The Chronically Underweight Rider

Every single time I tell somebody about my weight, I hear the same words as every other person I tell. “That is the best problem to have. You have nothing to complain about.” I give a cringe and slowly explain. I have nothing to complain about. Not the surgeries that have been postponed so I could try to gain weight. Not the constantly hiding my body under baggy clothing because nobody wants to see my ribs or my spine and the way they stick out. I don’t have anything to complain about when men and women alike constantly stop me in my tracks to yell out “EAT A CHEESEBURGER, SKELETON,” and I have nothing to complain about constantly feeling bad about my body because I don’t have the desired Nicki Minaj like figure.

Above anything else, I have nothing to complain about not having a healthy body. Even though I was born about a month premature, my weight was never a problem until I was 3 or 4 years old. My parents took me to the doctors when they realized that at 4 years old, I had the body of about a 2 year old. The doctor claimed I had a condition called “failure to thrive,” and the best course of action for me was to eat absolutely anything I wanted exactly when I wanted it. This was not easy, as I was an extremely picky eater, so cheese balls and McDonalds were my main diet. It started soon after that I would be in and out of the hospital until I was about 8 years old with the stomach flu virus, breaking my kneecap, and other assorted injuries. By now, I had already started riding.

Despite all my efforts of eating countless meals with beef or peanut butter or taking weight lifting classes or whatever new thing that was going to help me gain weight, I always stayed about 20 pounds less than the healthy weight for my age group. This meant my bones were easier to break. Since I started out my riding career riding equitation and western pleasure Arabians, breaking or spraining bones happened more often than it should have.

I’ve been rolled on, dragged, and just overall bucked off countless times, and not just because I was too weak to pull them to a stop, or because my legs wouldn’t stay underneath me. Arabians are naturally flighty horses, and at 8 years old, I only weighed about 60 lbs.

When I was 10, I moved onto jumping and dressage. At 10 years old, not weighing much more than I did when I was 8, I was jumping show horses over 17 hands tall. By now, I had already showed a year or so in english equitation, so I wasn’t a terrible rider, but I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy either. I wasn’t gaining anymore weight, the horses were getting harder and harder to stop by myself, and it was starting to get harder to hold on. Not just because of the level I was riding at, but because as I seemed to be getting weaker, another problem was arising.

Migraines have been a problem for me since 3rd grade, but by the time I was in the 6th grade, they became chronic and extremely severe. Add that to my weight problem, the idea of giving up on my dream of horses suddenly seemed like the only option. I quit show jumping.

My mother has always been a huge supporter of my dream, and a few months later she took me to a horse training clinic not far from our house. I’d never wanted to ride western but watching the clinician work in that small round pen with a strong quarter horse type gelding, it was all I wanted to do. The clinician referred me to the woman at the barn who gave riding lessons, and the week after that, she stuck me on a 16 hand red quarter horse mare.

Annie was trained in everything from english and western pleasure, to reining and roping. She was soft in the mouth, and I never had to give much of a cue. Because of my previous training in equitation, her owner decided I was the perfect fit. She wanted me to ride Annie more than once a week in lessons and started having me ride her as an example in her lessons with other girls who were my age. Soon other horses entered the riding program and before I knew it, my mentor and trainer was having me ride harder and greener horses than I had ever ridden before. She taught me groundwork and how to earn a horse’s respect from the ground up, which I’d never knew about. Little did I know, it helped in the saddle much more than I could imagine. It was even easier to sit deep in the seat.  I no longer needed strong arms or legs to pull a horse up, all I needed was patience and how to read the horse.

About a year after I found a passion for western riding, the barn owner brought three mustangs to my barn. My trainer pointed out a smaller chestnut pinto filly and told me I was going to train her. I later named the mare Nashville. Last I heard, what once was a wild mustang with a tail full of burrs, who used to rear and charge at 13 year old me, is now a gentle therapy riding horse for children with disabilities. I met Nashville 4 years ago.

Even though I know I’ll never be a world renowned show jumper like I had dreamed when I was little, and even though I struggle with the “best problem to have,” I know that I can make an impact on the horse community. Being chronically underweight led me to the best journey of my life: learning how to work with horses instead of having to rely on my strength to control them. I’m still doing every I can to get healthy, but struggling with my weight no longer has to be a factor while in the arena. With help from an amazing mentor, my greatest weakness became my greatest strength.

– Kacie Farris


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