Be Who You Needed


We are celebrating Plus Size Riders as our July Featured Riders of the Month on YourDressage!

Here, a Region 2 rider reflects on finding her people, getting back in the saddle, and how apparel options have changed for plus size riders since she last traveled down centerline. 

By Amelia Miller

I hadn’t ridden in 16 years. I hadn’t taken a dressage lesson in 18 years. Being almost done with graduate school, I needed a hobby to fill the homework void I’d soon be experiencing. So, I answered an ad for a local dressage barn seeking afternoon chore help a few days a week. Chores would be a good way to get back into it, right? I could earn some extra cash for those looming student loans, and it would be less pressure than hopping right back in the saddle; I was not sure if I was ready to ride again. 

Amelia aboard Donovan, a Percheron cross

There were so many different factors it seemed now, compared to my younger years of riding. The barn I grew up in was what I needed then, as a beginning rider: supportive and trusted adults, lesson horses each with something to teach me, and above all, life lessons just as important as those in the arena. 

Could I ever find this environment again? 

When I walked into the new barn for the first time for my interview with the owner, she was wrapping up a lesson. The horse, a Percheron cross mare named Charlotte, reminded me of my middle and high school dressage partner, Donovan. Himself a Percheron cross, more dappled and a bit older than Charlotte, but with the same dreadlock-like tail, large hooves, and steady gait; both unlikely dressage candidates. 

Amelia aboard Donovan, a Percheron cross, prior to her break from the saddle.

After a short interview and a few trial shifts, the barn owner set me off on my own. I could handle all the horses’ antics, and had an intuitive knack for the feeding system. I needed this vote of confidence, despite my years out of the saddle. It proved to me that I still had my horse sense. I was feeding 20 plus horses, two nights a week. She offered a trade; work for lessons and ride time.  

I told myself I wasn’t ready to ride again. My paddock boots might fit, but my helmets were more than a decade past their expiration date, my breeches didn’t fit or were no longer fashionable, my half-chaps certainly didn’t fit. I had traded my dressage saddle for a couch-like Western roping saddle several years ago. Yet, I snuck glances at others’ lessons as I passed through the aisles, heard people absorbing instruction, watched riders tack up, celebrated wins, and talked about upcoming shows. 

I needed to ride again—I had to ride again.

I ordered breeches, shirts, half chaps, and a new helmet. The UPS driver must have wondered what side hustle I was running with his daily deliveries to my porch. I tried eight or ten pairs of breeches, before settling on three I really liked. Thankfully, finding breeches and tops in U.S. sizes 16 and up is a lot easier now than it was a decade ago. With 19-inch circumference calves, half chaps were an entirely different story. I ordered one or two pairs of each brand sold online, hoping the measurements would be slightly more generous than the sizing charts listed. Or maybe the elastic would stretch just enough. Out of more than 10 pairs of half chaps, in at least five different brands, I found one pair that fit comfortably. One. That was it. There were no others available in that circumference. I don’t even want to think about finding tall boots. 

Amelia is all smiles aboard Percheron cross mare Charlotte

Finally ready to accept the offer to trade work for riding, it was the day of my first lesson. I wore a new pair of breeches, navy blue with light purple piping, and a coordinating light purple quarter zip top. I was honestly impressed with the matchy-matchy outfit I was able to assemble. It was something that was never available to girls of my size in my previous riding career. When I walked into the barn, teen sisters were there for their lessons. I’d met the girls within the first few weeks of my chore shifts. Just that weekend, I’d watched them show locally. 

 “Wow, I love your matching outfit. I wish I could have matching riding outfits like that,” said one sister. 

A compliment I never expected to receive as a rider who struggled to even find breeches that would fit, let alone anything trendy or coordinating! 

Those sisters were who I needed that day. They had given me a boost of confidence when I felt self-conscious about my outfit, and was nervous to get back in the saddle. 

Three months after starting my job helping with chores, I now ride Charlotte three days a week. She is the horse I needed to get back in the saddle. I am surprising myself each lesson with how quickly my skills are coming back to me, and spending my non-ride days stretching out my sore muscles to work on the skills that haven’t returned yet. 

Riders of all sizes have many, many more apparel options than when I last took a trip down the centerline, nearly 20 years ago. Show coat material is more breathable. Shirts have caught up with other athletic apparel, so seams chafe less. Fabric is wicking, and sleeveless show shirt options pair well with stock ties under jackets, for a modern twist on our time-honored traditions. There is even university research testing helmet functionality in ways other sports have done for years.

One thing that hasn’t changed in my time out of the saddle: we get the choice (and opportunity) to be the people that we needed every day, in and out of the barn. 

I grew up with a great set of both horse, and human, mentors. Now I’ve found a new barn, in a new town, with amazing humans and horses. 

Find your people. Find your horses. Find the breeches that work for you, and wear the bright colors. 

Maybe one day, boots and half-chaps will catch up with the breeches to fit our wide calves, providing us more options to be matchy-matchy, and to feel trendy.

Someone is looking up to you, even if you may not realize it. 

Be who you needed, every day. 

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