Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back in the equine world

After piling on the pounds throughout college and grad school there was bound to be some things I couldn't do anymore or couldn't do as well- and the list is long. But the most painful thing I lost when tipping the scales was horseback riding. This simple fact was ongoing fuel to my depression- which of course just made me turn to food more. Viscous cycle, huh?

I've loved horses since I can remember. I started with summer horse camps when I was 6 until I was old enough to start mucking stalls to help pay for my lessons. Lessons turned into teaching summer camp and leasing a horse which led to getting into more serious training and attending seminars and reading every piece of equine literature I could get my hands on. When I was a teenager I was in 4-H and Pony Club like all good equestrian kids.

Even then, I didn't quite fit in. I was always taller and heavier than the other pony clubbers. I had plenty of friends in pony club and could ride just as well if not better than them- but I was always aware that I was bigger. Tack stores reminded me of this because I always had to look for the biggest size- and even then, sometimes it didn't fit. At that age I wasn't obese- but fat people just don't ride horses, and they especially don't show their horses in competition. Why would they want to embarrass themselves?!

But now...things are different. It's weird that I probably weigh more than I did even at the height of my competition days- but I'm so much more fit, and I fit into smaller sizes. This past week I went shopping for a new riding coat and shirt. As if I was going back in time, I pulled the largest size shirt to try on- and was shocked by how HUGE it was on me- I had to go down 2 sizes! And the same thing with the jacket and breeches! I was in NORMAL equestrian sizes and even though I would never consider myself skinny- I felt normal. That is a fantastic feeling when you are fat. If you have never tried on equestrian clothes- imagine pants that are skin tight and fitted shirts with equally fitted jackets. That can make the skinniest person self conscious, but a fat girl? It sucks!

The reason I had to go shopping for new English dress wear was because I was an outrider at Fair Hill International this weekend. I rode for nearly 8 hours on Saturday and managed the crowds around cross country jumps with other outriders so competitors could compete unimpeded by spectators. This is considered an honor and difficult to get on "the list" of riders that are entrusted to keep the competitors safe. To me- this was a DREAM come true, a HUGE check off my bucket list and part of one of the best weekends of my life. I rode Piney, our grey mule and received lots of attention because of how tall and unusually handsome he is. The whole day I sat tall on Piney, confident with my new clothes and immaculately cleaned horse and soaked in every exquisite moment of a beautiful fall day.

One of the best moments of the day was when my sister and her boyfriend came over to visit. After she greeted me and Piney she admitted that she actually had not recognized me and Piney and almost walked by us. She knew about where I was stationed and saw the big grey horse- but he was so clean and I looked so thin she didn't recognize either of us until she got closer. "I haven't seen you in something so fitted and you looked so thin, I didn't think it was you. Please don't be offended," is about what Brianne said. I nearly cried- what a great compliment, and it made my day that much better.

My weekend was made perfect today because I finally mustered up the courage to approach Phillip Dutton to talk to him and get a picture with him. For years I have seen him at Fair Hill International, taken his picture from afar, and even wished him good luck or congratulations while volunteering at the stadium ring. When I was growing up I had multiple posters of him in my room- all signed by him, often thanks to my mom. For years, I made excuses for why he wouldn't want to talk to me- and it almost always had to do with the fact that I didn't look like the "typical" horse person. But for the first time in my life- I didn't feel embarrassed to approach him and talk about horses. I chatted with him about how inspiring he has always been to me, and how much I have always admired him as a horseman. I even made his daughter smile when I told her that I remember when she was born. He was competing at Fair Hill and they announced it after he placed 2nd that year- which was 10 years ago. Below is a picture of me with Phillip and his daughter. Such a special moment in my life that I will never forget, I'm glad I thought enough to get a picture taken afterwards.

I wish Phillip could have won, of course (he placed 5th) but another rider to admire caught my attention this weekend- Becky Holder. She placed second with impressive performances throughout all 3 days of competition (dressage, cross country, and stadium). But, what really drew my eye was her size. She was close to my size- a bit less and of course it's kinda hard to tell when somebody is on horseback- but she wasn't the typical tiny women that you always see in competition. She was a real woman. And she was reserve champion!! I have no desire to compete at this high level of eventing- but it was so uplifting to see her doing it so well!

I finally feel like I fit in with the equine world, and it feels GREAT!


  1. Colleen, I'm so glad you're back horseback riding! I know how important that part of your life is. What a great story!

  2. **hugs** I'm so proud of you Colleen! You were truly in your element on Saturday and it showed. I love you so much and I am so happy for you <3

  3. Oh my god, baby, this is your best post yet! This is a such a great and inspiring story.

  4. Equine world is simply amazing because of the benefits and lessons you could get from it. Most of them says that teaching performance horses are really great as they also learned from them during training.