Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Giving up the Fantasy

Thanks almost entirely to Kate Harding's eye-opening blog on The Fantasy of Being Thin, I've posted the following ad to Craig's List:

Looking for a place to take riding lessons or rent a horse for trail riding within 1/2 hour or so of the Kalamazoo/Portage area, either after 5pm or weekends. Specifically looking for a place with a sturdy horse (clyde, shire, quarter, etc.) that can carry a 300 pound fat chick. Grew up with horses but haven't ridden in 10 years. Willing and able to work as part of/in exchange for lessons (stall cleaning, stacking hay, grooming, some carpentry, etc.) Prefer private lessons or adult group with teacher who doesn't judge ability by body size. Frequency of lessons depends on schedule and price.

This is my fantasy of being thin.

I grew up with horses (two AQHA registered geldings), but had to give them both up when I went overseas in my senior year of high school. They went to good homes, and I went to Europe. No regrets, really. The exchange year was a once in a lifetime opportunity and did more to temper me than anything else I've ever done.

I did, however, miss the stable. Fiercely. While I was living in France I tried to take riding lessons, but their horses were too small and I was too heavy. I was at my thinnest in a very long time after swimming and walking every day, but at 6’2” I was pretty damn fit and still 280 pounds. To say I was too heavy to ride isn't fat hatred, just biology. Horses are not machines, and the average riding horse does risk back injury if they carry someone over 240 pounds.

So I made it my shiny, pretty, far-off star to reach for during the next three years. When I got down to 240, I would find a stable and ride again. When I got down to 240 I would finally take dressage lessons instead of the putz-around trail riding I was content to do as a kid. When I got down to 240, I would be a horsewoman, and content, and pretty, and happy, and free, and have no problems whatsoever.

Of course, as we all know, I would never get down to 240, and even if I did, only the first of that list would really change. Not even by swimming laps for an hour every morning before work, doing cardio and weight training every day after work, and eating the media perfect “healthy” diet chock full of veggies, whole grains and lean meats, would I ever maintain a weight below my body's set-point. I lived like that for two years in complete social isolation and never got within spitting distance of that goal weight. Nevermind the 180 pounds I was "supposed" to weigh according to the BMI chart maximum.

Now I have no idea what I weigh, and don't much care. I'm about a size 26/28 in most clothing lines now that my body's set point has "reset" higher from dieting. The one line I had to cross in accepting the FA state of mind was that I thought I had to give up on this one fantasy. I know there's a stereotype about fat girls who like horses, as if it's some kind of freudian defect to har har about. That I could get over. Giving it up would be a lot harder.

This one last dream never changed throughout my life, even when others (like doing the Wild Cave Tour spelunking trip at Mammoth Cave) came and went as motivators to chase thin. I loved going to fairs and horse shows just to walk up and down the aisles. I love the smell of dust and hay. I love to watch them move, I love to do all the little chores of grooming, clipping, brushing, braiding. I didn’t want to give up that part of my identity.

But maybe I don’t.

Now that I'm working my way through the stages of fat acceptance, I'm also learning to think outside the fantasy. For example, did you know that you can put a saddle on a Clydesdale? Also, quarter horses can come pretty big; Ours were 16 and 17 hands and they carried me just fine. Sure I'd need a step to mount until my leg muscles caught up to the jump, but does that matter so much? If I toss the fear that everyone will laugh at the fat chick on the horse, is there really any reason why I have to be six sizes smaller, just to grant myself permission to do something I love?

This is my fantasy of being thin.

And this is me letting go of it.


Kat said...

Thank you for this. Inspires me to stir up some old dreams and see what I can do about making them come true.

If it helps any, I believe in you and your dream. Bravo!

Fillyjonk said...

Goddamn this post is awesome. Please please please keep us updated as events unfold!

liz said...

What fillyjonk said!

April D said...

Oh my goodness thank you. I keep going back to Kate's FOBT blog whenever I start feeling down but to see someone play it out and set down their own fantasty (to which I have to admit I feel a strong connection as I love horses and really miss riding) and how they plan to break out of it has really inspired me.

Thank you for sharing and encouraging me and others as well I'm sure to start finding those dreams we've been putting off and actually set them in motion! :)

Kate Harding said...

Woo hoo! I can't wait to hear what happens!

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the horse weight limit. That seems counterintuitive to me, given that, at one time (not all *that* long ago), everyone rode horses to get around.

Are they breeding more spindly horses nowadays? Or is it the *kind* of riding that matters? I can see where doing something poofy like jumping (which is like horsey performance art rather than riding) might put a strain on a horse to begin with. And I can understand why, with racing, a wee, light rider is a good thing. But for just plain old riding, aren't horses (weighing massively more than humans) generally quite capable of carrying people weighing far, far less than they do? How did horses carry men in the 200-300lb range a century ago?

GeekGirlsRule said...

Good for you!!!

I have a friend who rode a Clydesdale, and she said she didn't think she could go back to regular riding horses. She said the Clyde's broad back was so much more comfortable to sit on, like an easy chair compared to regular riding horses.

Good luck!!!!

Alex From Philly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brigid Keely said...

If you weren't so tall, I'd recomend maybe a Vanner horse? They're a clydesdale mix and very, very pretty (the most important attribute, right? LOL). However, they aren't as tall as a Clydesdale so I don't know if they'd be too short for your long, lovely legs.

Good luck finding a place and an appropriate horse!

iiii said...

miriam-heddy, you're forgetting carriages and wagons and the like - all the ways to get around that use horse power without anyone sitting directly on the horse's spine.

JoGeek said...

miriam-heddy: You know that's an interesting question, and I don't really have any hard evidence either way. I do know that there's a real, measurable difference between how a novice rider and an experienced rider sit a horse. A novice bouncing around on the horse's kidneys is hard on a horse regardless of weight. It's like the difference between carrying a 50 pound backpack or a 50 pound hyperactive child. You can carry a much heavier load if it's well balanced. For those who used horses for primary transportation, they were probably raised riding and didn't have to learn as heavy adults.

Also remember that a lot of people traveled by cart, carriage, sledge, sedan, etc. instead of horseback.

You may be absolutely right in that there really isn't that big of a difference, but I doubt I'm going to find an owner willing to risk the experiment on their own horse for the sake of a stranger :-)

RoseCampion said...

One theory I've had about horses- long ago, when there was much more riding, most of the people who had horses had large, sturdy breeds. You wouldn't use a valuable animal just for a bit of riding around. You'd want something that you could hook up to a wagon or a plow too. Or, if you were a knight in the middle ages, something that could carry you and your hundred something pounds of steel plate armor all day. These days, less people who have horses have such practical considerations in mind. There's a lot of riding as athletic event, racing, jumping, etc. where a lighter, less sturdy horse would have an advantage. So, the usual riding stable would have more of the lighter horses.

Good luck with your dream. I love riding too, though I haven't done much of it, just enough to know that I sit in the saddle like a bag of potatoes. I'd love to do lots more, but even if I could find a place that would accept me as a 265 pound rider, I couldn't get to it. I don't have a car and the nearest place to ride at all is like 45 minutes away by car. Not that I would go there anyway. The last time I went with my girl scout troop, I was like five pounds over their limit and the woman at the place was really super bitchy about it and made me cry.

Harpy said...

The conformation of the horse can be more important than their height or size. Horses with sturdy wide-set legs will be much better weight-carriers than those with narrow-set legs. Clydesdale crosses (usually with thoroughbreds or the various warmbloods) are becoming more popular here - not quite as spectacularly large as Clydesdales, but retaining the strength and endurance. They're almost like a "maxi-pony"! :)

Irish Draught Horses are also good weight carriers - they were often the horse of choice for larger people who did foxhunting as they're strongly built but nimble. Andalusians and similar types like Friesians, Lusitanos and Lipizzaners are good too.

And the saddle! Australian stock saddles, Western saddles, and hybrid endurance saddles are good for those of us with big arses. :)

JoGeek said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I found a stable with Irish Draughts, but they're young ones still being trained. The woman on the phone was really nice about it, and is checking with some owners she knows with larger horses to see if they want to give lessons.

From the hole inside your head said...

Yes you can ride if you are 300 pounds. Any heavier breed or stout enough quarter horse should do just fine. I encourage you to go ahead with it and find someone with a big enough horse or go buy your own.
Ive been 300pds and ridden fine. Screw what people say.

Michele said...

If you would email me, I have a picture of me riding my mare today that made me cry and should make you feel reinforced in your thoughts.

This is one fat chick that rides everyday.


Blackbird said...

I enjoyed your article. I clock in at 280, and I've been playing polo for 10 years. I have a string of large, fast Quarter Horses, and one very stout Morgan. Being large, you must be a better rider than light people to keep from injuring the horse. Balance and good saddling are key! I've never had one of my horses go lame, get back sore, or have any other problems related to my weight. People can say what they want, but I know what I know about this from experience, stay toned and athletic, and I encourage you to go ride!