Hey there Herd! My name is Rae, also known as @easternequestrian on Instagram and YouTube! I live in Upstate NY with my two paints, Bug and Jazz. We do a little bit of everything and love being well rounded individuals, though we’re definitely not your typical horse and rider combos, which is exactly what I wanted to chat with you all about today.
Horses have always been in my blood, regardless of the fact that I didn’t get to start riding until I was eleven, I was that stereotypical “horse-crazy” child. I wore various pink shirts with galloping horses outlined in glitter, I watched The Saddle Club and Horseland faithfully every Saturday, I had (and still possess) a comforter with various horses in a meadow on it, and I had an army of plush horses to top it all off. You can imagine my excitement when my mom told me that she signed me up for horseback riding lessons, it was like a dream come true! But upon starting lessons, I began to see a new side of the horse world: I saw the “horse-crazy kid 2.0”. I saw the kids with shiny new helmets and actual riding pants, kids who could tack their horse up without assistance and could canter around and pop over cross-rails with ease. Then there was me: I rode in Walmart jeans and hiking boots, in an old borrowed helmet from the communal lesson cabinet, I could just handle the posting trot but never got to canter before I quit. After riding for roughly 8 months, I told my mom I didn’t want to ride anymore because I felt like I didn’t belong. I saw what everyone else looked like and what they were doing and felt that just because I wasn’t doing the same things or looked like them that I wasn’t made for the equestrian sport.
One thing that young me failed to realize that I say to myself on the daily now is that everybody has to start somewhere. Some are born into this sport and have the opportunity to begin riding before they can walk, while others may not start until later in life. Some can have the fancy helmets and breeches and tack, while others ride in leggings or jeans and cheap Troxel helmets. I’ve even come to find though, that this image of a “perfect equestrian” is something found heavily across social media. We see all the guys and girls with their rose gold accented helmets, tall boots so shiny they could blind you, fancy-schmancy breeches, and their shirts perfectly tucked in behind a subtly glamorous belt. I don’t want to come across sounding as if I’m saying that there’s anything wrong with these types of equestrians, because there absolutely isn’t! What is wrong is when we compare ourselves to them and look down on our own styles and abilities because of what we see publicized on social media.
After quitting riding in 2012, I made the dive back into the equestrian world four years later at the age of 16. I rode western for a little while before switching back to English a few months later after finding a new lesson barn. I finally got myself an actual pair of breeches and had proper paddock boots complete with half chaps, I documented my riding progress on my YouTube channel and I felt like a “real” equestrian now… until I looked around me and saw what other riders who were my age were doing both in real life and online. I was struggling to sit the canter and was afraid to jump. I felt left behind and once again felt like I wasn’t good enough. Contrary to when I first rode years ago, I wasn’t going to quit this time. I was going to try harder than ever before. But this drive to better myself and be like other riders my age began to cloud over my love for the sport, and I began to tear myself apart more than I had in the past. It was a vicious cycle, and when I ran out of things to nitpick myself on I’d find something new that I could stress over. As someone who fights with severe anxiety and depression on the daily, this became toxic to me.
Then I got my first horse, Bug, and as soon as he came into my life it was like something changed. I stopped stressing and obsessing about something that would come with time, well, not completely stopped but it did decrease. He taught me that while it’s okay and perfectly normal to want to better myself, it’s not healthy to obsessively chase after an unrealistic image of myself. I now know that not fitting in that “perfect equestrian” mold is fine, because it’s not me. In fact, I think it’s way cooler to go against the current and not look exactly like everyone else! I now sometimes prefer to ride in leggings or other non-riding pants over my nice breeches, I use obnoxiously bright colors on my horse that I’m sure would make more old-school, traditional riders cringe, I’m doing all the things that younger me thought didn’t fit in with that “equestrian image”.
Why must we define equestrianism by a certain way of dressing? Or the thought that all riders have to jump (trust me, that’s something I used to hear alllllllll the time)? Why don’t we more often praise those who go their own direction and at their own pace for doing so, instead of pulling them down? Too often I read comments on the Instagram posts and YouTube videos of people sharing their riding journey and see the holier-than-thou internet trainers tearing them apart for doing something that we are all doing: learning. As equestrians, we are all constantly learning and should aim to do so. We all have a common goal don’t we? To be the best we can be for our horses? If someone is trying to learn how to achieve that goal, why must we tear them apart for it?
When I first got Bug, I was nervous riding at the canter, and so I only did walk-trot lessons with him for a while. I would get daily comments on videos on both my Instagram and YouTube of people ridiculing me for “never cantering”, saying how pathetic it was and that because I was only comfortable riding at the walk and trot, albeit only for a couple of months, that I didn’t deserve to have my own horse. That cut deep. Of course one should take what is said on the internet with a grain of salt, but sometimes when such statements are directed at you it’s hard not to take them personally.
I felt like I just couldn’t win at this point; people had something to say when I didn’t canter my horse, they had something to say when I did, and then the harshest comment I got to date came a week after I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I wrote a long post on Instagram about the life changing diagnosis and was open about what I was going through. As someone who values honesty and transparency in others, I wanted to be the same for my followers. This was met with encouragement and positivity, with the exception of one commenter. This particular individual spoke of how I’m lucky to have been diagnosed with T1D instead of something worse like family members of theirs have been, how I shouldn’t speak of my sadness over my new reality, among other things. The comment went on for longer than I could handle, and all I could bear to do was delete it and try to forget what I had read. Once again I had something that was different about me that didn’t fit in that normal, perfect equestrian mold. But unlike the other qualities of myself that only pertained to riding, my diagnosis was something that followed me everywhere. It’s there when I wake up, it’s there when I’m at work, it’s there when I ride, and it’s here right now as I write this article. My T1D is something that will be with me until the day I leave this Earth, or until someone hopefully finds a cure.
These are my stripes, this is all what makes me unique and what makes me break that traditional equestrian mold. Things that used to make me uncomfortable about myself are now the stripes that I wear proudly. The younger version of myself was so wildly desperate to fit into a mold that wasn’t meant to be and I’m glad I never fit into it. It may sound cliché but it’s so much better to be yourself than to be just like everyone else, though it is hard. We all have things that we dislike about ourselves, that’s only human of us. But when we see someone who we deem better than ourselves or think has nicer clothes or fancier tack than us we all need to take a step back and focus more on how far we’ve come as equestrians. Look back at where you were one year ago, you’ve likely come leaps and bounds since then! Think of the last time you were scared to try something new and how amazing it felt when you overcame that fear. If you still can’t think of anything to praise yourself about, just think about what you do: you ride horses! You ride 1,200lb creatures with minds of their own and make them your teammate, no matter what you do! Whether you’re out hitting the trails or chasing cows or cans or jumping ditches or oxers, no matter what, you’re absolutely amazing and a total badass too! Never be afraid to break the equestrian mold and show your stripes proudly.