The big eq

The big eq DEFAULT

Unlike many of her fellow competitors in the A-circuit hunter and equitation divisions, Santana Wright never felt pressure to be rail thin. That’s why her ire was raised by comments from a well-known U.S. coach at the end of a young riders’ clinic a couple of years ago. The clinician who, according to Wright, “had nothing but great things to say” about her riding, stated in his wrap-up that to reach the top, a rider needs to be in good shape and that can’t happen if they are more than a size six.

“I was the only rider in the clinic who was larger than that,” recalls Wright, 24, originally from Port Hope, ON. “I was angry that I was singled out and I lost respect for the clinician.”

Wright considers herself a true athlete, having played high school rugby, volleyball, and track and field in addition to riding competitively since the age of She also attended South Dakota State University from to on a National Collegiate Athletic Association equestrian scholarship, where she set many records and took home several MVP honours.

“For him to say that you couldn’t be physically fit unless you were small, well, I knew that not to be true. I’ve always been proud of my curvy, athletic physique,” says Wright, who continues to compete and works as a manager for private barn owners.

Unfortunately, situations like this are not unusual.

Long, Lean Winning Machine

A long-held convention in the hunter and equitation divisions is that riders should fit a certain physical mould – tall and thin – to create the best impression before the judges. In Hunter Seat Equitation, first published in , legendary horseman and equitation guru George Morris wrote: “I recommend to about a third of my riders to push away from the dinner table. A fat rider is definitely behind the eight ball! Rarely can someone be too thin for this sport unless he be emaciated and weak, which isn’t often the case.”

This opinion seems to still hold true in some segments of the horse world even 45 years later. Online forums, blogs, and social media platforms are rife with personal stories about struggles to become show-ring thin and the demands meted out by judges, trainers, barn mates, clinicians (reportedly including Morris to this day) and even parents.

A University of South Carolina study published in the Journal of Athletic Enhancement suggests 42 per cent of female collegiate equestrians are at risk for disordered eating (abnormal or harmful eating behaviours used to lose weight or maintain an abnormally low weight). “Overall, participants perceived their body images as significantly larger than their actual physical sizes and wanted to be significantly smaller in both normal clothing and competitive uniforms.” It also suggested public weigh-ins, comments about physique, and subjective judging at competition “magnified the pressures of pursuing sport success.”

Wright says she’s aware that other colleges enforced weigh-ins, but her team focused on fitness, not physical appearance. “We were encouraged to eat healthy and the team worked out intensely three times a week in the athletes’ centre,” she says. “I never felt pressured to lose weight or to be a certain size.

“Although none of my close friends ever had an issue, I do know that there were many young girls on our circuit that really stressed out about their weight,” Wright added. “The judging is subjective and the judges definitely like a certain ‘type’ of rider appearance. This puts a lot of pressure on young girls to make themselves long and lean to be more competitive.”

The Big Eq Diet

Most judges are “very careful” to pick winners based on performance, counters Ontario’s Laura Kelland-May, Equestrian Canada competition coach specialist senior judge and steward. “I don’t ever recall thinking, “Oh, too bad that rider isn’t prettier, she could have gotten a higher placing,’ or ‘My, if she were 20 pounds lighter she could have placed better,’” says Kelland-May, also a United States Equestrian Federation R-level hunter, jumper, and equitation judge. Instead, she wonders if winning is too often the trainers’ focus instead of developing horses, riders’ skills, or coaching. “There’s an ideal picture in the mind of a trainer and that ideal picture includes a rider who is thin.”

Also hugely culpable are mainstream and equestrian media, both traditional and online, which bombard audiences with ubiquitous images of “ideal” body types, creating an unrelenting and often unrealistic goal for media-savvy young equestrians. Lacking Wright’s confidence and self-esteem, some riders become obsessed with thinness and are so desperate to drop pounds, they resort to extreme measures.

One such weight-loss fad is what many young riders almost lovingly called the Big Eq Diet. Derived from Big Eq – a term coined to describe U.S. equitation divisions that culminate in prestigious events like the Maclay Medal – this so-called diet is all about eating very little to nothing to lose weight fast and keep it off for competition. Often used ironically, the hashtag #bigeqdiet is popular on social media, but for many riders it’s an all-too-real practice that can lead to some serious and life-long physical and emotional problems.

P is for Perfection

Holly Heartz is a rider and registered dietician from Fredericton, NB, who has earned an International Olympic Committee sports nutrition diploma and is currently a PhD candidate focusing on equestrian nutrition. She says restrictive dieting such as the Big Eq Diet can – but doesn’t always – lead to clinically-recognized eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating.

“Overcoming an eating disorder is a long, difficult – and a lot of times unsuccessful – process. A lot of these people live with it for the rest of their life,” says Heartz. In fact, according to the Toronto-based National Initiative for Eating Disorders, they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) notes that participants in “endurance, esthetic and weight-dependent sports are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders.” Counted among those sports: gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, and equestrian. Some experts suggest certain personality types that are attracted to activities where standards of appearance, perfection, and control are paramount are also predisposed to eating disorders. Others, however, believe the milieu surrounding the sports themselves breed such problems. It’s reasonable to accept both are true.

Focus on Nutrition and Fitness

Regardless, Hertz wants to see sport-related body weight myths dispelled. “That thinner is better. That every sport has that ideal body weight so you have to fit this mould. And it doesn’t matter how you lose the weight, as long as you lose it. Those are big myths that can really impact performance.”

She also says equestrians, especially youth, must consider what they’re eating and how it affects their riding. A recently released joint position statement by The Dieticians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine reads, “physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition.”

That goes for riders, too, says Heartz, stressing the importance of a balanced diet. “There aren’t many equestrians looking for the service of a dietitian to improve performance. Most of the attention is on the horse’s nutrition. There needs to be more awareness that the nutrition of the human athlete makes a difference as well.”

Likewise, both Wright and Kelland-May stress physical fitness is the route to becoming the best rider you can be, regardless of size. “Riders have to put more effort into their own fitness so they are not a detriment to their horse’s performance,” says Kelland-May. “It’s a sport. Riders and horses need to be treated like athletes, and coaches need to understand that nutrition and fitness is an important part of the rider’s regimen. It’s not just about developing skills and drills to prepare the horse for competition, but rather preparing the horse-rider team for the sport. The competition is the test or proof of the training.”

Asked what advice she would give if one of her young students was overly concerned about weight, Kelland-May says she would instead have the student focus on riding goals and their horse’s skills. “A good performance on a well-trained horse will out-win a thin rider on a bad jumper any day.” Another piece of guidance? “Be confident in yourself, because your horse really doesn’t care how thin you are.”

Big EQ diet Symptoms
Do you suspect a rider you know is at risk of developing an eating disorder? Here are some clues:

• skipping meals

• dieting

• binging

• refusal to eat certain foods

• preoccupation with training, exercise

• obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating

• eating slowly (cutting food into small pieces, rearranging on plate)

• avoiding social situations involving food

• anxiety around meals

• repetitive body checking (e.g weighing)

• distorted body image

• sudden, rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes

• cold sensitivity

• loss of menstrual period

• vomiting and related physical signs: swollen cheeks, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth),

• fainting/dizziness

• fatique

• moodiness and irritability

• feeling out of control

Muscle Matters
Underweight equestrians might not have the physical strength and mental wherewithal to ride effectively and safely, says show jumper Sandra Sokoloski, who co-owns Summit Sport Physiotherapy in Okotoks, AB, and E-Sport Physiotherapy, specializing in rider posture and body awareness. “If you want to be a responsible and effective rider that is able to communicate clearly with your horse and manage any of the unexpected things that horses sometimes do, you need muscle,” she says.

Muscles actively support the body, while muscle tissue provides passive support to the bones, joints and ligaments, Sokoloski explains. “Being underweight implies a lack of muscle bulk. Less muscle means the body is less resilient to mechanical stress.”

It also means there isn’t as much glycogen stored in the muscles. Without this quick energy supply for the body, muscle fatigue happens quickly. The brain needs glucose to function as well. “If blood glucose is low there may be an impaired ability to think on the spot, remember a pattern or course, and make sound judgement calls.”

Sokoloski stresses that responsible athletes aren’t ‘skinny.’ “A fit, lean body is far healthier than a skinny one,” she says. “You are what you eat and if you don’t eat enough to be strong and keep your muscles working, you can’t train or ride your horse enough to expect them to compete. You owe it to your horse to be the best you can be.”

How Coaches Can Help
Coaches can play a significant role in helping young riders develop strong self-esteem and body image. Here are some practical suggestions to guide coaches (and others) in moulding healthy, fit equestrians.

• Don’t mention body size or shape.

• Praise for skills and successes, not appearance or weight loss.

• Involve registered dieticians in training and show planning discussions to provide healthy eating advice. “Most kids don’t listen to their parents, but will listen to experts in food and nutrition,” says registered sports nutritionist Holly Heartz.

• Be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

What to do if an eating disorder is suspected:

• Act quickly. The shorter the time between the disease’s onset and the start of treatment, the better chance for recovery.

• Take the student aside in a private setting. Bulman advises choosing “I” statements versus “you.” For example, “I’ve noticed you’re not eating the same way you used to.” Leave it open to see if they respond.

• Reassure the individual that their position within the barn group or team is guaranteed.

• Don’t nag, bribe, threaten, or manipulate. “These tactics don’t work,” says Bulman. “Most people with eating disorders have tried repeatedly, and failed, to correct the problem on their own. Failure is especially demoralizing to athletes who are constantly oriented toward success.”

• Encourage the student to seek treatment.

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Oct. 4,

BIGEQ+ is a new community for passionate premium-quality hunter/jumper pros, riders and owners -— sellers with great horses to sell, and quality buyers who come back again and again to shop and see the latest horses they love. On BIGEQ+, Sellers can list UNLIMITED horses in a cost-effective way, while More >

Coming Soon: BIGEQ+

Sept. 10,

Hello! I am excited to share the upcoming launch of BIGEQ+, a new community for passionate premium-quality hunter/jumper pros, riders and owners -— sellers with great horses to sell, and quality buyers who come back again and again to shop and see the latest horses they love. This new section More >

Registration Required to Inquire

July 17,

Hi everyone! Just a quick tweak to our service. We now require users to be registered in order to inquire. This helps us to better protect our sellers and allow us to suspend accounts which may on rare occasions misuse the service. To our sellers, we understand some More >

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Bigeq.com introduces the Bigeq app - the most powerful mobile tool for finding quality hunter/jumper show horses and ponies for sale. Leveraging the popularity of our website and extensive collection of sales listings, the Bigeq app is custom-designed to bring exactly the sale horses you need right to your fingertips. The highlight of the app is our powerful saved search tool. The Bigeq app works for you - once a day, you’ll be notified whenever new listings match your searches! For busy horse trainers, it’s simply the most efficient method for locating sales horses for clients.

The Bigeq app presents a straightforward and intuitive shopping experience. It’s never been easier to browse our sale horses, preview videos and photos, and with a few taps call or text a seller. Easily share horses via text messages or social media, and get timely feedback on suitability from clients, trainers or friends as you shop.

We also automatically display our current sales horses in popular categories for browsing: Latest Listings, Hunters, Jumpers, Equitation Horses, Pony Hunters, Pony Jumpers, Hunter Prospects, Jumper Prospects, and Pony Prospects.

Download our app now - and stay tuned, as we plan to continue adding features!

This app has been updated by Apple to display the Apple Watch app icon.

Improved overall performance, faster image loading, and increased usability with cellular service.

Ratings and Reviews

Great app! But..

I think the Big Eq app is really helpful and alot easier to use than the online version, but I don’t like how you can’t search by name! I really hope to see that change in a future update!

Great app!!! Has lots of equitation horses for lease!

And it's fun to just search around for different kinds of horses.

stupid setup

i’ve always used the online version but now have enough space on my phone to download it so i did, and was disappointed. first of all there’s no place to view your favorite horses which doesn’t make any sense. also, when you add a search you can’t even scroll through horses that match your description since it’s all horizontal with no other option, so you’re forced to click through every single horse.

The developer, CB Smith, has not provided details about its privacy practices and handling of data to Apple. For more information, see the developer’s privacy policy.

No Details Provided

The developer will be required to provide privacy details when they submit their next app update.

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Richard Foos on Big EQ Campaign

Chris Ewanouski: 'Big EQ' and Beyond

The indoor arena's lights ablaze late at night usually meant just one thing when Chris Ewanouski was a working student at Grazing Fields Farm in Buzzards Bay, Mass. "I'd think, 'He can't be out there by himself!'" says owner Kathy Fletcher, whose successful program includes a wide range of Junior students. "But he would work ten hours in the barn, then ride five horses after work."

Those hours in the barn and late riding sessions paid off when Chris capped his final Junior year by winning both the Horsemanship Class and the Hunt Seat Medal Finals at the October New England Equitation Championship in Springfield, Massthe first rider to do so in the championship's history. The double-barreled victory was even more significant because Chris, relatively new to the demands of "Big Eq" competition, was riding a green young horse that he'd known for only two years--and that he'd also qualified with for the national Maclay and Medal equitation finals.

Now, with the help of some top professionals who recognize his hard-to-come-by blend of talent and unrelenting work ethic, Chris is winding up for another long shot: He wants to become a successful professional in the sport where he came so far/so fast as a Junior.

Going for the Next Level
Chris was about 5 years old when he started riding at a local barn in his hometown of Scituate, Mass.. "He picked up the sport with no one else in the family knowing the first thing about it," says his mother, Kim, whose occasional pleasure riding had provided her son's first connection with horses. When Chris wanted to compete, after a few years of local lessons, he moved to the more show-oriented Riverwind Farm in nearby Pembroke, where he rode as a working student.

Competing regionally only whetted Chris's appetite for bigger challenges, such as the 3-foot-6 equitation divisions. In he qualified for the national Medal finals and got as far as the Region 1 Maclay finals with Carlos, a horse the Ewanouskis had recently bought. "He was great, hardy enough to stay sound through all the lessons and showing I needed to do to catch up. He packed me around all day over 3-foot fences. But he had a bit of a stop in him at 3-foot-6, especially if I got a little inaccurate to the jumps." Chris and Carlos had a good round at the Maclay regionals (though they didn't qualify for the national finals), but refusals eliminated them at the Medal finals in Harrisburg.

At shows, Chris made a practice of watching other riders and their trainers, looking for tips to improve his own riding. "I care so much that I want to see what other people do, and who they train with." He and his parents soon noticed something special about the group of competitors from Grazing Fields Farm, several of whom went on from Regionals to the Maclay finals. Kim recalls, "The kids did well in the ring, but there was also a really nice feel about the program: a kind of family atmosphere and team spirit."

For Chris, in high school by this time, riding had become increasingly important: It was a sport that he wanted to take to the next level, competing nationally in equitation, but he also wanted to make it his career. He and his parents decided that Grazing Fields Farm would give him his best chance of reaching both goals.

"He's One That Stands Out"
Chris was in his third year of high school, with only two more years of eligibility as a Junior rider, when he came to Grazing Fields after the equitation finals. His duties as a working student included feeding, mucking stalls, and turning horses out. He worked a full day Saturday and a half-day Sunday--"I needed to be able to get home and do some homework!" He used his one-hour Saturday lunch break to ride. And after the workday ended, around or , "I rode any horses I could get my hands on."

Working students are not unusual at Grazing Fields, says Kathy Fletcher. She's always willing to find a way to help motivated students who have tight budgets. "But a few of them stand out, and Chris certainly is one of them."

Kathy and Chris agree that the part of his riding that needed most improvement was what he calls "focus and concentration" and she terms "the head game" of equitation. "He certainly had all the pieces," she says. "He had good basics. We worked on keeping his heels down and his reins shorter, but my main goal was to teach him to think for himself, and think more quickly. When he first came here, he used to have to repeat a course to me three or four times before he could go in the ring and execute it. Now my rule is, 'I tell you the course once; you remember it; you go out there and do it.' So he can think more quickly, and he's gotten quite good at it."

Chris remembers: "I would sometimes get a little desperate on course: If I didn't know where I was in terms of the distance to the jump, or got a little nervous, I would be inclined to just kick my horse off the ground or have my whole round look a little desperate because I wasn't really confident. Kathy helped me so much with not just how my body's working in the ring, but how my brain is working as well."

"We developed a few techniques: For instance, I close my eyes while I'm standing at the in-gate and go over each part of the course: where my horse should be underneath me, where my aids should be, the striding between fences, how I should ride each corner. That helps me a lot and keeps me focused. When I walk into the ring, I feel as if I've done the course before."

Teaming Up With Sam
Chris's horse Carlos grew in confidence with steady, consistent work. However, Kathy was concerned that he might not be reliable enough for the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, to which Chris would be going as a Grazing Fields working student. (Carlos has since found a perfect career at Grazing Fields as a mount for both Juniors and adults in the 3-foot divisions.)

In Florida, Chris rode a more experienced horse. He also started training a green five-year-old Belgian Warmblood sales horse, Sam I Am, who'd been with Grazing Fields only a little longer than he had, and whom Kathy had brought to the WEF for the experience. Sam "came along really quickly and was great when I rode him in some qualifying classes for the Washington International and the Medal final during my last week at WEF," Chris says. "When we got home, Kathy talked with my parents. She believed Sam would be a good horse for my final Junior years, and would be a good sales prospect when I was finished." As Chris headed into spring and summer of , the Ewanouskis became Sam's co-owners (along with Grazing Fields).

The next several months were a time of building for Chris and Sam, who soon became best buddies. "He's awesome. He has all the heart in the world," says Chris of Sam. "He means so much to me. He's more than just a horse; he's kind of a pet. You can point him at any jump and he'll jump it for you.'

But though brave and honest to the jumps, Sam was not easy to flat. "He likes to carry his head a little high for the flat phase. He's not always soft and supple in his mouth, and it's sometimes challenging to keep him together in a nice frame."

Chris did most of Sam's schooling himself, with input from Kathy, assistant trainer Wendy Smith, and other Grazing Fields "eyes on the ground." As their partnership developed, the pair began getting ribbons in the equitation divisions and qualified for some national finals.

Knowing that Sam wasn't yet quite ready for the big push, however, Chris already had his eye on his last year as a Junior, and his last chance to prove what he could do.

The Last Junior Year
Kathy's strategy for Chris's last year was to broaden his knowledge with instruction from other coaches. She arranged lessons for him with George Morris and Geoff Teall while Grazing Fields was at WEF "Geoff gave me insight on what my riding was like from a judge's point of view, which was really helpful in crafting the way I presented my round. For instance, he said that one thing he always notices is where the stirrup is positioned on the rider's foot. He likes to see the iron diagonally across the bottom of the foot, so that when your foot is turned out slightly, the iron is perpendicular to your horse. He taught me to press my weight into my heel a little more and bring my leg back to create a more polished look that would help me stand out. He told me that, from a judge's viewpoint, 'getting the job done' is more important than looking pretty and not getting it done. If Sam was drifting in on a bending line so that we got to the jump at a deep distance, but my position stayed picture-perfect, Geoff said he would prefer to see me definitely using my inside leg to hold my horse out on the line so that we got to the jump at a better distance."

Finishing high school in spring with an A average, Chris was accepted to Fairfield University in Connecticut but deferred college for a year (with his parents' agreement) to finish his Junior career and get firsthand experience in the show world. With school pressures temporarily sidelined, he immersed himself even further in horses, spending long days (and nights) at Kathy's barn. When he joined Geoff's barn, Montoga, for two weeks as a working student on the Vermont circuit while Grazing Fields was elsewhere, Geoff was impressed. "He showed so much interest in learning and doing. When I ask kids ?Do you want to ride another horse?' and their answer is 'Which one?' I know we're already in trouble. But I could say to Chris, ?I have fifteen horses; do you want to ride them?' And he absolutely did, and he would not think twice about it. That's a great thing for sure."

Another detail that Chris's two weeks in Vermont brought home to Geoff: "People like him so much. All my customers came up to me during that period and told me how much they liked having him around. This business is about your people skills; the rest of it you can learn."

With his strengthened "head game," Chris was able to get regular good ribbons with Sam in the equitation divisions, qualifying for all the major finals. "I never had a huge win, but just to be consistently in the ribbons was a big success for me."

The fall's series of intensely competitive finals led off with his stunning double win at the New England Equitation Championship. Geoff, who saw the New England final, was ramping up his opinion of Chris's riding. "I saw much more than I'd realized was there. He rode even better than I'd thought." For Kathy, Chris's Horsemanship win had special significance: "We promote that part of the competition; to us, it's just as important as the equitation championship. We've had kids near the top of the Horsemanship class before, but he's the first from Grazing Fields to win it."

New England helped set Chris up mentally for the Washington International Horse Show Equitation Classic, for which he was one of thirty Juniors nationwide to qualify. At WIHS (just a week after New England), he and Sam climbed through the rankings. Beginning near the bottom in the finalists' standings, they finished in eleventh place after a very strong jumper phase. "As disappointed as I was to have missed the final round, where the top ten riders switch horses, it was a big accomplishment and a lot of fun to move up as far as we did," he says. "It helped me to be more confident, because I knew that I had done it and could do it."

"I Hate to See Him Go"
When Chris rode Sam into the ring for his last Junior equitation show, the early-November USEF Maclay final at the Syracuse Invitational, the occasion was a mix of regret and anticipation. In saying goodbye to "Big Eq" as a Junior, Chris was also saying goodbye to Sam, who will now be sold to another hopeful rider. "It is sad," he says. But he was already looking ahead to the rest of his year's leave from school, which he'd spend working with top professionals -- such as Geoff and grand prix jumper Candice King--through arrangements Kathy had made.

"Chris wants to do this as a business, and he needs to see all aspects. So I've helped him. He'll do a working-student stint with Geoff and Candice in Florida and then, hopefully, go to Germany in the spring with a friend of Wendy Smith's." Kathy smiles. "I would have loved to be selfish and keep him at Grazing Fields. I hate to see him go. But it's the right thing for him to do."

In Florida a few weeks after the Maclay final (where Chris and Sam were called back on the flat after the very challenging first-round course but did not make the cut for the final phase), Geoff was still being pleasantly surprised by Chris's desire to learn and grow. "I've had him on some young hunters, and although he's never really been in the hunter arena, he's transitioned really well to the softer, more ?feel'-based hunter ride. I can say, ?We're going to do this today,' and boom! He can do it. He'll watch me ride one and he can ride it the next day. He watches and he pays attention."

Interviewed most recently in late , Chris said the first weeks in Florida--as a working student for Candice, and also doing some riding for Geoff--had meant "getting instruction from a completely different end of the spectrum." Days that started around 7 a.m. and ended well after 5 p.m. included not only conditioning rides on Candice's horses through the trails of Wellington's Grand Prix Village, but some jumper lessons with trainer Jimmy Doyle, whose students include Candice and coming young grand prix contender Georgina Bloomberg.

"I don't consider myself a professional yet," Chris said. "I'll be getting there, hopefully, at some point."

Geoff tries to define how some of the many hopefuls who knock on the horse industry's door after a Junior career help to create opportunities for themselves. If you're a top professional, he says, "a lot of people want your help. You get lots of phone calls and e-mails, and you get used to saying 'No, no, no, no, no.' But every once in a while, you get to say yes. With Chris, it's because he makes it easy." An example: "He's eager. He wants to learn it. There's no need to ask him to do things. After my barn help leaves at 3 p.m., whatever isn't done, he just does it on his own."

For Chris, the coming months are a balancing act between a commitment to his parents--"I've made a deal that, no matter what happens, I will get a college degree somehow; they've done so much for me that I have to stay true to that"--and his passion for the sport. "Getting to ride a little more is just making me want that much more. There's never enough barn time or horses. I just can't get enough of it."

Originally published in the March issue of Practical Horseman magazine. Read more about Chris Ewanouski's rise in the professional ranks in the February issue.

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