May 15, 2012

Small Equestrians

A while back, the equine career center coordinator at my college sent me an email, introducing me to a freshman at my alma mater (I've only been out two years, they still remember me!) who is in the equine major at the college, not totally sure where she's going with it, and short.  Specifically, the coordinator wanted me to talk about the challenges and benefits of being a small equestrian, and how I've used that in my equine life.  I am not quite 5'1 and 105-ish lbs.

All sorts of disclaimers need to accompany the posting of this 2009 picture, including "Kids, don't try this at home," "School horses are saints," "It's amazing I've survived this long," "What an ugly helmet!" and "There's a reason this wasn't on Facebook while I was still in college."  Amazing that they asked me to mentor someone!
It wasn't an easy email to write.  While I do have to take being small into consideration, I never use it as an excuse in my riding or in the gym.  Size makes some things harder and some things easier, but is no excuse, as Margie Engle proves every time she's in the ring! Regardless of how I look at it, though, there are definite upsides and downsides, and I thought they'd make good discussion here.  What follows is nowhere close to what I sent her, but I'm happy to report that we did have a good long discussion that left her with options she'd never considered before.

- Ponies 4 life, yo!  If I wasn't in love with my career as an IT professional, I would be riding ponies on the East coast.  (Somewhat) skilled adult riders that are child-sized are a rare thing, I've been told.
- Thoroughbred racing  Been there, done that, sucked at it, but I'm small enough to do it.
- Young stock  Some people wouldn't see this as a benefit, but I do.  I weigh so little that people will ask me to hop on their young stock, which I really enjoy.  This was my favorite part of working in the Thoroughbred racing industry.
- Shopping  Being on the borderline between a child size and an adult size means I can fit in both and occasionally score excellent deals, or choose the child size because it's substantially cheaper.

- I do not have the leg length to ride really big horses effectively.  Which leads me to my next point...
Scale drawing of me on a big round horse.  Really, guys, I would never lie to you.  My legs look just like that...
- I don't get pinned often in hunters.  My size does not lend itself to the "picture" hunter judges typically look for, or, if it does, it's on a smaller horse that generally wouldn't be pinned well either.  Having switched to the mostly subjective sport of eventing, this doesn't bother me anymore, but it was frustrating in college.
- Saddle shopping is a nightmare.  My saddle has a 16" seat.  Those are not easy to find, especially used.  And on a somewhat related note, thanks to IHSA, I have become a professional at making a ride look good while I'm swimming in a saddle with a massive seat.
- While I'm on the subject of IHSA, stirrup leathers, especially older ones, often have to be rolled.  Usually once, sometimes twice, once in an IHSA show, I had to roll them three times, which left me with this big knot of leather against my ankle for the class.  (Short people prejudice back in the day?  Men's leathers?  Who knows.  Newer ones are usually punched higher.)
- BLANKETING.  I swear it's the #1 reason I own a pony.  I can't tell you how many times I've said a silent prayer before throwing a blanket over a big guy's back, hoping that A) the horse doesn't freak out, B) I don't get covered in dried mud dust or C) I actually got it somewhat aligned well.

Do you have any size-related considerations, or do you know someone at the barn who does?  My husband will tell you that his 6'4 height presents just as many problems in the horse world, if not more!


  1. Jen, at just about 5'2, I completely agree. I did not let my size hold me back either.
    I love riding ponies and went into eventing early. Since I am not petite I did not have the saddle issues, but stirrups were an issue. Just wait until you get a dressage saddle. I used a set of jockey leathers on my jump saddle for years.
    Most people who do not know me or my mom, who is shorter than I, do not think we could possibly be good riders due to how we look. I enjoy proving them wrong.
    Good post.

  2. good post - another shorty here. I'm just under 5'1" as well. A little more stocky *ahem* than your 105lbs though. ;-) I've never considered a career in horses, so that isn't an issue for me, but I can see how it would be tough if you wanted to show alot and the horses were bigger. Your drawing of your legs on a larger horse is 100% accurate!

    I too own a pony now (a large) and love it. Saddle size and stirrup length would be my biggest beef. Alot of western saddles don't allow me to adjust the fenders to be short enough. I have a semi-custom saddle with kids length fenders! Dressage saddles are a bit of a joke for me - my ankle just clears the bottom of the flap!

  3. Ditto on the western and dressage saddles! And almost always needing a mounting block for my two ("pony" welsh d is 15.2, TB mare is 15.3, so not big by normal standards). I hear you on the leg thing, your diagram is almost me on the cob mare. Funny story, I started the tb mare and have owned her for 5 years now...I have her tentatively for sale and the first time the trainer at the sale barn got on, poor horse refused to move until she could look around and see just what those things poking her so low on her barrel were. Apparently she' is not used to grown up sized legs.

  4. Another perk to being short/slight: you get get crazy good deals on breeches when they go on sale. NO ONE is that size.

    Except you. Win!

  5. Nicole and Laura, I did not even stop to think about how a Dressage saddle is going to fit me. 16" with a short flap, coming right up! I have ridden in them before, but never in any that was supposed to fit me properly. I like the kids length fender ideas on the western saddle! I remember from ponying the racehorses, I'd always just give up and settle for having the stirrups on the western saddle where I could juuuust touch them with my toes.

  6. Happy Pony, that is hilarious about the TB mare! The opposite happened when I rode the third level mare I reference in my last post, her owner is very tall, 5'10-5'11-ish, and I never could get that mare to do anything because she was used to getting her cues in places I couldn't reach! It's not something I've run into often, but when I do, it's maddening.

  7. Aimee, can I hire you and give you a commission to keep your eyes out for deals on breeches? You have the most amazing talent for finding good deals on good tack and clothing!