Big Jumps, Bigger Stakes: Part One

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Chapter One

There are dozens of types of equestrians. You’ve got your backyardigans, your country cowboys, your self-made professionals, your experienced old-timers, your up-and-comers, your born naturals, your know-it-alls, and the people that have more money than God himself who live at the tippy-top levels of this sport.

My world is full of glitz, glam, and six hundred dollar GPA helmets. I spend my summers traveling across the country to various horse shows, where I pay thousands of dollars to have my two minutes in the ring to hopefully earn a ribbon that costs approximately ninety-nine cents to produce. Where I show, the parking lots are lined with glittering Mercedes sedans and Range Rovers. The moms wear three hundred dollar jeans and five hundred dollar sandals to watch their perfectly outfitted daughters ride their six-figure mounts in a neatly groomed ring of dirt. Small children are handed daddy’s credit card and are given free range. Horses are important from Europe and barn workers and grooms are imported from Mexico.

Not only does this sport come with a hefty price tag, it comes with a high personal price to pay, too. Beautiful young teenagers sacrifice their weekends to jump their horses over obstacles instead of partying with their friends. Small children spend all of their time and energy pining over the older girls and wishing for their talent and fame. Extramarital affairs are common, drugs are done on the regular, and horses are pushed past their limits in a way that PETA probably wouldn’t approve of. This isn’t your normal after-school activity.

This story is about the three months I’ll never forget.

As soon as the temperature dips below 50 degrees, equestrians flock to Florida to hibernate for the winter. West Palm Beach and Wellington are filled with horses from December to March; in fact, there may be more horses than actual people. Porsches and Teslas hum quietly while they wait for horses to cross the street. Children far below the driving age giggle wildly as they race their golf carts, their braids and bow flying behind them. The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is a humming center of activity, day and night, day in and day out. The energy is electric and it’s easy to know why everyone loves it down here.

Samantha and I are watching the older Amateur Owners go, their expensive horses making up for the fact that they still can’t find a distance to anything despite their advanced age. Yet another one crashes her horse into an oxer and screams that her most recent facelift is ruined. Sam snorts without even looking up from her iPhone, her perfectly manicured nails tapping away at the screen without missing a beat.

I have known Sam since we were both six years old, bopping along on our small ponies. She oozes gorgeous in a way that seems effortless and natural. A smattering of freckles covers her perfect ski-slope nose, and her large green eyes seem to pierce your soul. Her auburn hair falls in loose waves down to the middle of her back. Today she wears a large pair of Tom Ford sunglasses with her show clothes and is easily draped over the front seat of the golf cart.

“Let’s grab a bite to eat. Lord knows we won’t miss much here,” Sam says, making fun of the old ladies who struggle to even pick up the canter. She slams the golf cart into reverse, spooking a large dappled-grey gelding, eliciting another chorus of screams. “Oops! So sorry!” Sam says to the glaring group of grandmas as we drive past the in-gate. “She’ll probably have that horse sold by the end of the day,” I murmur.

Once we’ve navigated through the crowd of horses and grooms, Sam floors it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see two young men, about our age, both with flawless olive skin and shiny, dark hair. My eyes widen in shock, and I nudge Sam in the ribs. “SAM!” I whisper through gritted teeth.

“What? You know I’m hungry, and when I’m hungry, I get angry.”             “I know, I know. But I’ve got some bad news. She follows my gaze over to the two hotties who are engrossed in conversation with each other.      “Oh. My. God.” Samantha rarely gets flustered for anyone or anything, but I see the blood creep into her cheeks and her breathing start to quicken. “I can’t believe they’re here.”

“Let’s get out of here before they see us,” I suggest. But it’s too late. I watch as Samantha gulps and pushes her sunglasses onto the top of her head.

We’ve been spotted. Shit.

Guest Post: Shannon of @SouthAfricanEQ

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Hey everyone,

I’m guest writing for Kate as I’m one of her #RidersForWellBeing ambassadors. I thought I’d share a story that happened the other day 🙂

I was at a big equestrian festival (show) here in South Africa and I went to buy a t-shirt that I liked. I asked the lady working at the stand for one and she brought me one… But I asked if she had a bigger size for me.

She went off on a rant about how she hates that small people always try and buy bigger sizes & kept insisting the shirt would look good on me because I’m a small built person. All this time my best friend, Ashlin, was agreeing with her.

After about 7ish minutes of them ranting at me about needing to feel better about my body, I tried on the shirt and eventually bought it (and its a tiny bit tight but it shows off the curves 😉 )

It was actually such a good feeling because I often feel very negative about my body & appearance. It was a nice self-esteem booster & it reminded me about how we all need to love and accept ourselves for who we are. The shirt is much more to me now than just a cool shirt, it’s a reminder that you’re perfect the way you are. It’s a reminder that how we see ourselves is often quite far from the truth.

I hope maybe this story helps a few of you…
Lots of love,
Shannon (@SouthAfricanEQ)

Here’s a picture of Shannon in her new shirt.  Doesn’t she look great?

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Guest Post: Liddy of @GPAsandParlanti

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I am so excited to post our first article written by a R4WB ambassador!  This is the first of many, so stay tuned. Thanks, Liddy!

I’ve been riding for 12 years, and I started showing on the A/AA Circuit on and off three years ago. I’ve always struggled with body image, always so aware of how my thighs weren’t as lean as the other girls, how my tummy maybe wasn’t as tight and trim as the other’s, and how my arms seemed to have a little more meat to them. It got especially bad when I started showing, I was handed books written by my idols so that I could learn more about what I was doing, and I hung onto every single word that came from my trainer’s mouth. At 12 or 13, already incredibly conscious of myself, I was reading tidbits on how judges prefer tinier riders and staring at passages that claimed skipping a meal could help me win that next equitation round. I was hearing things from my trainer like “I can’t wait till you get taller and skinnier” and “I hope you’re watching what you’re eating.” At 13! How damaging!! I was too young to understand what kind of BS this all was, and naturally all I wanted to do was please her. I began starving myself and working myself super hard, because I so badly wanted that blue ribbon, and maybe if I dropped a few pant sizes I could have it. This was extremely damaging for me, and not going to even sugar coat it, it sucked. It took me two years to learn that not only was my body wonderful and strong, that I was so much more than my trainer’s and George Morris’ outdated views. (Also, in their faces, I’m a size 30 and I won my medal last weekend :))))))!)
This is where Kate’s wonderful campaign comes in: a healthy body image is important on and off the horse, and I think it’s grand that she’s decided to make it known to the world. In the past couple of days I’ve learned that I’m not the only one that struggled and is still struggling with body image in this sport! This means that there’s definitely an issue present, and I think it’s our calling to fix it. It’s time to push the fact that every healthy body is the right body, especially in this sport! No more bringing other girls down because their body might be more round that yours, or calling someone out because their body doesn’t hold the same curves as yours. We’re queens, we all slay, and it’s time that we stop bringing each other down and start bringing each other up! That girl in the equitation with a big booty and short legs should get the same attention as the girl with a smaller booty and long, slim legs; may I add, not negative attention, positive attention. All of us are equals here, no matter our pant size, and it’s time that we start realizing that we’re all the right body type. The right body type is not what your trainer (if your trainer comments on your weight, get a new trainer), George Morris, or the judge determines; the right body type is where you feel comfortable and capable of handling your horse, as well as taking care of yourself. That is what is important. So next time you ride, realize your body type is the type. #RidersforWellBeing

Announcement: Riders for Well-Being Campaign

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Here’s the thing about body image: we all struggle with it.  Even if we didn’t have to worry about our own negative thoughts creeping in and making us self-conscious, riders’ bodies are constantly under a magnifying lens.  In fact, a few years ago, my trainer told me I would look better in my show coat if I “pulled a few pounds”.  In this sport, it seems that if you’re not thin, tall, and well-proportioned, you’re an outcast and won’t pin well at shows.  Why do we allow this to happen?  As a sport and as a community of equestrians, we idly stand by and let the vicious cycle of eating disorders, unhealthy diets, and bullying continue.

This stops now.

No longer will we teach young riders that they must look a certain way to compete on the show circuit.  No longer will we criticize the rider who is a little overweight and suggest he or she “lose a few pounds” or “give her poor horse a break”.

Starting today, we will embrace a new way of thinking.  We as equestrians will come together to promote being strong, happy, and healthy.  We will realize that “healthy” comes in all shapes and sizes and looks different on everyone.  We will stop telling each other to starve or eat more salad.  We will realize that for the love of our sport, we need to start making a difference.  I am calling this campaign “Riders for Well-Being”.  My goal for this campaign is to bombard social media with body positivity and encouragement.  I want to see riders banding together and supporting one another instead of tearing each other down.

Stay tuned for further announcements about this campaign, and I hope you will become involved.  Please contact me with any questions or suggestions by commenting on this post, tweeting me (@bay_on_ce), or emailing me at kkosnoff@aol.com.

Spring Has Arrived

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Today marks the first day of Spring, and as a horse owner, that brings me much excitement and much stress.  I’m excited for show season, being able to put away my ponies’ blankets for good, and riding outside.  BUT, the spring season also means muddy paddocks (I don’t know about you, but it seems that my horses are professional rollers), SHEDDING, and flies.  As you may have guessed, the theme of today is grooming.  It’s important to get a jump start on good grooming habits now so that you’ll be a well-oiled machine by the time show season officially starts.  Below is a list of my favorite grooming and bathing products that are must-haves in my spring grooming kit.

1. A shedding blade.  You may scoff or roll your eyes, but no self-respecting rider should be without one.  Using a shedding blade daily from now until early or mid-May will help your horse transition from wooly mammoth to sleek and shiny show pony.  You’ll be thankful when his or her winter coat winds up on the floor, instead of all over your cute ROOTD.

2.  Ecolicious Waterless Wash Deep Cleaning Spray.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, but it works wonders.  When you don’t have time for a full bath, use this waterless “shampoo” to make your equine friend glisten and gleam.  Special bonus: it smells great, too.  I spray this on daily after I curry and brush, then rub in circular motions using a towel.  I ordered this from The Tack Shoppe of Collingwood, one of my favorite online tack stores.

3.  Dawn dish soap.  Yes, I bathe my horse with this stuff.  It gets really soapy and sudsy and leaves my horse’s coat shiny and healthy.  It’ll even bring out dapples if you use it often enough.  In my opinion, it works better than any shampoo that’s actually intended for horses.  It’s cheap, comes in a giant bottle, and will last you forever.  What’s not to love?

4. UltraShield EX Fly Spray.  Although we (hopefully) won’t have to worry about flies for a while, it’s important to have a bottle of fly spray on hand in preparation.  This stuff is the real deal–it has sunscreen, aloe, and repels dozens of types of insects.  You can even use it on your dog!

Colic Surgery: Where Do We Go from Here? Tips and Tricks on How To Rehab Your Equine Friend

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When I landed in the Newark Liberty International Airport after a two week long trip to Europe in August of 2013, I did not expect to turn my phone on to dozens of text messages and missed phone calls.  What happened next involved a lot of crying and sniffling (and being yelled at while going through customs).  I learned that my beloved Marley had been rushed to the Purdue University Large Animal Hospital that day and was currently in the middle of a colic surgery.  Definitely not what any horse owner wants to hear. The next seventeen days included a second colic surgery, an infected incision, and a massive blood clot in my poor boy’s neck.  The next several months included a lot of stress and many conflicting veterinary opinions, with some doctors saying he would never do anything more than trot under saddle.

Here are a few important things I learned during Marley’s rehabilitation process that I feel are worth sharing.  These apply to any major injury or surgery, not just colic.

1.  Be patient with your horse.  Under no circumstances should you ever disregard your vet’s advice by pushing your injured equine to do something he or she isn’t ready for yet.

2.  Understand that the recuperation process is hard on your horse, and react accordingly.  If the injury requires a prolonged period of stall rest, make sure to hand walk and hand graze your pony often.  Imagine being stuck in a box for any amount of time–you would go crazy too!  Investing in good toys or treats can also be beneficial; Jolly Balls and salt licks provide endless hours of entertainment and can help your horse beat the boredom blues.

3.  When it’s finally time for them to go back into work (YAY!), don’t get frustrated when your initial rides aren’t perfect or your horse misbehaves.  Instead, reward him or her for their patience and bravery.  The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed they’ll be, making everything so much easier.

4.  Make sure to monitor the injured area often, even after it has healed.  In Marley’s case, he has a large herniated area on his belly as a result of infection, and I check it every day to make sure it hasn’t changed in diameter.  Always, always, always err on the side of caution!  No horse owner has ever regretted being too careful.

Today, Marley is healthy and happy, and is back competing at the 3′ level on the A circuit.  Bringing him back from pasture pet to show horse has been such a gratifying experience, despite its ups and downs.