater. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152604845847359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909195.&type=3&theater

My mare returned to the show ring. Our debut at 3’6". I could barely hang on. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153026167942359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909180.&type=3&theater

Then, the year-long premed program I was doing finished. Things started to turn around. Something about the stress of school just does not mesh with my eating disorder brain. By Fall, I was still using ED behaviors, but had returned to a normal weight (yet again). https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153563783202359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909173.&type=3&theater

I am now 6 months into full recovery, and I can actually RIDE again. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154055502487359&set=pb.713977358.-2207520000.1461909170.&type=3&theater

I’m happier. My horses are happier. I no longer faint during lessons or wear two long sleeved thermals underneath my show clothes. Nothing really major happened to push me into recovery, and I have no idea where to go from here. Both school and work cause me too much stress to risk right now. I’m just doing my best to enjoy my horses and go where life takes me. And scrape together enough money for both of my horses to have some semblance of a show season!

ETA: Sorry for the novel. I got carried away.


Jumpergirl thanks for sharing. I hope you continue to enjoy a healthier life with lots of great rides.

@Jumpergirl - thank you for sharing your story. It is so very hard to overcome an eating disorder and I wish you the very best of luck in your continuing recovery.

@OP - there are many BNT who push the “ideal” equestrian body type on girls (and boys) who are not naturally that shape and size. Couple that with the pressures from the media, school and “friends” and it’s a recipe for an eating disorder.

In my first year of college, I was hanging out at the barn. I don’t know if I’d been there to ride and the full chaps were off or what, but I walked in to the ring in shorts while trainer was still teaching.

She pointed out how flabby my calves were. “Those should be tight. You shouldn’t see any fat wobbling around.” She pulled up her own jeans and pushed her heels down against a mounting block, pointing out her own calf muscles, which were well defined from riding multiple horses each day.

In my first year of college, like most freshmen, I was eating well at the caf and drinking beer, but it hadn’t ever really occurred to me that I was overweight. I was likely between 140-150 at the time (I’m 5’7")-- maybe a size 10 or 12? Honestly, with a little perspective, I don’t think I really was overweight (not terribly fit or toned, maybe, but not overweight). From that point on, though, from her words, I believed I didn’t look how serious riders were supposed to look.

My weight has fluctuated from 118 to 168 (my top weight while pregnant with #2 was 175) in the 20 years since that comment. My no-effort, easy-to-maintain weight is about 140. My healthiest and strongest is when I’m eating well and running to maintain a weight between 130-135. I looked a little cadaverous before becoming pregnant with my first when I dropped into the teens. I’m 130 now.

I love food. I eat absently, I eat when I’m stressed, I just like eating. I generally micromanage my food intake when other aspects of my life don’t seem to be entirely in my control (trying to find a new job and it not panning out, etc.)-- food and weight are things I can control. I don’t think that the initial comment incited disordered eating, but I do think that it caused me to become conscious of my body in a way I hadn’t been until that day. If it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone or something else.

Eating disorders seem prevalent in so many parts of our lives…social circles, high school, college, sports, etc. Its really hard to decipher healthy versus unhealthy when you’re surrounded by it. Especially, when its a part of your family life…

My mom is 5’3" and weighs around 90lbs at all times. She and my grandmother both promoted the importance of maintaining your figure, being attractive, etc. for your husband. So, the pressure for me started at a very young age. I was weighed daily, fed half of a grapefruit every night before bed, and given a concoction of vitamins. Plastic surgery was always an option in my family–my grandmother and mother both were a few of the first people in Texas to have breast implants. Face work started around 35 because no one “expected it.”

I am half Spanish and half Swedish. But, at 5’5" and a very hourglass type frame I resemble the Spanish side. I am very dense despite being relatively petite. That didn’t matter to them…a small waist can be smaller…your hips are too big, etc. I have never been bigger than a 6 (during pregnancy) but suffered immensely before working through the pressures I faced.

In high school, I was riding 4-6 horses per day, playing tennis, preparing for college, etc. Since we had an indoor I would often ride way past dark…there were times that I would pass out on my horse because I literally had zero energy. I would wake up sometime later with my poor horse covered in vomit. At this point, I was down to 100lbs and a size 0. But, to my family I could always be thinner and smaller. It just wasn’t good enough.

My mother traveled the world buying horses for her breeding program, was a socialite, philanthropist, and absolute perfectionist. She learned everything from her mother. But, the buck stops with me because I saw how their behaviors robbed them of joy and ultimately destroyed their lives.

That was my breaking point. I decided to study nutrition and throw myself into fitness. I pursued a certification in pilates for strength training and have since transformed my body. My instructors have always commented that I have the body of Marilyn Monroe and there is no fighting it. I will NEVER been long and lean. I’m okay with that now that I’m no longer bet over the head about it.

I love food. I have a passion for cooking thanks to my Spanish heritage and make all of our meals from scratch, bake bread daily, ferment, prepare preserves, garden, etc. But, the pressure to be thin, beautiful, and perfect still linger.

This is not personal experience, just something I witnessed at a show a few years back.

There were 3 junior riders at the food vendor area, going to get lunch. 2 high schoolers, both Lillie Keenan body types and just breaking into the 3’6" Big Eq ranks, and 1 junior high kid who had clearly just gone through a growth spurt and started getting some curves (doing the Children’s at the time). High schoolers order salads and iced tea, but the younger kid orders a burrito at the Mexican cart, and High Schooler 1 says loudly, “Wow, do you really NEED that burrito?”

The poor girl looked like she’d been punched. I was too far away to do anything about it but I wish I’d gone to talk to her afterwards. I didn’t see if she actually ate the burrito or not. But that kid works her butt off at the shows, burning lots of calories running all around the grounds. So to suggest she doesn’t need something like that (which, really, apart from being high calorie is a NOT a bad choice – carbs, protein, fiber from beans and veggies, good fats from avocado, etc.) when she’s probably burning in the 3500 calorie a day range is just ridiculous.

It’s not always (just) the trainers perpetuating the ideals. Often it’s the kids feeding the flames themselves. But trainers can watch their words to try to discourage that kind of thing.

Another example: I know a girl who did the Big Eq on a budget. She did well enough in our area, which is not super competitive, and probably could have done well elsewhere with a better horse. This girl has always been lean and athletic, but started getting some curves around early high school. Nobody EVER commented on it in a negative way, at least not that I heard. But at some point during her junior year, she started losing weight rapidly. She showed up at the summer shows looking VERY skinny (think sharp collarbones, some visible bones in her chest, hipbones protruding, shoulder blades showing through her hunt coat, etc). I thought she looked sick. But the number of compliments she got was shocking. Other juniors, sure, but from trainers too, including the trainer of the girls in the first story.

In my area anyway, it’s very rarely in your face, “You need to lose weight” comments. It’s the little things – trainers talking about how lovely the VERY skinny junior girls look, complimenting kids who lose weight, junior riders having long conversations about their exact calorie intake for the day and trainers joining in…that’s the stuff that fans the flames with girls who might be pre-disposed to disordered eating. I don’t think it CAUSES it in someone with a healthy mindset. But it can trigger someone who might be on the edge already.

I always appreciate it when eq judges pin riders who appear normal/healthy, not just pin the 12- 13-year-old “phenom new discoveries!” who also happen to be prepubescent shapeless wisp sticks and who you know don’t really have the strength to pilot a horse effectively in demanding situations while ignoring the older kids with a few curves and more true skills. Yes, fitness and strength are so important. It’s hard to watch kids with eating issues struggling not only while riding but in other areas of their lives. Seen it too many times over many years.

Here are some older threads on the subject that you might find interesting. We had a lot of good discussion on this in the first few years of this board.





I have never experienced anything like that in Germany. I know of overweight riders that would Do better and probably will get lower scores but never to the extreme like in the us. Maybe a Trainer here will tell you to get fitter and maybe lose weight that way.
I even experienced the other way like trainers saying a rider is too weak because of weight and Fitness.
We have the problem probably as well but I never noticed. I would say it mostly would be with the ponyriders doing europeans.
Since we do not have hunters and equitation your weight Is not a factor. But what i think is important is that even over weight riders have to accept that if you want your horse to be sporty you should try your best to match.

OH MY GOD I can’t believe I forgot to tell this story!!! This has become a favorite in my barn because it is so outrageous and blatantly idiotic, and it gets retold over and over again.

Just to give you some background, I am 5’4", 160 pounds but muscular, size 4/6. I’ve gained a little bit in the last 3 years because I went from a college student with all the time in the world to work out and hang at the barn for hours on end to being a cubicle dweller, but I’m fairly fit, lift weights, ride 4-5x a week, etc. Definitely not a twig but I still look pretty good in a bikini :wink:

So I was at a show in the fall on a sainted horse who was helping me get my confidence back after a bad fall over the summer (freak accident, both horse and I were fine but it shook me). Doing the 2’6" because horse was older and the owner had decided to move him down from the 3’ to preserve him. This horse had BTDT and is well known on our local circuit.

I was at the back gate (on foot) checking the schedule, and the back gate lady sidled up to me. She starts going on about how unfair it was that I was riding Dobbin in the 2’6" (I think she was trying to be complimentary?). I laughed it off and said he’s a great horse, I really just need a confidence boost right now and he’s perfect for that. Her response? “Why do you need more confidence? Ohh, cuz you’re out of shape?”

:eek: My jaw hit the floor!

So now it’s a running joke at the barn that I’m out of shape – every time I drop something on the ground, miss a distance, whatever, someone chimes in to say, “It’s just cuz 541 is out of shape!” It never gets old lol but we have to be careful to explain it in case someone overhears who doesn’t know the story!

Thank you. Many of these posts are very brave.

I think our sport could use a more balanced approach to this issue, for sure. On the one hand, we have the “big eq diet” being pushed by a fair few BNTs. On the other hand, there is a line to be drawn between the “body positivity” movement and fairness to the horses.

I do think it’s important to remember that thin/athletic does not necessarily = eating disorder.

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I think our sport could use a more balanced approach to this issue, for sure. On the one hand, we have the “big eq diet” being pushed by a fair few BNTs. On the other hand, there is a line to be drawn between the “body positivity” movement and fairness to the horses.

I do think it’s important to remember that thin/athletic does not necessarily = eating disorder.[/QUOTE]

I think it might be important to point out to you that just because someone isn’t severely underweight does not mean they don’t have an eating disorder.


I think it might be important to point out to you that just because someone isn’t severely underweight does not mean they don’t have an eating disorder.[/QUOTE]


I do think it’s interesting, though, that “body positivity” only goes one way. Overweight or obese? Good for you! Thin? You need a cheeseburger! You have an eating disorder!


Eating disorders are a very serious thing. And yes, they can be unfortunately prevalent in our sport. But let’s not let this thread devolve into thin=disordered.