Can healthy and happy coexist?
What is healthy? It is such a subjective term that is thrown around so loosely with such little understanding that it paradoxically creates ideas that are indeed, not healthy.
We are constantly told that being healthy makes us happy but so many people end up hating themselves for not being someone else’s version of “healthy”. So, is it the chicken or the egg? Are we happy because we are healthy or are we healthy because we are happy?
For many years, I thought being “healthy” would make me “happy”. However, through months of thought and analysis over this whole “healthy” ideology, I have decided to focus on being happy first – before being “healthy.” I do not feel like we can be truly HEALTHY without being HAPPY. I believe that in a world that encourages us to be skinny or fit and nothing in between, we can lose our minds attempting to obtain “perfection” that is achieved through good genes, great lighting, and highly restricted diets coupled with strenuous workout regiments. Additionally, you can achieve your version of aesthetic perfection and still be unhappy.
I simply feel as though one cannot be truly healthy without being truly happy. We need to stop viewing mental health and physical health as two separate entities.
Mental health and physical health do not exist in isolation.
In our sport, especially in the equitation, we are constantly bombarded with the need to be “long and lean.” Lean out, don’t bulk, low weight, high rep, cardio, cardio, cardio. You need to be a size 24. You need to look good on your horse.
This is absurd. I believe being in shape makes us better riders. I do not believe being skinny makes us anything but malnourished. Telling 15-year-old girls they are not skinny enough to be big eq riders is disturbing. We are setting up young girls to hate the bodies they were born with…. for the rest of their lives. We are taking the already prevalent pressures of society and shoving it down their throats with the idea that they cannot be seen as pretty or, in this case, talented if they are not a size 24 in their tan, tailored sportsman breeches.
We are encouraging these girls to turn to ridiculous diets and fostering the development of disorders that affect both their mental and physical health. By encouraging this, we are not making them better riders or healthier athletes. We are making them weak, frail, and obsessive.
So, why are we encouraging ATHLETES to be weak? To be frail? To be god-awfully skinny? Because, like many things in the horse business, we have lost sight of what really matters. Being fit is what matters, being an affective athlete is what matters. Being mentally and physically strong is what matters. We have, as usual, lost sight of truly important matters in pursuit of a silky 3-cent ribbon and bragging rights amongst the equestrian in-crowd.
Instead of encouraging young riders to obtain this unhealthy image of perfection, we should encourage them to be strong. All we want, is to be the best riders we can be. We strive every day, every time we swing up in the saddle, every time we wrap our fingers around our reins, every time we squeeze our horses forward, to be better riders. So, why is the equestrian community not reinforcing that?
Being skinny does not make us better riders. I’ll say it again….being skinny does not make us better riders.
Being fit does. Being happy does. Being fit allows us to maintain better control over our bodies, allowing us to stay out of our horse’s way. It allows us to be more effective – something we all strive to achieve every single day. Being happy makes us mentally strong, which is an underrated aspect of this sport. This sport is as much mental as it is physical, if not more. We climb onto the backs of 1,2oo lb animals every day, so we had better be tough as nails. If we are not mentally strong, if we do not love
doing living this sport, we cannot reach our full potential. Horses feed off our emotions. If we are mentally weak, plagued with negativity, obsessive, and self-loathing, our horses will feed off of this.
The more we obsess over being skinny, the more we lose our motivation to become better riders. We stop appreciating our positive growth because suddenly this sport becomes more about counting calories and less about counting strides.
I have not been your typical “Big Eq” kid. I did the USET, I catch rode, but I never actively pursued finals. I didn’t have the means or the horse to do so. However, I was faced with the same “skinny standards” many young riders are faced with. It has taken me a long time to appreciate the body I have; to achieve the mindset that I feel is strong enough to pursue being truly physically healthy. I had to focus on being happy before I could focus on being healthy. Now, I am happy. I am truly happy with who I am; as a person and as a rider.
So, I have started running again, not to burn the calories but because it genuinely makes me happy, and it makes me a stronger rider. A better athlete.
This issue is far too prevalent, yet like a lot of the controversial issues in the horse world, many of us turn our cheek and look the other way with the ignorant belief that it is okay because “this is just how it always has been.” True, this is how it always has been.
That doesn’t mean it is how it should be.
I think we can do a lot as a community to end this unhealthy need to be skinny. We can encourage riders to be strong competitors, physically and mentally. We can work to eradicate eating disorders in a sport that should empower us rather than degrade us. We can teach young riders the means to be healthy athletes. We can adjust our view of the “ideal” rider. Rather than skinny, we can encourage fitness. In this pursuit of fitness, we can encourage mental fitness along with physical fitness. We must start thinking of these things as connected entities.
Let’s count strides, not calories.