A Lifelong Journey


By Heidi Terezakis

I have been heavy my entire life. My first attempt to lose weight was in the 6th grade when my mother enrolled me in Weight Watchers on Tuesday nights. That was the start of a long, hard battle with weight control and overeating.

In the second grade, I started riding lessons, and my passion for horses grew from there – riding at hunter/jumper farms, and doing local shows on school horses. I was always chubby, but it was acceptable for me to ride. Finding show clothes like tall boots and hunt coats was the biggest challenge back then. Sizes and styles were very limited for chubby kids and teenagers.

When I was fourteen, I joined a local Pony Club and got more involved with horses, leasing and attending Pony Club rallies. But I also kept on gaining weight and became well over 200lbs, and by the time I graduated high school, I was around 250lbs.

Thirty plus years ago, it was a lot harder to find “larger” horses, like draft crosses, especially for a larger rider to lease, nevermind own. My parents were not ready to let me own a horse, until the very end of high school. But I was able to part- and full-lease a few good draft crosses. 

There was a lot more negativity surrounding heavier riders back then, and I was criticized often for being a heavy rider. I still persevered and rode the best I could, taking lessons, attending Pony Club events, and showing at small shows.  My instructor at the time was very supportive and treated me like the rest of her students.

When I started college, I found my horse Paris in the “Want Advertiser” on a Tuesday that October. I had been looking to buy a new horse for over a year, and before the internet, finding good horses was a huge challenge – nevermind a draft cross for a plus size rider.

Horse shopping wasn’t very pleasant either. Some sellers didn’t want to sell their horse to a larger rider. I had one trainer ask my trainer how much I weighed before I could come to her farm. The world was not as kind and inclusive to plus size riders as it is now.

I found Paris, a 15.2 hand Belgian Quarter Horse cross, who was extremely green under saddle and could barely get on and off the trailer. She was owned by a plus size rider, so buying her was easy.

After purchasing Paris, I rode her and had her broke to drive in the spring. My weight kept on climbing, and carriage driving was another area that I could be involved in horses and compete.

We competed everywhere; Gladstone, Fairfield, and GMHA, to name a few places. I competed in pleasure driving and combined driving, up to Single Horse Intermediate. By the end of my competition streak with Paris, I weighed 320lbs.

I started to buckle down – sold the horse, joined Jenny Craig, and got involved in distance cycling and hiking. My weight came down, and I started a career in my mid-twenties. I lost around 100lbs on my own, and then a little more, but I was never able to get down past 190lbs or a size 12, no matter how hard I tried. During this time, I had a “tummy tuck” to get rid of excess skin, since I was down 100 lbs. And boy am I glad I did! It was $6,000 out of pocket, and it was painful, but nowadays the costs are much higher. It was uncomfortable when riding after the surgery for about a year.

I maintained my weight around 200lbs, and a size 14/16 for most of my late 20s and early 30s. I began riding again in my late 20s, and bought a really wonderful draft cross that I had for a long time. But I was still longing to have what other women had: to be thin and look good with confidence on a horse. And to have a fabulous riding jacket and tall boot collection, since I had so much trouble fitting into these.

I had read about bariatric surgery options, but didn’t really know how to get started or what it would entail. At this point, I was back up 246lbs, and feeling really frustrated. 

The universe seemed to be nudging me toward a lap-band surgery.  First, a friend called me and said, “Hey, I’ll tell you later about the surgery I just had!” Then, a customer of mine, through work, had Lap Band surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. She sent me to their program in October 2010, and I had my surgery November 22, 2010.

In less than a year, I lost 100lbs, and I have been able to maintain a healthy weight for 13 years since the surgery. At this point, I can maintain my weight around 140lbs, which is a total of 180lbs lost from my heaviest. I am a size 2/4 pants and XS/S tops.

Of course, your whole life changes – some changes are fast and some are more gradual. During my weight loss after Lap Band, I had a draft cross and then eventually I bought several warmbloods over the years. My current horse, Santana, is a 15-year-old Westfalen that is schooled to Prix St. Georges. I have owned him for 3 years, and I am working on earning my scores for my USDF Bronze Medal. Hopefully I will complete my goal this year! We have some upcoming shows this summer to complete my Second and Third Level scores. I have my First Level scores, and qualified for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in Kentucky back in 2020, but did not attend. I have had a lot of quality lessons and coaching from FEI Level judge Susan Buchanan, international coach Niall Quirk, and local Gold Medalist Wendy Rigby.

There have been many ups and downs in my Lap Band weight loss journey over the last 13 years. I still count calories on my “Lose It” app, and I exercise every day; walking, biking, and riding. The band helps me stay in between the lines and get back on track quickly if I go too far with eating high calorie foods around the holidays or on a vacation. The biggest part of keeping my weight off with the Lap Band is my inability to eat carbohydrates like bread, pizza, and pasta. They get stuck in the band, so I just don’t eat these types of foods, which contributed to my weight gain. The Lap Band also doesn’t allow me to eat large portions in one sitting, and it also makes me feel fuller for longer.

There have been some other challenges with my physical fitness and my riding. My horse has an extremely difficult trot to sit, and I have struggled to move up the levels. Being in a diet and exercise routine all the time gets boring, and I have been burnt out with my regular routine. So I buckled down recently, and I started taking reformer and tower Pilates classes 4-6 days a week, with some heated power yoga classes thrown in (sometimes 2 classes a day). I also do Pamela Reif core and ab workout videos before bed. 

The great Carl Hester discussed in his NEDA Fall Symposium this past October, ‘human self carriage’. If you don’t have core strength and you can’t carry yourself, then you can’t ride well. Being committed to a daily core exercise routine has taken me from a First Level rider to a Third Level rider very quickly. I can now sit my horse’s trot by engaging my core. I also use a posture harness during my lessons and schooling rides to help with my overall posture and core engagement. My other favorite tool that I use during my weekly schooling rides is the Unisit System, which helps me engage my core and “plug into my seat” or deepen it. 

Bariatric surgery has been the best long term solution for my lifelong problem. I am a full time veterinary pharmaceutical sales rep for Adequan® Canine (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan), so I travel all the time. There is no way I could keep my weight off long term with all the travel, and having a history of significant weight gain. Lap Band surgery has allowed me to have so many opportunities that I only dreamed of. I even got married to a man with a horse and a barn! We trail ride all over New England, and horse camp together in Maine and New York with our horses!

NOTE: This story represents one individual’s experience. USDF recommends any weight or medical weight loss issues/solutions be discussed and monitored by medical professionals on an individual basis. 

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