Like most plus-size riders, whenever I see a new article or study about the effects of rider weight on horses posted online, I break into a cold sweat. Not because of the article content itself, but because of the inevitable comments that ensue on social media. They range from the insensitive to the stupid, and often venture into the territory of downright cruel.
So when Eurodressage recently posted an article titled "The Influence of Rider Size on Changes in Equine Back Dimensions, Muscle Tension, and Pain," I clicked with no small amount of trepidation. You can read the article yourself and draw your own conclusions about the limitations of the study design but here are mine: there are a few key points which plus-sized riders (and those who teach them) should take away from this study, even as the study acknowledges it’s hard to make clear correlations from the data gathered.
1. We all know this, but it’s imperative to ride a horse whose size, conformation, and soundness is appropriate for your weight. Check in with your vet and your coach / trainer regularly and ask for their honest feedback whether your weight is making your horse uncomfortable.
2. Ride in a saddle that fits not only the horse, but you as well. While this applies to all riders, it’s particularly relevant to those of us who are large / heavy. There are fewer saddles with large seat sizes on the market, especially in the used market, and not all horses have the back length to accommodate a bigger saddle. Big riders are used to sacrificing our fit for correctly fitting a saddle to the horse, but this study suggests that riding in a saddle that’s too small for the rider may create pressure points on the horse’s back, even when properly fitted to the horse. It’s worth the investment to get a saddle that fits you both.
3. Be prepared to face the uncomfortable truth - your horse might not always be appropriate for you. As age and injuries take a toll on your partner's strength and soundness, or if you weight increases, compromises might be required. This may mean reducing workload and / or ride frequency, committing to losing weight, or focusing more on activities like ground work or long lining.
Poor Gus. When it comes to the tail department he's not exactly well-endowed. He suffers the thin-tailed curse of many of his fellow chestnut Weltmeyer descendants - an issue made all the more obvious by just how out of proportion his under-sized tail is to his over-sized body. And because his tail breaks just as easily as it tangles, it's hard to keep it looking sleek and smooth when brushing only serves to make it even thinner.
I know, #FirstWorldProblems, right?
But a problem nonetheless. So when the folks at Equi-Spa contacted me to see if I was interested in trying their products and whether I had any specific grooming concerns, my answers were yes and yes. They suggested two products: Fairy Tails Lotion and Fairy Tails Orchid Oil Gloss and I readily agreed to give them both a try.
*Full disclosure: This is the bit where I have to tell you that the products were provided to me at no charge in order for me to review them. There was no financial consideration and no suggestion that the review should be anything but my own unbiased opinion, based on my own experience and actual results with the products. I don't have a stake in the company and don't personally know any of its owners or employees.
The lotion comes in a regular bottle and is applied by hand. It's thick enough that it doesn't run out of your hands, but thin enough for easy application evenly throughout the tail. I used a generous amount on the first few applications, but with regular use needed less each time. I always applied it to a clean, damp tail after shampooing.
The gloss comes in a spray bottle but is thicker than other sprays I've previously used. It comes out in more of a stream than a spray and doesn't apply quite as evenly as finer sprays. I preferred spraying it into my hands first and then rubbing it into the tail. I tried it on a clean, damp tail but also applied it several times to a dirty, dry tail and it definitely helped to keep the hair smoother and free of tangles between washings. A little goes a long way with this product, making it more economical than I first thought.
I've been using both products for almost a month now and I'm pleasantly surprised. I've tried a variety of lotions and potions on Gus's tail in the past and while most of them do help with detangling, with repeated use they seem to leave the hair either dry and brittle, or a bit sticky. Based on the consistency and initial results, I suspected Fairy Tails would lean towards the sticky side as well, but that hasn't been the case. The more I used it, the more I like it. While the tail doesn't have that silky, slippery feeling that silicone based products create, it has remained smooth and tangle free, even through rainstorms and mud baths. The tail also feels (and perhaps looks?) a little thicker and fuller than it did before, although that may just be wishful thinking on my part.
My only complaint? Both products, but particularly the gloss, are very heavily scented. It's a pleasant floral scent and isn't overwhelming in a barn setting but I quickly discovered that if I didn't wash my hands thoroughly afterwards, my allergies would go into overdrive. That being said, I am allergic to everything and super-sensitive to floral scents, even naturally-derived ones. YMMV.
The verdict: I give Fairy Tails a 4 out of 5 for being easy to use and doing exactly what it promises. At $16 (US) for the lotion and $20 for the gloss, they are comparably priced with other "natural" coat care products. However, since the products aren't available in Canada yet, you have to factor in the exchange rate, shipping costs and any duties which may apply. Once my free samples run out I would definitely order more of the lotion (because it is less scented than the gloss) and would consider trying some of the company's other products, such as the Kiss A Frog foot wash, which claims to protect the hoof from fungal and bacterial issues such as thrush and mud fever.
See for yourself! Bearing in mind that Gus' tail is usually a tangled mess just one day after washing, conditioning and detangling, check out this little video clip on my Instagram. This is him straight from turnout in a muddy, dusty field with no brushing or finger combing before taking the video. It's been about 4 days since I washed his tail or applied any Fairy Tails product and even though it's dirty, it's still smooth, shiny and tangle-free.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.