#BodyPositivity: An interview with the founder of Riders for Well-Being

Beautiful comes in all shapes and sizes.

Everywhere you look, there is a certain pressure to look a certain way when it comes to riding. You must be a certain weight, certain height, dress a certain way, etc. One organization is aiming to change that. Riders for Well-Being was founded on the principle that “[n]o rider should ever feel limited by the way he or she looks. Instead, they should feel strong, fit, and healthy for all equestrian pursuits.”

Kate & her two horses. Photo Credit to RidersForWellBeing.com.

The founder, Kate Kosnoff, was born and raised in Indiana. She has been riding since she was 12 and owns two horses that she competes on the A/AA Circuit. She is also a sophomore at Denison University where she studies English Literature and extremely passionate about conveying the body positive message to equestrians of all shapes and sizes.

Kate was inspired to launch R4WB in March 2015 because she was “sick and tired” of watching younger equestrians from suffering from physical and mental issues because they felt they had to fit into a certain mold; ie. look and act a certain way to place well in the show ring.

“Unfortunately, our message is something that many equestrians relate to.  Many people feel a sense of solidarity when they read the blog,” Kate said.

Her blog focuses on issues that face riders today when it comes to body image and promotes body positivity as do her social media accounts. You will never find R4WB subscribing to the idea of the “Big Eq” diet or the notion that one must be thin, tall, and underweight in order to pin in a hunter or equitation class at a rated or even unrated show.

Since its beginning, R4WB has received a warm welcome from the equestrian community.

“Countless equestrians have reached out to me, sharing their stories about body image and eating disorders,” Kate said. “I have received so much support, which gives me mixed feelings; it makes me so sad that so many women have suffered from low self-esteem and skewed body image as equestrians.”

However, despite the positivity, there is also negativity. While Kate wouldn’t say she has received direct hate, she has received some comments from those who don’t understand R4WB’s “reasoning.”

“One person said that they thought I was promoting obesity, which is certainly not true!” She said. “Riding is a sport, and it requires mental and physical strength, stamina, and grace.  I am trying to create a more inclusive equestrian community that is accepting of all body types.  Someone isn’t any less of a rider because he or she weighs more or less than you [do].”

Kate has never experience bullying herself, but she has felt self-conscious, especially during her junior years.

“I remember lining up for the children’s hunter flat and looking around and feeling so embarrassed about how my show coat bunched around my midsection,” she said. “I’ve never been ‘petite,’ so Riders For Well-Being was certainly inspired by my own experiences on the [C]ircuit.”

Riding certainly puts a ton of pressure on its participants, especially to be perfect.

“We are constantly bombarded with images of riders at the highest level of this sport – Olympic medalists, equitation finalists, and derby winners,” Kate said. “We see certain body types, clothing, and mentalities from these people, and we think that if we look like that or wear that show coat, we will have a better chance of winning a blue ribbon.  We are always trying to find the perfect distance to an oxer or canter the perfect twenty meter circle.”

Kate said she thinks perfectionism runs “rampant” in the sport, and it is learned from a young age.

Despite Kate’s message and her reach to many equestrians, there is still bullying of those deemed “too heavy” to ride.

“Scientists usually say that a horse can comfortably carry up to 20 percent of its body weight,” Kate said. “However, some people are still critical of heavier riders, and I believe that if the horse appears to be healthy and happy, it doesn’t matter.”

Kate wants those who are bullied to know that the bullies are usually insecure with themselves.

Image Courtesy of RidersForWellBeing.com

“Beautiful comes in all shapes and sizes, and riding ability isn’t determined by the way you look,” she said.

When asked how R4WB has helped with body image and becoming body positive, Kate felt that the organization has “empowered riders to recognize their full potential, despite their outer appearance.”

She added, “I know how difficult it can be to ignore bullies, but by encouraging riders to love themselves first, we are changing the mindset of the equestrian community.”

Speaking of the “Big Eq Diet,” Kate voiced her opinion on this as well: “It’s ridiculous.  I wish that term would just disappear from our vocabulary!  Eat a healthy, balanced diet, drink lots of water, and treat yourself everyone once in a while.  That’s what we should be talking about instead!”

While Kate does write her own material, she also has a team of “Positivity” or “True Beauty” ambassadors who also write blog posts for her. Additionally, riders will contact the blog asking to share their own stories. You can check out the content here.

Kate hopes that “the equestrian community [can] become less judgmental and more educated about body image and mental health issues.”

“We cannot ignore anorexia and bulimia or anxiety,” she said. “We have to become more comfortable with discussing these topics to create future generations of empowered, strong riders.”

Kate also emphasized that R4WB is also geared towards men who may also suffer from issues stemming from their body image and striving to be perfect, though they are less likely to express or show it.

R4WB Dover Saddlery AP Pad.

Kate has recently mentioned the possibility of getting more into merchandise and less into blogging, but for now, those plans remain a secret until she graduates in two years. For now, R4WB will continue to focus on blogging and sell the already available merchandise, including embroidered baby pads and Shop Hunt Club tack charms – two of which are available through our giveaway made possible by Kate and her organization.

Shop Hunt Club brand R4WB tack charm.

 

 

If you are interested in learning more about the organization, you can visit it here. R4WB is currently accepting ambassadors until July 31st. To apply, go here.

We are doing a giveaway starting midnight, July 31, so be sure to enter for a chance to win a saddle pad and a tack charm. Full details can be found here.

 

Q&A: How do I tell my trainer I’m switching barns?

I get this question a lot, so I decided to do a post on it. This is a tough situation to be in, especially if you’ve had a working relationship with your trainer for a while; if you’re good friends with your trainer; or if you simply just feel awkward about leaving and have no “good” reasons to leave (ie. your horse isn’t in danger). Note: This also applies to telling barn managers or barn owners; basically, the person to whom you have to give notice when you are leaving.

I’ve moved barns many times for many reasons, and I’ve compiled some tips over the years that have become helpful when it comes time to move on to a new facility. Hopefully these will help you if you ever are in a situation where you’re thinking of moving barns!

Do write down why you’re leaving. Sometimes the easiest thing you can do is gather your thoughts. Get clear on why you want to leave your barn. This will help you vocalize your thoughts when you have the inevitable sit-down with your barn manager, trainer, or barn owners. Additionally, you will be able to see your reasons on paper and know if they are legitimate reasons for leaving or if they are something that can be fixed with a simple chat with your trainer/barn manager/barn owners.

Don’t feel guilty. I have often talked to riders who felt guilty about leaving, especially if they had a great relationship with their trainer or if their trainer had done a lot for them. That’s okay! We’re only human. However, if you want to move up a division or want to try a new discipline and your trainer just does not offer that skill or have that capability, you should not feel guilty about going somewhere that can help you get to where you want to go. Horseback riding is incredibly expensive, and you should not be shelling out thousands of dollars every month to do something you don’t want to do.

Do be professional. When you do sit down with whomever you have to give notice to, don’t play the blame game. Don’t tell them why it’s their fault you’re leaving or everything they did wrong. Be grateful for what they did for you. Thank them for their time and services. Explain to them that you feel it is just time to move on. If at any point the situation escalates (this can and does happen) simple remove yourself from it. Do not engage in any drama or BS. You are here to express your wishes for your horse and your riding. You don’t want to get into an argument about why you are leaving facilities. If you want to leave, you have every right to do so (barring whether you owe money – that’s a whole different story).

Don’t be defensive. If you go into the “talk” with a defensive attitude, it’s going to rub off on your barn managers/barn owners/trainer. Be positive and uplifting. Don’t expect everything to automatically go poorly. Your trainer, barn manager, or barn owner could take things very well (in fact, I recently helped someone who had this exact thing happen to them). Going into the “talk” with an attitude and expecting bad results is only going to produce bad results – a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

Do know you are making the right decision. If you are confident in your decision, then nothing should hold you back. Do take the time to sit down and think about whether you want to switch facilities. If you do, then do it and don’t look back. Do your research about your new barn and your new trainer. If you do your homework, you will be sure to end up in a better place than you were before. This isn’t to say that your old facility was a piece of you-know-what; it just means that you will be on your way to improving your riding and love of the sport, which is what you wanted in the first place, right? Have the confidence to know that by switching facilities, you are doing the right thing for yourself, your horse, and your riding career. Don’t let your trainer, barn managers, or barn owners take that away from you, make you feel guilty, or make you feel like you are making a bad decision just because they don’t want to lose you as a client.

Don’t give last minute notice. Many, if not all, boarding contracts have a notice requirement – and that requirement is usually 30 days. Nothing is more annoying than giving less than 30 days notice that you are moving. Don’t be that boarder that tells your barn manager, barn owner, or trainer that you will be moving barns less than 30 days before you move. If you do have to do this, it is customary to pay for the upcoming month in full since you broke the notice requirement. Give as much notice as practicable. This will not only make you look more professional but also save you from burning a bridge that you may need in the future.

#MindYourMelon: International Helmet Awareness Day 2015

I’ve already written about the importance of wearing a helmet while you ride (and no #ROOTD is complete without one), but in honor of International Helmet Awareness Day coming up this Saturday, August 1st, I wanted to link to the Riders4Helmets press release about the day. Various helmet manufacturers will be offering discounts on helmets, and if you’re in need of a new one, now is the perfect time to invest. There is no price you can put on your health and well-being while riding. Even the most bombproof horse can spook and send you flying, giving you a potentially fatal traumatic brain injury.

It is recommended to replace a helmet every 5 years or after a severe fall.

Some other helmet tips include:

  • Fit it properly. If your helmet is too loose or too tight, it will not do its job if you take a tumble and hit your head – god forbid.
  • Wear a helmet when working around an unpredictable horse. Even the most experience horse professional can get injured.
  • It is easy to get complacent. Just the other day I was taking my horse’s boots off and not wearing my helmet. He spooked while I was right near his front legs, reared up, and jumped back. Thankfully, he did everything he could to avoid stepping on me, but it could’ve been much worse. Try to always wear your helmet if you’re in a compromising position. You may feel stupid, but it’s better than being on life support, brain dead, unable to ride for the rest of your life, or dead altogether.

For more information on helmet awareness, visit the Riders4Helmets website.

Mind Your Melon tee from Shop Hunt Club. Photo Credit to ShopHuntClub.com.

Mind Your Melon tee from Shop Hunt Club. Photo Credit to ShopHuntClub.com.

Also, Shop Hunt Club has the cutest Mind Your Melon tee, reminding us all to wear a helmet and protect our noggin. Get it here. I own one and will be wearing it Saturday.

Horse Radio Network: Free podcasts for the horse lover in you

Written by Nicole Lootsma.

Summer means horse shows, tan lines, bonfires, and road trips!

I am very lucky to live in a town right along Lake Huron’s beautiful shorelines where I can enjoy the beach all summer, but I still find myself spending a lot of time in my car whether it be travelling to work, the barn, the cottage, or horse shows. My car came with a free trial of SiriusXM radio when I bought it which I’ve ended up keeping due to all my travel time, but I quickly realized that they have a tendency to pick the top 10 hits of the week and play the same songs over, and over, and over…

As much as I love to roll down the windows and shamelessly sing along to the Backstreet Boys as I drive along, sometimes I find myself craving more of a “conversation,” especially when I’m driving long distances alone. That’s when I discovered talk radio and podcasts – most notably, podcasts by the Horse Radio Network. The Horse Radio Network is “home to the most entertaining equine radio shows (podcasts) on the Internet. If it is horse news, interviews, and a whole lot of fun you are after, you’re in the right place.” Best of all – these podcats are free!

Image Courtesy of HorseRadioNetwork.com

HRN caters to all equestrians and has a show for nearly every discipline; Horses in the Morning, The Eventing Radio Show, Stable Scoop, The Dressage Radio Show, Horse Tip Daily, Jumping Radio Show, Western Radio Show, and even the Driving Radio Show!

My favourite show on the HRN is The Dressage Radio Show, hosted by top riders Reese Koffler Stanfield and Philip Parkes. Philip is an accomplished dressage trainer in nearby Fergus, Ontario, and I have had the privilege of training with him on several occasions over the past years which makes listening to the show even more relatable and enjoyable.

Each week, the hosts chat about the latest in dressage news and share training tips, have guest interviews, and even give advice to listeners. Each podcast is about an hour long and can be easily streamed or downloaded to your phone or mobile device using their handy App (this link is for iOS compatible devices; see below for other ways to listen) which makes it perfect for listening on the go.

My favourite segment of the show is when Reese and Phil are joined by Hilary Moore Hebert who is the Senior Editor of Dressage Today Magazine. Thanks to this wonderful world of technology – I’m able to subscribe to Dressage Today Magazine on my iPad and listening to Hilary’s segment each month truly helps to bring the articles to life and gives some really great and practical context to practicing some of these great exercises in the saddle. I have learned a lot of really helpful exercises from listening to the show which I’ve been able to add to my regular schooling sessions. The Dressage Radio Show has been an invaluable resource, and I love that I am able to spend what would normally be idle time in the car learning more about my favourite sport.

Whether you’re looking to learn some new training tips, hear about the latest in tack trends or equestrian gadgets, or just to enjoy a laugh or two, I would highly encourage you visit the HRN website or download the free iOS or Android App, and check out the variety of entertaining podcasts offered by this wonderful network – you won’t be disappointed!

For other ways to listen to HRN, please click here. You can also follow them on Twitter!

Lesson Recap: July 25 – 26, 2015

I decided to start doing lesson recaps as a way of keeping track of my progress & also because many of my Twitter followers expressed an interest. I will try to incorporate pictures and videos to the best of my ability to supplement my words regarding my lessons. Because my schedule is so limited, I am usually only able to ride on Saturdays and Sundays. If I am lucky, I also get to ride one day during the week – though that is very rare. Also, for this particular post, a special thank you to my boyfriend who videoed almost my entire lesson for me and also for some of the funny commentary that can be heard throughout. He and my trainer know each other from college coincidentally, so they are old friends and get joy out of making fun of me.

Here is my very first lesson recap:

Saturday, July 25, 2015: This was a flat day where we worked on straightness, transitions, no stirrups, and one-handed riding. My trainer is really emphasizing my posture, which has gotten tons better since I have begun riding with her. I have a tendency to hunch over and scrunch up especially during upwards and downwards transitions. First we just did simple riding on the flat that included walking, trotting, and cantering. We did circles, changes of directions, and lengthening and shortening of strides.

We also did some serpentines and worked on straightness on the straightaways as well as getting good corners. Monte is green, so he is not always the best at being straight, and he needs a lot of help from the rider’s leg (ie. pulling on the reins does NOT help here – not that it ever should, but you get what I mean).

Then we moved onto canter work. Right now I am really focusing on not scrunching up during the upward and downward transitions. I’m also working on staying centered in the saddle as I have a tendency to lean, especially on circles. When going around, my trainer tells me to put more weight into my outside heel (whichever one that happens to be) so that I stay centered in the saddle. I’m also working on not having what my trainer refers to as an “electric ass.” I tend to light my horses up with my seat which causes them to get excited and rushy (the exact opposite of what I want, especially in the hunter and equitation classes I will be/am doing at shows).

Another thing I am proud of about my position at the canter is that I don’t have terrible rocking horse arms. If you look at old videos of me, which are available on my Instagram, my arms were terrible at the canter and moved entirely too much. Though they still move a bit too much for my liking, I have gotten a lot quieter, and I keep improving with that.

Like I said, we are doing a lot of work on my posture. My trainer really emphasizes having “presence” in the show ring, especially during the hack classes. As a result, she makes me ride with one hand in both directions during one of my lessons. I make a fist and press it against the small of my back. This forces me to open my chest, sit tall, and keep my shoulders back. I am training my body and posture to be proper. I only do this for a short period at the trot and canter, but it has made a world of difference so far with my posture. Additionally, it really teaches me to ride with my legs which is something we all need to learn to do. I know we all had that panic when we were asked to ride one-handed and to make a circle. And then, we realized it was actually possible! My trainer often asks me to circle while I am riding one-handed, and I am able to do it, even though sometimes I wonder if I will be able to do so. It really shows me that I am riding from my legs, not my hands, which is extremely important and a valuable aid to have.

Finally, we always do no stirrup work to help improve my seat and my leg position. It’s painful. It sucks. I feel the burn. But it’s absolutely necessary, and to be honest, even though I act like I hate it, I secretly love it. I know that I am doing a great service to my riding, and I need to actively make more of an effort to ride without stirrups so I can continue to strengthen my legs, seat, and core. I’m also working on learning to sit trot without my stirrups. This helps me use my core by flexing my abs and being “loose” in the tack. This doesn’t mean flopping all over. Rather, it means allowing myself to go “with” the motion. I don’t need to put a huge effort into sitting the trot. I can just allow it to happen. In this video, you can hear my trainer talking about having presence in the show ring.

Sunday, July 26, 2015: I had a great lesson on Saturday, but Sunday is the day I am most proud of. Unfortunately, my boyfriend had a soccer game at the same time as my lesson, so he could not come video, but we did some jumping work. After warming up on the flat doing the same exercises, circles, serpentines, lengthening and shortening, we began with some no stirrup work at the canter. It helped me lengthen my leg, stay centered in the saddle, and remain “loose” and “fluid” in the tack. Monte was a rockstar for this, and it was our first time cantering together while I had no stirrups.

Finally, we got to jumping. Now just for reader information, I am not jumping very high because I am just getting back to it (who am I kidding? The most I was jumping before Luther’s multiple injuries was 2’6″ occasionally). We are mostly doing work over small cavaletti – maybe about 2′ – but I don’t care – as long as I am making progress and learning. Plus, it is not about jump height no matter how much people make it out to be. I would rather see someone do a 2′ or 2’6″ course perfectly than screw up a 3’6″ course or look like they really don’t belong in the 3’6″ ring. Plus, the lower the jump, the more room for mistakes.

We started with just one cavaletti. Since I tend to get nervous and rushy in my head, my trainer reminds me to count the striding as I approach the jump. The great thing about Monte is that he stays completely steady to the jump. He will take off from any distance and is a completely honest horse for only being 6. After I took the first jump, we added a second element, which I got perfect right off the bat. Finally, we added a third element – a rollback. This one was a bit more difficult for me, and I had a few screw-ups the first couple of times. The first time, I turned a bit too early, so I wasn’t straight to the jump. I also leaned up Monte’s neck when we took off, so we got a bad chippy distance because my leaning prevented him from being able to take off properly. The second time, I did the same thing, except less bad. Because I improved at the third element, my trainer added a fourth cavaletti, which I also screwed up the first time. Now mind you, this was my first time jumping a mini-course in a year, so I was a bit rusty. However, we took the mini-course again. This time, the first and second elements were perfect, as was the fourth element, but I still needed to work on that rollback turn. My trainer asked me to do the second element to the rollback by itself. That time, I committed to a distance to the rollback element, and even though it was extremely gappy, Monte took it, and my trainer was happy that I made a decision, stuck with it, and didn’t lean on his neck during the take-off.

Overall, I was very proud of myself for putting a mini-course together; doing it without anxiety; and getting most of my distances. I am starting to develop an eye, and even better, I am starting to get more comfortable with asking for what I am seeing, and Monte is happy to oblige. The great thing about him is that even if I make a mistake, he doesn’t hold it against me. He will go back around to the jump again and act as if it’s completely brand new and something we haven’t done before which is fantastic for me. I can’t believe I own a 6 year old horse that is such a good jumping teacher.

I’m not going to lie. When the jumping part of the lesson comes up, I still get a little bit nervous, but I am starting to get more comfortable with the idea. I think this is because I am becoming more confident in my jumping skills as well as my eye for distances. Plus, counting strides down to a jump really helps. It takes my mind off of the jump and puts it on something else – having a good, rhythmic canter – something that is essential for a good jump. My trainer always says if you have a good canter and get your horse to the middle of the jump, you will always jump well.

I am hoping to be able to do some small jumping divisions at horse shows by the end of the summer or early fall with Monte. I think we are making great progress, and I promise to get a jumping video of us very soon!