Can you horseback ride if you are fat?
Navigating the world in a fat body can be frustrating and may feel disheartening. There are, unfortunately, some activities and spaces that do not accommodate people in large bodies.
When someone in a big body encounters spaces that do not accommodate their larger body, it’s common to conclude “something must be wrong with my body.” This may lead them to give up pursuing the activity altogether or engage in dieting, which almost always fails and contributes to eating disorders. If they are open to exploring that activity, some fat people find that more activities than they believe are actually open to them. Just ask some of our recent larger clients who recently reengaged in rock climbing, surfing, and bike riding.
One of the most common activities that my larger-bodied clients express frustration about not being able to participate in is horseback riding. In my years of practice, I have had many fat body folx share how they want to horseback ride but can’t because of their weight. So I decided to gather more information in hopes of helping them.
It is a widely accepted rule in the horseback riding community that a rider should not weigh more than 20% of the weight of the horse they are riding. This rule of thumb, while understandably considering the well-being of the horses, has been wielded against people in larger bodies getting access to horseback riding. Is it possible, though, that this longstanding rule might actually not be so black and white??
Horses for Bigger Folx
Before putting a complete stop to an activity such as horseback riding or beginning to gallop down the diet road, remember that, just like people, horses come in all sizes too. There are types of horses called Draft Horses that are larger-bodied horses. Typically their weight ranges from 1200-2000 pounds. The most famous type of Draft Horses is the Clydesdale which we often see galloping around Central Park in New York City. Other types of Draft Horses are Shires, Percherons, Belgians, and Suffolks. When investigating horseback riding barns near you, call and ask about what type of horses they have and their availability.
There may be limitations on where you can ride. Not all barns or riding excursions may carry these horses. Karen Hopper Husher, horseback rider, writer for The Plaid Horse, and advocate for size-inclusive horseback riding, believes barns have a responsibility to make their barns accessible to all. Hopper Husher writes, “The very first step you can take to be size-inclusive in your barn is to know your horses really, really well… Know what they can and cannot do. “
Hopper-Husher goes on to explain, “There are horses that can carry more than 20% and there are horses that need to carry less. There are horses that are fine walk-trot-cantering with heavy riders but not jumping. Some horses will be comfortable with a heavier rider if they had a nice warm-up first with a lighter rider. There are horses who have a hard time carrying large riders in arenas where the footing is barrel-racer deep, but those same horses are comfortable carrying larger riders over sod.”
Equipment for Fat Horseback Riding
It should be the barn’s responsibility to be upfront about what types of horses they have. Not all barns are going to carry Draft Horses, but all owners should really know their horses and their capabilities. Camila Reed, a fat horseback rider and writer for livelifebig.net, shared that once you have the right horse, having the right equipment is also super important. She shares that having a proper saddle that fits you and sitting on the horse where it won’t hurt them. Reed also encourages riders to get riding blocks to help them get onto the horse. Reed shared that when getting on a horse, a person will put one foot in the stirrup, placing–for a brief moment– all of the person’s weight on their own foot and the stirrup. A mounting block can help disperse weight and not put too much pressure on either you or the horse.
Weight Stigma and Access
Weight stigma often precludes what a fat-bodied person can do or have access to. And while yes, it makes sense that a certain size animal might not be able to carry a certain size person, that doesn’t mean that this is a done deal for all larger-bodied folx. To some of our fat-bodied people who have felt that they can’t horseback ride due to their size or need to lose weight for their hobby, I have a new message for you: You may still be able to horseback ride!
We want to acknowledge that there is still privilege in being in a smaller fat body as even these Draft horses can not accommodate all larger folx. If you are too big to ride a draft horse, we want you to know that there is still nothing wrong with your body. We hope you can continue to pursue other activities and will hope to include more ideas for joyful activities for larger-bodied people in future posts.
Size-Inclusive Horseback Riding in Southern California
The size of our bodies shouldn’t be what stops people from riding horses. Knowing the horse and understanding what its capabilities are can open up so many doors for riders of more sizes than you would think possible. If you live in Southern California, Sunshine and Daydreams offers horseback riding for larger bodies (up to about 330 or 350 pounds). Happy Trails!
Eating Disorder Therapy in California
About the Author
Carolyn Comas, LCSW, CEDS-S is the clinical supervisor at Eating Disorder Therapy LA. She is a certified eating disorder specialist and approved supervisor and also the certification chair for the LA iaedp chapter. Carolyn has worked with eating disorder clients at all levels of care and works with people of all ages. She supervises clinicians at EDTLA and around the country. Carolyn was an ice skating coach and a figure skater and in 2022 returned back to the sport as a competitive adult skater. She is passionate about normalizing playing sports at any age with any body type.