Saturday, August 27, 2011

Have you seen the size of cowboys....

When I was first asked to go riding, my greatest fear wasn't falling, it was hurting the horse. That my weight would be too much for them. That I would step in the saddle and would be so heavy it would pull it off the horse's back was all I thought about.

And I will be honest, I still hesitate everytime I go to mount about the saddle moving because of my weight, but I have come to see it as worrying whether I have the girth tight enough for my weight, not for whether I am too heavy for the saddle or the horse.

Part of the reason, probably the only reason,  I am still riding today, and am so passionate about it, was that on that first day, my riding instructor, Etta, didnt see my weight. She matter of factly looked at me and said "Have you seen the size of cowboys" and in her mind that was that. 

I was a rider, not a number on a scale! I wish the rest of the world saw it so clearly!

I have learned two things about weight and riding in the last 12 there is a lot of fat prejudice in the riding community and two there IS a horse out there for everyone to ride, regardless of your size, shape, physical issues. Riding is a totally accessible sport, no matter who you are, and the only ones that find the limits are the humans!

As a friend told me recently, horses dont care how pretty you are or how you look! But we tend to forget that and make judgements for the horses.

It would be easy for me to slip into thinking it is only prejudice against me, and truth I have gone there in the last few weeks. But then I am hit over the head with how it is everywhere. One of the most upsetting experiences I have had recently was sitting at a horse show and hearing another spectator say to the person with them, "God I feel sorry for that horse" as a plus size rider rode by. For the record the horse was MORE than large enough and the woman wasn't any bigger than me, yet these two people felt the need in a public forum to put down someone, who they didn't even know, who had the guts to go show and to follow their passion for no reason other than how it looked.

The ironic part to all this "fat talk" around riding, is that for me, the only time I don't think about my weight is when I am in the saddle. On the back of a horse I am just like everyone else, my body doesnt limit me in any way. It is also the one time the "noise" of my eating disorder isnt running through my head. And after I ride I have a much better relationship with food than I do when I have gone a while without riding. More than once while I was leasing Cheyenne when I was in place where eating was impossible I would pack my lunch and go sit and eat with her. Her lack of judgement of me allowed me to get past all that noise and stupidity I wrestle with around humans. And since ending my lease on her my food has been a mess again. I miss that safe place, but am working on finding another horse to have that soft landing spot with.

I have purposely up to now not blogged about the end of my lease on Cheyenne, I wasnt ready to go there, it has been a hard loss for me. But I feel today like I need to come clean, because my weight was part of the story. I said above, there is a horse out there for everyone to ride, but not every horse is for everyone. Often there are physical limitations of the horse that have to be considered. That was the case with Cheyenne. As an older horse she has back and arthritis issues, and very early on her owner started questioning if my riding her was too much for her. I'm not sure if we will ever really know that answer, how much was horse, how much was human. But for me even the question became dangerous, which is why I ended my lease. Not only out of love for Chey, if there was a 1% chance I was hurting her I would never willingly do that, but also because the question turned on the noise in my head. Every time she mis-stepped I started beating myself up. Every time she didnt want to head down a trail I jumped immediately past it being her being herd sour to it being she doesn't want to carry my weight that far. I found on my rides with her I was still in that dark place, and I couldn't do that to myself. As much as I loved her and still miss her, riding has to stay a positive for me. And watching her owner check her back the second I stepped off, having multiple discussions about how maybe she needed a lighter rider turned on a tape in my head that wasnt sending me in the right direction.

But with all that said, I would be lying if I said walking away has been easy. I have spent the weeks since making the decision in a terrible place with my eating. I have jumped back into ED behaviors I havent fought for 15 years. It hurts knowing that I had to give up something/someone I loved so much merely because I am fat, because I cant seem to lose these last 50 lbs. It has tanked my self esteem big time.

My saving grace has been my riding instructor and the horses at Woodloch. I have been given time with horses far beyond my lessons and just been reminded over and over, that it doesn't matter that one horse wasnt right for me, that there are a million horses out there who are. That I don't need to walk away from my passion because of all this, and also that so much of this is in people's heads not the horse's bodies!

Tomorrow I am going trail riding with a few friends, we will be everything in size and shape from little skinny to big and bearish. The horses will range from tiny to draft. And not one of those horses will care what we look like, how we are dressed, or what the number on the scale says. To them we will all be the same clueless humans who dont get that the grass and the butterflies are their mortal enemies and are going to eat us all alive. And I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beyond Words....

The wait is measured in weeks,
Then days,
Then hours.
I watch the clock,
is it too soon to go?

Every milestone brings me closer,
35, 14, 61.

I know the steps by heart.
Left at the church,
Through the light,
Past the gas station,
Past the 40 flavors of brats.

150, 160, 165,
A calm comes over me.
I see the sign,
left at 170th,
the world starts to slip away.

Wooden panel,
visitors welcome,
the front pastures come into view.
The routines the same.

Turn off the radio,
Shut out the world,
Into the driveway.
I'm where I belong.

Nothing else matters.

The dance begins,
Lead rope, halter, find my partner.
A nuzzle, a kiss, and its all alright.
The smells, the feelings,
It is better than any drug they can make.

We go through our routine,
Brush, pick, saddle, bridle,
Each step I become more anxious
and more relaxed at the same time.

In between,
Running my hand over strong muscles and through beautiful mane.
Sneaking treats and setting tack,
the world doesn't matter.

My last worry,
My last fight,
My internal battle.

Stupid voices run through my head,
Telling me I shouldn't,
Telling me I'm too fat,
Telling me it's a bad idea,
It's always there.

Somedays I fight through the noise on my own,
other days with help and reassure.

In the saddle and the world is gone.

Tall, proud, in control, relaxed.
In an instant I am transformed.
The strength below me flows into me,
I am strong, I am normal,
I am worthy, I belong.

Somedays we ride in circles.
Trying to find a rhythm.
Trying not to confuse each other,
Trying to learn each others cues.

Other days we escape.
Through the woods,
Through the fields,
The world does not exist,
These are the rides I dream of.

We walk,
We trot,
I am running,
I am free.

Too soon time has flown,
We head for the barn.
I dont want it to end.

Your muscles tense,
We're headed home.
You want to run.
To race to rejoin your world.

My muscles tense,
We're headed home.
I want you to crawl.
To slow rejoining mine.

We end our dance,
And we walk back toward reality.
I feel the tension,
The world is back.

Bridle, halter, saddle,
and another treat.

We say our good byes,
You celebrate
And run for your friends.
I stand and mourn.
Knowing that the wait starts again,
Measured in weeks,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I forgot to remember I am "broken".....

I think I say this every time, but tonight truly was the best riding lesson I have had yet. It was my third ride on Cody and thanks to some explanation on his movements from my instructor I really started to enjoy trotting with him, and more importantly felt secure doing it. Switching between horses was more of a change than I expected,  but once she helped me realize what I was perceiving as me being out of balance was actually normal for the difference between him and Snapper  I stopped worrying so much and really enjoyed the ride.

BTW for those not on FB trying to figure out why I switched, I "graduated" off Snapper *sniff sniff* and on to Cody. It was a bittersweet change, I am ecstatic I am making progress but Snapper will always be "my guy" and it is weird being on another horse and watching others ride him. I did sneak him some treats tonight, he'll always have my heart even if my saddle is elsewhere! But I have to admit, Cody is more fun to ride!

It is hard to believe it has only been about 12 weeks now I have been riding, I cant remember life without horses (nor can I imagine ever being that way again) but being the Type A, over achiever, perfectionist I am, I of course questioned my instructor on if I was where I should be. Especially since I have switched reining styles now 3 times between horses (neck to direct and now back to neck) and feel like my hands are a "hot mess" at times. She had some really nice feedback and for once I actually believed someone was being honest with me and not just blowing smoke, but so much more happened in that conversation. For the first time in 15 years I actually forgot I am "broken" (my right side).

As Etta was going over my progress she pointed out that I was ahead of where many adults are who don't have my physical challenges. And as bizarre as this is going to sound (and it was to me when I realized it). For a brief moment I had no clue what she meant by my challenges. I actually had to stop and remind myself about the nerve damage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was in that moment that I realized how much riding has changed me, to my core. As I thought about it during the rest of the lesson, it hit me, I haven't thought about my right side issues and riding in weeks, probably since the lesson early on where we worked on mounting. When I am in the saddle I no longer think about do I squeeze unevenly or am I not kicking as well on one side, or any of that. I truly think of myself as a normal rider, and for me that is BEYOND huge.

And as I pondered that change, it hit me, that while riding was the trigger for this, it hasn't stopped there. I knew I had changed in the gym lately also, wanting to try new things, wanting to see what my body would do (like our tire adventure on Tuesday) but what I hadn't pieced together, was that I no longer consider my right side in the equation!

Don't get me wrong, there are still things about my body I find challenging and balance isn't what I would like it to be, I cant move my feet and legs fast enough (something Snapper and I seem to have in common...LOL), I have an immense fear of falling. But the difference, when I come against those challenges now, I just see them as part of my body, I don't think about one side versus the other, and more than that, I don't think of them as being the result of the nerve damage, and I haven't in a while now.

I wont lie, the weight is taking me longer to not think about. I still have that moment every time I mount the horse, where I make someone check the girth, not because I don't think I have it tight enough, but because in my mind I still weigh too much and fear stepping into the stirrup and pulling the saddle off the horse.  And I still struggle with it in the gym, when my trainer goes to help me with something my first thought is I am going to hurt him if he has to catch me. But I can honestly say once I am on Cody or Snapper, even my weight goes away. I don't think about it, I forget I weigh over 200 lbs or that there are people who think I am too fat to ride.

Once I am in that saddle I am normal, I am just like everyone else and after 15 years of living as the outsider, that is a greater gift than I could have ever asked for!

Today I truly forgot to remember I am "broken" and never thought that moment would come!!!!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's not the's just not the same.....

I love my friends, they try to say the right things when I am hurting. But there is one thing I just can't stay quiet about anymore. Whenever I am hurting over something related to my weight, like I am right now, all the thin people in my world want to tell me they know how I feel because they were teased growing up for being too skinny.

As much as I get that everyone has their pain, that bullying is bullying and hurts no matter why it is happening. It isn't the same being too thin as being too heavy. Skinny people are teased, questioned, sometimes even pitied or accused of being unhealthy, but heavy people are not just teased and ridiculed, we are also judged. By people who have never met us, by people who know nothing about our behaviors, our health issues or our story.

I had originanlly planned this post only to go in my personal blog, but decided to put it here for everyone to see, in support of the other people in my life who I know share the pain I have....I am posting this here for those that do truly get it because they have lived it.

It's not the Same....

I know you care,
I know you want to make my heart stop hurting,
I know you believe our pain is the same,
but it's not the same, it's just not.

While you were questioned, teased, or bullied
for being a skinny child or a thin teen,
your story is very different than mine,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You were told by your parents no one would ever love you because of your weight,
You were never mocked by your father for making the house shake when you tried to exercise,
You were never told by your favorite uncle that when you walked above him in his house it sounded like an elephant,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You never had to skip trying out for a sports team or a play or taking ballet for no other reason than they didn't make the uniforms and costumes in a size you could wear,
You never had to stay home while your friends went to the amusement park because you couldnt fit on the rides,
You never had to stand and watch while your friends played on their big wheels or toy cars because if you sat on them they would break,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never sat on a bench and had it flip over when the person on the other end got up,
You have never had a lawn chair break under you in front of your friends,
You have never had people make fun of how your car tilts to one side when you are in it,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to face the look of someone coming down the aisle on an airplane who realizes you are the "passenger of size" in the seat next to them,
Or watch when they go tell the flight attendant they want to sit somewhere else,
You have never returned a rental car because you cant fit behind the wheel, or fear getting on an airplane because the belt wont fit,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to drive yourself to the hospital with a life threatening illness, because you knew the paramedics couldnt easily carry you down the three flights of stairs,
You have never had a doctor refuse to diagnose what is truly wrong with you because they are too busy blaming it on your weight,
You have never been too big to fit in the MRI machine or a wheelchair,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had someone see you eating desert and comment on how you dont need that, without knowing anything about you,
You have never had some critique the food in your grocery cart despite them having the same in theirs,
You have never had people assume all you do is eat, when you havent eaten in days to try to drop a couple pounds,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to fear learning to ride because you are afraid stepping in the saddle might pull it off the horse,
You have never passed up riding a friend's horse, because you cant sit in their saddle,
And most of all you have never had to say good-bye to a piece of your heart, your best friend, because your weight is too much for her to bear.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Snapper Photos

"A horse is the projection of people's dreams  about themselves; strong, powerful, beautiful and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existance" Pam Brown


This story is published in "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul" and was written by Jennie Ivey.

I read it and cried and cried, because in so many ways this is MY story. Thank you to Etta for being my "Pat" and to Snapper for being my "Buttermilk"

"Ellen was a fat girl.
She didn't start out that way. but by the time she was halfway through elementary school her lack of coordination and competitive spirit had made her the laughing stock of her more athletic peers.

No matter the game, Ellen was alway chosen last. Chosen last in kickball, because she couldn't catch or run. Chosen last in badminton, because she had never once managed to hit the birdie over the net. Chosen last in red rover, a game even a klutz ought to be able to play>

Junior High was worse.
There was a real physical education class instead of mere playground games, and every day Ellen suffered the indignation of not being able to shoot a basketball through a hoop or skip rope without tripping or even perform a respectable side-straddle hop.

And so she turned to food for comfort.
By the time she started high school at age fourteen, five foot five Ellen was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds.

Her family's efforts to help her lose weight did no good. She turned up her nose a the special salads her mother fixed for her. She refused her father's invitations to take brisk walks with him. She ignored her sister's warning that a girl her size would never have a boyfriend.

Ellen would toss her head and roll her eyes at her family. Then she'd grab a bag of potato chips or a box of cookies and flounce on the recliner in the den, where she's spend hours lost in the pages of a book.

More than anything, she loved to read about horses. And that's what finally gave Ellen's father a brilliant idea.

'There's a woman at work who's loookinng for a stable hand' he told Ellen one evening. 'Someone to feed her horses and clean the stalls and things like that. I told her you might be interested in the job.'

'She wouldn't want me', Ellen replied.
'Why not?'
'Because I have never been near a horse'
'I told her that. But I also told her you've been reading about them all your life. She's willing to teach you everything from the ground up. And she's offered to pay minimum wage and let you ride whenever you want'

Ride? Ellen's heart beat faster. Somebody was actually offering to let her ride a real horse?

Don't be silly, the voice inside her whispered. Had Dad not told this woman that his daughter was a clumsy tub of lard who could barely keep her balance on a bicycle?
No way would she be strong or coordinated enough to ride a horse. And pity the poor animal that had to carry her weight on his back.

'I told her we'd drop by her place Saturday morning to see about it' her father said.
So that was that.

Pat Cunningham lived on a small farm not far from town.
Dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, she was waiting for Ellen and her father as they pulled into the gravel driveway.

'So you're the girl who loves horses' she said to Ellen, smiling and holding out her hand. 'C'mon lets me show you around'

She lead Ellen to the barn and gestured toward a wheel-barrow and manure fork. 'Every day, these stalls have to be mucked out and then spread with fresh sawdust. The water and feed buckets get scrubbed and filled, the tack room swept and tidied, the gates and fences checked. Think you're up to it?'

'Um...I guess so' Ellen stammered.
'Good,' Pat replied. 'The school bus comes right by here every afternoon. When you're done with the chores I'll run you home in my truck'
'Where are the horses' Ellen asked shyly.
'Oh yes the horses' Pat said. She gave a long, low whistle and within seconds, two beautiful horses trotted up to the barnyard gate.

Pat pointed to the bay gelding. 'That's Thunder. Don't let his name scare you. He's as gentle as a lamb. And the sweet mare beside him is Buttermilk. Which one do you want to ride first?'

Before Ellen could protest, Pat had the horses hitched to the fence posts.
She showed Ellen how to lift their feet and use a hoof pick to dislodge sticks  and rocks from around their shoes.
She showed her how to use their currycomb and finishing brush and how to remove cockleburrs from their manes.
Finally she showed her how to pu on blanket and saddle, bridle and bit

'I'd like you to ride at least one of them every day you're here,' Pat said 'Both, if you have time. They really need the exercise'

Ellen felt tears welling up in her eyes. How could she tell this kind woman that she was nothing but a fat girl who had no earthly idea how to ride a horse?

'But, I've never...never actually been on a horse. All I've ever done is read about them.'
'Then it's high time you learned', Pat said. 'Stand there beside buttermilk and put your left foot in the stirrup. Then bounce a couple of times on your right foot and spring into the saddle'

But try as she might, Ellen couldn't stretch her leg high enough to get her foot anywhere near the stirrup.
'Hold on a second' Pat told her. 'Let's try the milk crate'. She fetched it from the barn and helped Ellen climb into onto Buttermilk's broad back.

'There are a couple things to remember. Heels down. Hands on the reins like so. Relax. This is supposed to be fun! Now follow me.'
Pat swung into Thunder's saddle and headed toward the pasture. Buttermilk followed, with Ellen gripping the reins so tightly that her knuckles turned white.
But it didn't take her long before she began to relax. Pat was right. This was fun. In fact, Ellen couldn't remember when she'd ever had such a good time.

Pat showed her how to go from a walk to a trot, and promised that she'd be cantering in just a short time. 'You're a natural' she told Ellen. 'I'm sure lucky to have run across you.'

So Ellen became a stablehand. Every day after school, she cleaned stalls and scrubbed buckets and swept the floor of the tack room. After that she rode. Some days she rode Thunder. Other days she rode Buttermilk. On good days she rode them both.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, Ellen the fat grils slowly evolved into Ellen the equestrian. Her flab became muscle and her clumsiness, grace. She glowed with self-confidence that was obvious to all around her.

It was near the end of the school year when a heavyset girl sat down beside Ellen on the bus one afternoon.
'My name is Stacy. I hear you work with horses' the girl said hesitantly. 'Do you need an assisitant? I've never ridden before, but I read abou horses all the time.'
'Why dont you get off here with me and we'll go talk to my boss' Ellen said, smiling to herself. She was pretty sure what Pat's answer would be.
'We're lucky to have run across you, Stacey. Who do you want to ride first - Thunder or Buttermilk"