Let’s Talk About Weight & Horses

Weight is a touchy subject for women, especially for horsewomen that don’t have a positive body image. How many of us have seen posts on forums asking whether or not a rider is too big for a horse? Far too often, at least in my opinion, multiple responses hold up the 20% golden rule that’s the end all be all of whether or not a rider should ride their horse.

For those that may not be familiar with the 20%, studies have shown that the maximum weight a horse – any horse regardless of build or size – should carry is 20% of their body weight. The studies indicate that when a horse carries more than 20% of their bodyweight, their heart rate increases and their muscles fatigue quicker.

 The average 15 hand horse will run around 1,000 pounds, which means the most weight they should carry is 200 pounds.

I ran Beavis on barrels at 185 pounds.

While this may be a good loose general rule of thumb, the problem is that most of these studies that have been done don’t take into account the differences in genetics, conformation, condition, or rider balance and fitness. In addition, there’s not uniformity in the horses and riders that they’re using to determine these results.

To make matters worse, some shows have even gone so far as to ask heavier riders to dismount based on the 20% rule. My fear is that if this taken to extreme, formal rules will be put into place on a larger scale – pun intended – based on studies that never took into account the individuality of horse and rider.

Using this 20% rule as the end all, be all is like saying people that weigh the same can lift the same amount of weight. Go to a weight lifting competition and you’ll see that’s simply not true. It’s not uncommon for smaller lifters to out-lift someone that weighs more than they do simply because they’re stronger.

Weight is not an indicator of strength or endurance but using this 20% rule as an end all be all makes it exactly that.

As a former trainer and instructor that’s ridden a large number of different breeds of horses, and as a competitor that’s been at every spectrum of the scale, I have a good feel of how weight impacts a horse and I know where the differences lie.

 While a rider’s fitness level does have an impact on how well a rider rides, my opinion is that a rider’s strength and balance are what is important. A rider can be strong and balanced but not necessarily fit according to traditional thinking. A balanced rider that is in time with their horse will have less impact on a horse’s back than a rider that’s fit but doesn’t have the best balance.

A rider’s build can also have an impact on how well they ride. If a rider is top heavy, they’re going to struggle more than a rider that carries more weight in their hips. With more weight up top, the physical impact on the horse’s back is going to be different than weight further down.

The same thing goes for horses and how they’re built. It’s common knowledge that a shorter back is stronger than a longer back. Two horses can weigh the same, but the shorter backed horse will be stronger.

My old horse Bluff weight 1200 pounds but he was also long backed.

Conformation and angles also play a role in a horse’s strength. In the barrel racing world, a horse with shorter cannon bones, a long hip angle, and lower hocks is more desired because they’re stronger making them faster coming off of a barrel.

A horse with a good shoulder angle can carry more weight more efficiently than a horse with an upright shoulder angle. Pair a good shoulder angle with correct angles in the pastern and hocks, and they’re even stronger.

Toad is a tough little horse right at 1,000 pounds.

Differences in the depth of the girth can also impact how well a horse carries weight. A deeper girth area allows for greater lung capacity so their endurance is better.

Conditioning also plays a role in how well a horse carries weight. It’s not only whether or not a horse has been worked, but the type of work they are being asked to do. For instance, a western pleasure show horse or hunter horse may be legged up perfectly to go compete in a class, but they may not be legged up enough to go run a barrel pattern competitively.  They need to be conditioned for the event they’re being asked to do in order to carry weight at an optimum level.

Over the years I’ve ridden several horses that I was either right at or a little over the 20% level. One Paso Arab cross mare that I rode weighed right at 900 pounds – 20% would be 180 pounds. There were several years I rode her weighing 185 and my saddle weighed 25 pounds. That mare carried me without any problem at all. We went on hilly trail rides and at the end of the day she had as much energy as she did at the start.

This Paso Arab mare carried me a lot of years at heavier weights and had no trouble.

I currently have two Quarter Horse geldings that both weigh right at 1,000 pounds. One is barely 14.2 and the other is right at 15 hands. I’ve ridden them both at 200 pounds and they carried me as easily at that weight as they do now, and they never tired any quicker than my black gelding that weighs 1250 pounds and is 16 hands.

1250 pounds and 16 hands, 1000 pounds and 15 hands – they carry me equally!

By the same token, I have had some smaller horses that weighed right at the 1,000 pound mark that I was a lot more careful about riding. I could tell they struggled a little more carrying me. This mare below is one of them. When she was green, could buck me very easily – which she worked out of – but she also tired quicker than my other horses did.

To the riders out there that struggle with a positive body image, don’t get too hung up on the 20% rule that gets spouted everywhere. Instead, take a look at your balance and strength and look at your horse as an individual whole.

Ask yourself these questions –

  • How is your balance and timing?
  • How well does your saddle fit?
  • How is your horse built?
  • Is he short backed or long backed?
  • How is the rest of his conformation and muscle?
  • How well is he conditioned?
  • Does he tire when he’s worked? How long does he have to be worked before he does get tired?
  • Does he wring his head or have any behavioral issues that could be caused by being uncomfortable?

If you still have questions of whether or not you’re too big for a horse, find a professional that is experienced with plus size riders. They’ll not only be able to give you an unbiased opinion, but they’ll be able to help you with issues that can be unique to larger riders and smaller type horses.

Weight is just a number. It’s doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t tell how well you ride or how well your horse can carry you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Supporting Those That Struggle

With all the changes this year, it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog….After getting the farm sold and doing some serious soul-searching, I’ve decided to keep it going if for no other reason than the fact that I’m passionate about horses and being healthy with them – inside and out-  and I enjoy sharing that with other people. It’s therapeutic in that it keeps me going and motivates me as well.

View from halfway up

Earlier this week, I shared some progress pics on the CWC Facebook page that I took during a swim break at the campground we’re staying in. A couple of months back, I purchased a bare piece of property and we have been staying in a fifth wheel camp trailer at a KOA Campground nearby while we slowly build. While most folks would consider that roughing it, one of the big perks is having a nice swimming pool to use!

Camper living

The post talked a bit about not only maintaining my weight loss, but more importantly it talked about my mental well-being. That although there were still some “bad” days, I’m never ever as low as I was before and that faith, changing how I ate, how I think, and having genuine honest supportive people had helped.

 

Not the same person!

I want to talk very candidly about the support part. 

This last year was rough with a lot of loss. Not only did I lose a fourteen year relationship and marriage but I also lost a family that I loved as my own. People think step parents don’t love or don’t grieve, but that’s just simply not true. I also lost friends and my own family through all of this.

In the midst of dealing with depression and a marriage that was falling apart, it was said by family to my ex that I was crazy and that I needed to get back on whatever it was that made me sane, and that I was going through a mid-life crisis. In the immediate throes of a separation argument, and a lowest point, I was told I was so crazy I didn’t know what day it was. (Gaslighting, anyone?) That same argument I was told that all those people who I thought were my friends were laughing at me and pitying me because I thought I was some twenty year old cowgirl. Narcissist and cheater were thrown out there too. Keep in mind this came from two people who said they loved me.

For someone with depression going through that with no support system, no family to turn to, and only a few good friends to confide in, that was an extremely hard time in my life. I don’t know what I would have done without my co-workers, my neighbor, and my best friend and “Superman” Austin Foust. Those were the people who wouldn’t let me forget they were there for me no matter what and I will never forget that as long as I live. God gave me those folks to get me through that dark time. I really believe it.

Any time you go through something like this you reflect on the past and try to figure out what happened, where it went wrong. Sometimes in doing so, things start to make perfect sense. For me, that’s exactly what happened. Only after I gained some distance was I able to clearly see the depth of the lies and their purpose, and the gross years of manipulation that had occurred and what I had let it do to me.

In looking back at comparison pictures, it’s clear to me that this was a downward spiral years in the making. This didn’t happen over night. These are not easy to look at, and most definitely not easy to share.

 

These pictures are close to ten years ago and they speak volumes. Yes, I was heavier but it’s not just about the weight. I was not healthy, physically or mentally either one. I couldn’t see it at the time, but now looking back I definitely can, especially when I look at comparison pictures.

I was exhausted because I wasn’t getting enough sleep (not by my own accord), and my body was riddled with inflammation to the point that I had a place on my face that didn’t heal for over a year. I was miserable and you can see it!

There’s a saying that if you’re struggling and your people are just watching then maybe they’re not you’re people. That’s true. If you’re going through depression and/or health issues and the ones that say they love you are not being proactive to help you get healthy (not supporting you to get healthy!) then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate who your people are and how important your health is and do something about it.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties if that’s what it takes. Sometimes removing yourself from toxic people is the only way to get well if they’re not going to change their behavior. You can only control your behavior, you can’t control theirs.

If you love someone who is struggling with their physical health, and/or their mental health what they need most is your support.

Sometimes people don’t need to hear what you think they should do, or whether or not you think they’re making a mistake. Most often they just need support in the form of listening while they come to terms with what they’re dealing with. They don’t need judgement, they need a place to talk. They also need to know you’re true (and loyal) to them behind their back, not just to their face. They need to know you care by your genuineness.

Aside from mental support, sleep has more impact on health and mental well-being than anything else a person can do. If someone you love isn’t sleeping well, support them by encouraging them to get to bed earlier. Let them know their sleep is a priority to you too so that they don’t feel any pressure to stay up to get things done, or spend time with you. If you’re watching TV, turn the TV down so they can sleep, and make sure  you watch it in another room. Be considerate by being quiet.

If you truly love someone and want the best for them, you don’t want to be an enabler by rewarding them or showing them love with unhealthy food, especially if they have a health condition that’s impacted by food.Don’t set them up for failure by making it harder to eat healthy – They’re already struggling with that. 

Instead of showing you care by bringing home a gallon of ice cream, bring home something healthy that they enjoy. Take the time to find out what that is.

Instead of dangling temptation in front of them by eating that double burger with fries while they eat a salad, you could eat a salad as well. Sometimes when you care about someone, it means sacrificing a little bit yourself. In the end, not only will they benefit, but you will as well because they see your support and you will have had a healthier meal.

It’s true that we’re responsible for ourselves, and our own happiness and we shouldn’t let someone else dictate our happiness. However, if we’re struggling with getting healthy we have to put ourselves in a place of success and part of that success is having support.

If you care about someone who is struggling, what are the most important ways you can support them?

If you’re someone struggling with health issues, what changes can you make to make progress? 

 

 

 

Planning For Your Show Day…

The farm didn’t get the business that was needed to keep it going so I put it back on the market for sale. So, it looks like there will be more changes in store for me this coming year. I like to think of it as Tiny House Living, horse style. Hey, if life gives you lemons you make the best dang lemon marguerita you can possibly make, right?

While change is never easy, I am looking forward to downsizing and having more time and money to focus on my own horses and compete more when things settle down. For years I’ve been a jack of all trades, going and doing so many things. I’d like to narrow my focus, be more selective about where and who I spend my time on, and just see where that leads. While selling the farm is the end of a dream in one sense, it’s freeing and the start of an ultimate dream in another. I’m looking forward to what the year will hold.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

Since I’ve been thinking more about competing and the coming show season, I thought I’d share some tips for showing that I’ve learned first hand, sometimes the hard way, the last few years.

The first tip, and one that I think is probably the most important is in regards to food. Food has an impact on how you think, how you react, how well you focus and yet it’s one of the most under-rated elements of competition.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to help someone not be as nervous about showing and when food is mentioned they say, “Well, I don’t need to eat. I’m too nervous to eat.” People just don’t think it makes that much of a difference but it absolutely can mean the difference between a good run and a poor run. We plan our horse’s nutrition, especially if they’re in a high performance event. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing for ourselves?

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

The effects of food on the body can last longer than we realize. If you’re wanting to eat better for a show day, you’ll want to start at least a couple of days early. This will allow some extra time to get the bad food out of your system, and will allow your body to adjust to the better food.

I always eat turkey an hour to thirty minutes before I compete. The protein fuels my brain and muscles so I can think and react. Turkey is also a natural source of Tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body so it helps with nerves.

I also make sure I eat some source of protein every couple of hours the entire show day. This helps keep my sugar levels regulated so I can think clearly and not get nervous. If I’m the least bit nervous, my horse will feel it and will react, so the more clear my thinking and the calmer I am the better my horse will behave and perform.

Another thing that I do is load up on water a couple of days before a show. It’s easy to not drink enough during the show day. Dehydration can wreak havoc on your mind and your reaction time just like food. The more you load up on water the day before, the less likely you’ll be to get dehydrated if you’re not drinking as much as you should. A hydrated mind is a clear mind.

Because of the sugar levels in sports drinks, I try to drink mostly water. If I must have something besides water, I’ll drink Powerade Zero that has zero sugar. I’m not necessarily a big fan of the chemicals, but it does have some needed electrolytes. You can also carry lemon water, or some of the sugar-free drink flavorings. Just be sure to read the label to know what you’re ingesting.

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

Sleep is another thing that can really impact your performance in the saddle. Make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye the night before. If you know you’re not going to be able to sleep because you’re thinking about showing too much, give yourself a couple of extra hours to allow for tossing and turning.

Another tip is to take some quiet time the day before and the day of your show. Take the time to just be still and think about what you need to do and what is important. Don’t let your head run wild with fear scenarios. Plan your day and your strategy, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Connect with your goals.

This year has a lot of uncertainty and changes, but the one thing I can do is control is my own mindset, and how I prepare for when it’s finally time to step in the ring and do what I love to do best. The better mindset I have and the better I set myself up, the better chances I’ll have at enjoying my show day.

When it comes to competing, what are some of your fears? What do you think you do to contribute to those fears? How can you change your routine to lessen your fears? What is your strategy for the coming show year?

bubbashow

Improving Confidence

The last several months my confidence has improved tremendously, and with it my riding has steadily progressed as well. Not only have my times on the barrel pattern improved, but I’m riding more aggressively than ever.

While losing fifty pounds certainly does help to a certain extent, what has helped more than anything is getting stronger, not just in my core but all over. When you feel strong, you feel in control of not only your horse, but yourself as well and that builds confidence.

I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I didn’t spend hours at the gym. I have an extremely busy life between working two jobs, running a horse farm, writing books & marketing them, and writing blogs. I don’t have the time to spend an hour every day at the gym.I lift weights and only do a total of 4-5 exercises per workout. It only takes around 20-30 minutes at most to complete the exercises that I do. That’s realistic and achievable for someone that’s busy.

There are three exercises in particular that have helped me the most in becoming a better rider. I like these exercises because not only do you work multiple muscle groups, you also get a cardio workout as well.

The first is a walking lunge with a forward arm raise. Here I’m using 10 pound weights. This is a great exercise for riding because not only does it work your legs, but it also requires balance to execute the position, and it works your entire core to lift the weights.

Walking Lunge With A Forward Arm Raise

Walking Lunge With A Forward Arm Raise

The next exercise is a plank position with a pull up. Here I’m using a 20 pound weight. Let me say when I first started all this, it was all I could do to pull up a 10 pound weight! I’ve seen the most improvement in this exercise. It’s also an exercise that requires balance and complete core interaction while working your arms.

Plank Position With Pull Up

Plank Position With Pull Up

The next two exercise is a crunch with weights. I use ten pound weights. There’s two variations that I do. One is a regular crunch with the weights just above my head. The other is a crunch into a sit up where I lift the weights up above my head. Both of these exercises simultaneously work your core while you’re working your arms. Because you’re using your core to lift the weights, it’s almost like weight lifting for your core!

Crunch With Weights

Crunch With Weights

Crunch & lift up

Crunch & lift up

The last exercise is a twist in sit up position with weights. Here I’m using 10 pound weights. This is another great exercise that works your core. If you keep your feet just a couple of inches off the floor while you’re doing the exercise, you’ll also work on balance at the same time.

1018161844a-1

In addition to these, I also do the usual weight lifting exercises such as over head press, bench press, bent over row, and squats.

There’s numerous articles on the multiple health benefits of lifting weights besides just building muscle. Weight lifting helps with bone density, and it helps release growth hormones. Look at the bodybuilding grandmother Ernestine Shepherd and you’ll see that’s true! She’s an 80-something grandma that can do more push ups than most twenty year olds and she didn’t start weights until she was in her fifties!

Do you struggle with confidence in your riding? What is it that keeps you from feeling confident in the saddle?

Making Changes…

It’s been a little while since my last blog post. I finally landed a second job waiting tables at an Italian restaurant three nights a week. It’s been a hectic schedule between working two jobs, keeping my horses ridden, and trying to get the farm sold. So far I’m managing, although I will say I do know I don’t want to wait tables as a second job for the rest of my life!

While I have a more extensive blog post planned for later this month, in the meantime I thought I would share an update on my physical progress, and a few quick tips on what has helped me so far. The next blog post, I’ll share some of my favorite exercises, and talk about how some of them relate directly to riding.

Dance night!

Dance night!

When I started the CWC blog a year and a half ago, it was the start of a journey for me. My weight had ballooned up to 208, and no matter what I did or how much weight I lost I was tired, achy, and miserable.

The first step I took was changing my internal dialogue. Instead of criticizing myself all the time, I started to try find positive things I liked. Being kinder to myself mentally was very hard at first, but as time went on it got better.

The next step for me was attempting to just eat real food, and limit the junk, and then also limit dairy. I didn’t count calories, carbs or anything else. I just ate natural foods most of the time.

I usually fluctuated twenty or pounds anyhow, and by eating naturally, over the course of time I managed to drop off that twenty pounds and keep it off. However, there were many days I still felt tired and achy and my mental health wasn’t the best either.

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

Willie Bobby & I at the barrel race

This past March, I decided to make even more changes. I started eating protein and vegetables. Again, I didn’t count calories or anything else. I kept it extremely simple – I could have anything I wanted as long as it was protein or veggies.

I also started lifting weights, and just like with my food I kept it simple. Just three or four exercises a few times a week and no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. I knew it wasn’t realistic to expect myself to keep up more than that.

This pic below was taken several weeks back, but this week my scales said 155. I haven’t been this thin since my EARLY twenties!

Two different girls, two different mindsets!

Two different girls, two different mindsets!

I’ve not strayed from the meat and veggies since I started in March. I haven’t had any bread, sweets, or pasta even once. The interesting thing is that I don’t want any! For the first time in my life I finally have control over what I eat. There’s no bingeing or medicating with food!

One thing that has helped me has been the wise words of a good friend of mine that’s a Personal Trainer and veteran from Colorado, Scot Heminger – “Think of yourself as an athlete. Athletes don’t diet and exercise. They fuel their bodies and train to get better.” That mindset has made a huge difference because I don’t look at eating and exercise as deprivation and punishment, I look at them as a way to get BETTER.

Another difference I’ve seen has been my mental health. I no longer have the mood swings or the depression that I had before. Granted, I did make a big life change in getting divorced and surrounding myself with positive people, but I do think the change in diet has had an impact on my mental health.

Not only have I gained control over my appetite, and have a healthier outlook, I’ve also experienced a big increase in energy. My joints and my body also don’t ache like they did before. Because of all that, I feel like doing a lot more  – and it’s wonderful!

While all these side effects are great, the one side effect that is probably the best is my improved confidence. I walk taller and feel better about myself, and I feel strong! That confidence has found it’s way into my riding as well. I’m running barrels more aggressively than I ever have my entire life and I’m clocking a little faster every time I run.

NBHA Barrel Race

NBHA Barrel Race

I’m still a work in progress, but if I didn’t lose another pound I would be completely satisfied with where I’m at. I’m happy, and what I’m doing is realistically maintainable. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that where I am now started by simply loving myself a little more and making a few simple changes. It’s true what they say – change the mind and the body will follow. I think I’m living proof of that — and you can be too!

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Yourself Again…

I’m going to warn you – this blog post is going to be pretty personal, but my hopes in sharing this is that it might help someone else. We can be standing next to someone and not have a clue what’s going through their mind or what hell they’re dealing with. Sometimes those people are utterly alone, as I was.

Work in progress...

Work in progress…

When I started the CWC blog a little over a year ago, it started out as a way to reach out and inspire other riders that were struggling with confidence. The blog wound up being a journey for me personally as well, and it’s a journey that’s taken quite an unexpected turn the last couple of months.

While this blog was a way to urge other riders to get out there and do what they love, it was also an opportunity for me to do some self reflection as well. That self reflection this last year, has led to me making some drastic and life changing decisions.

I won’t go into any major details at this time, but two years ago my family endured a tragedy that changed all of our lives forever. While that tragedy didn’t necessarily cause the subsequent events, it certainly brought issues to light that needed to be dealt with.

This last year after the event was particularly rough, and quite frankly I sank to the absolute lowest Ievel of depression I’ve ever experienced. While I functioned normally in that I kept the horses up, did well at my job, and presented a picture that everything was ok to the rest of the world, the truth is that it wasn’t.

There were weekends where I went back to bed and cried all day after morning chores because I felt so alone and hopeless. There were many, many days I felt like life just wasn’t worth it any more, that if I ceased to exist it wouldn’t be a big deal to anyone. What really was the point of living?

I imagined ways to die. My favorite was waiting until a subzero night, making it look like I hit my head, and freezing to death. Guns and hanging were too painful, pills you wouldn’t really know you were going to die. Call it silly, but I didn’t like the idea of falling asleep out of your mind and somehow realizing in the dream that you’re dead.  Plus, life insurance wouldn’t pay if you committed suicide and I didn’t want my horses being suddenly homeless. Freezing to death would look like an accident, and on some level you’d know you were dying as you fell asleep.

I am a Christian, and it was during those darkest hours of depression that I begged God to feel His presence and to change me and my thinking. All I got was silence. I felt abandoned even by God at that point.

I had never sank that low, and had never felt that abandoned by God and my spouse but I knew that I didn’t want to stay there. So, I started fighting to bring myself out of it anyway that I could.

The first way was to find joy in every little thing no matter how small. I also started making myself more of a priority – my health, my happiness, and my career especially as a writer and as a horseman. If I could focus on those things and have something to work towards, I knew I could keep moving forward – and I did!

I finally came to a point of reality with my marriage as well, and I knew I couldn’t stay in a relationship that had slowly been contributing to my sinking that low. I knew it was time to get out, and that’s where I’m at now.

DYNAMICHOST

While taking that first step was most definitely a terrifying one, especially after thirteen years of marriage, I also felt a great sense of relief in the midst of such uncertainty. Because of that, I knew deep in my heart that I made the right decision. I also started to realize that sometimes God gives us silence, and doesn’t answer our prayers, because we have to become miserable enough to move from where we’re at.

NEW PROGRESS

The divorce papers will be filed early next week, the farm is up for sale, and I’m trying to figure out what in the world I’m going to do with seven horses on short notice. There are good days, and there are still days that I cry – a lot – but the difference is that I can see I’m moving in the right direction and I feel a sense of joy, hope and purpose again.

I’m also finding my true self again, and doing things that I love to do. I’ve been eating healthier and it’s not the struggle that it always was before because I’m not medicating myself with food. I’m working out and lifting weights. I feel stronger than I have in years, and I’m riding a LOT better as well!

Won some money at the barrel race after a year off!

Won some money at the barrel race after a year off!

I’m also getting out and going to local places that I’ve always wanted to go, such as Bald River Falls in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. I plan on seeing a lot of trails this year.

Bald River Falls Hike

Bald River Falls Hike

I know that this year is not going to be an easy journey, but every day I’m finding how strong I can be. Life is gift that is too precious to be wasted in sorrow. So get out there and find the things you love and go after them with everything you’ve got!

 

Fuller Fillies

~ Fuller Fillies ~

A couple of weeks ago, Suzanne Wild, or “Suz” as I know her, contacted me about becoming a Brand Ambassador for her clothing company, Fuller Fillies in the UK. As I ride both english and western (and have a new eventing prospect!) and they specialize in Plus Size clothing, it seemed like the perfect fit – pun intended!

In talking with Suz, I was immediately drawn in by her energy, her fun sense of humor, and her British manner of telling it exactly like it is.(The Brits are a lot of fun, by the way!)

What I didn’t know until after reading her interview, is that she’s a woman with an indomitable spirit that just won’t quit even in the face of obstacles such as breast cancer. I think you’ll enjoy her interview and I think you’ll be captivated by her fun personality. I’m excited about her passion in designing plus size riding clothes that fit and I’m excited to see what the future holds. By the way, she would like to start a western line!

Meet Suz….

"Suz"

‘Suz & Coco resting’- After a 6am ride (before the sun got up) Coco and me had a ‘moment’.

Suz & Alfie

‘Suz & Alfie Ilkley’ -Me and Alfie enjoying the gorgeous Yorkshire Countryside…he’s trying to work out if he can climb that rock!

What was your life like before you started Fuller Fillies?

I have a varied work background; I studied Fashion at degree level in the 80’s then worked in Bridal Design. I was offered a job with British Telecom that was too much money to ignore and so went there and recorded all their Weather & Travel dial-ups for two years. This led me into a role in Public Relations and then into Recruiting for PR Companies and Design & Advertising Agencies – I made a LOT of money and saw that I could earn more if I understood about personality types and so I trained with the UK’s leading Psychometric Company. Many years later they poached me, as my own profile had been perfect for them and so I re-trained, this time as a Trainer in Psychometrics. I LOVED that job as I went into a different business every day and made recommendations on who to promote, who to employ…and who to sack! Fuller Fillies came out of the blue really, and on the back of another business we had – but ten years on, I wake up with nightmares that I have to work for someone else!

Coco Bum

‘Coco Bum’ – this picture is responsible for the Fuller Fillies Logo – and you can see why!

Alfie & Margaret

‘Alfie & Margaret’ -Safety First Always! Three year old Margaret rides Alfie in tandem with Chris

Do you own or have horses?

Indeed I do! Alfie is a coloured Clydesdale cross (what you would call ‘paint’) and is 16 years old. Coco is a shire cross and the same age – we’ve had both for 13 years so they are like our children (big hairy, smelly ones!) We don’t compete, mainly because I think it is extremely ‘fixed’ and I would end up arguing with judges (did I mention I’m a control freak?). We have them for pleasure and love to explore the countryside with them. Our adopted grandchildren also like to ride them, although at 5 and 3 they do look a little like a pea on a drum!

 

Fuller Fillies

Fuller Fillies

What is Fuller Fillies?

Fuller Fillies is an Equestrian Brand that designs and manufactures exclusively for Lady plus-sized riders. Our sizes start at UK 16 – which is a US 14-  and now goes up to a UK 26 (US 24). In a nutshell we make everything you need from top-to-toe! We make Breeches, Jodhpurs and Riding Tights, Show Jackets, every day jackets, shirts, gloves, Boots and Half-Chaps as well as accessories like Belts and Ties. Because we only make for plus-sizes, our clothing fits well and flatters!

Reuben (2)

Reuben –This is my Cousin’s daughter wearing our CheckMates and now discontinued Reuben Fleece. My family have the right genes to provide models….

  How did Fuller Fillies get started, and what inspired you to start the company?

Whilst I was working in Psychometric based Business Consultancy my Husband Chris was consulting in finance. The Company he worked for had an insolvency division and they kept being offered ‘acquired’ stock at low prices. One day they were offered some Equestrian stuff and we had just got Alfie and Coco, and a Pony Tica, so the call went through to Chris as the resident ‘expert’. We bought around £27,000 worth of stuff for £6000 and took it on the road for a week. It was a great holiday from Business Consultancy and we returned a profit of £16000 in three days. As a result, we established a clearinghouse and bought in lots of lines which we then sold via our website (our quickly built website…)

From day one, all I heard was “can you get this in a bigger size?” As a UK size 22 at the time, I knew there was precious little on the market and so began to research the worldwide market. Eighteen months later Fuller Fillies was born! It was a good move, as I cannot think of anything else I could have done that would have made sense of my career to that point!

What do you think makes Fuller Fillies unique from other companies, and what do you think are the company’s strong points? 

Firstly, there are no other brands that concentrate wholly on plus-sizes in either Equestrian or Country Wear markets. Most will make their standard sizes a little bigger, that really does not work, and results in the ridiculously shaped garments we see on the market.

Secondly, what I hear makes us unique is the instant access the consumer has to me! I hear this all the time – it is rare to find a Brand where you can speak to the Designer of the Collection. From day one, I was adamant that the consumer would be part of my design team and would be consulted at every stage – and that is exactly what happens! I think our main strength is that we know and understand who our customer is and so we can design for them without fear of being led down a fashion-conscious blind alley.

Musketeer

Musketeer -My Sister Joanne wearing the Musketeer Jacket and ShowPro Breeches with Huggy Half Chaps.

What have been some of the struggles that you have had as a business? How did you work through those?

Well, there have been several major hiccups that should have seen us finished – but I’m proud to say we weathered the storm and are still here!

Even before we launched we had a huge upset. We had partnered with the UK’s biggest Distributor to sell our Collection to the Trade (we didn’t sell direct until a few years ago). On the basis they would take half of everything we made, we put 12 lines into production…they subsequently went into receivership and we were left trying to find finance to the tune of £100,000! Luckily, Chris’s experience working with the banks put us in good stead and we marched onwards.

Our second major hiccup concerned our relationship with a US equestrian retailer giant; Due to the sheer volume of clothing we needed to carry ‘just in case they wanted it’ we had much of our stock in a Bonded Warehouse (this way we didn’t have to pay VAT and neither did the giant and eventually, the customer).

The large retailer decided they would handle their own shipping and so dealt with the Bonded Warehouse directly – and ran up some huge invoices that the warehouse incorrectly assigned to us. When we refused to pay it, they froze all of our stock and the only way we could get it back was to pay US retailer’s invoices or go to court. We did the latter but settled before the court date – that cost us almost £30 000 and we had nothing to show for it. Needless to say, we moved our stock!

Then in 2014, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Whilst I thought I would be able to work through the treatment, it became evident that was not going to work – 2014 was my year of temporary retirement!

When I came back to work in January 2015 the business was about three months away from closure as no new lines had been designed, no advertising or promotion had been done…then one week later we were burgled and 80% of our stocks were taken!

In a way however, it was the best thing that could have happened because it allowed us to essentially start over. My chemo-fuddled brain really had to work hard to come up with new designs quickly but again, that worked well for me – I have never been one to feel sorry for myself!

I now have an assistant Sarah, who I involve in as much as is physically possible – after all, I’m 52 and it would be nice to retire properly one day.

 

Since Fuller Fillies is located in the UK, are there any difficulties in shipping to the US? What is the average shipping time? Can you provide rush delivery? How long does that normally take? 

Absolutely none; in fact we offer ‘next day’ delivery on anything (in-stock) ordered before 10am (UK time) Monday – Thursday AS STANDARD! Even the large US retailer we dealt with can’t offer that. I don’t think rush delivery is an option – we would have to offer it yesterday to be quicker 😉

Any order received across Friday and the weekend is processed on Monday so worse case scenario is a three-day wait. Our website will tell you if something is on back order (this is when we allow customers to order as the new stock is en-route) and of course, these are dispatched as soon as they come in.

Fitting Guide

Fitting Guide

Make sure you check the fitting guide

What is your return policy? What is the craziest reason you’ve had someone return an item they purchased? Any good stories?

We have stringent laws in the UK appertaining to purchases made online; the customer must notify us in writing if they wish to reject the products (for whatever reason) within 14 days of receipt. They then have another 14 days to get the item back to us (at their cost).

Although we don’t have to offer this outside of the UK, we do however; the cost of getting product back to us usually means that ladies simply re-sell the item on a Facebook group like ‘Fuller Fillies pre-loved’ or ‘English Plus-Sized Rider’. We are working to find a partner in the US to whom returns could be made cheaper; they would inspect the goods and advise…however; it isn’t always that simple.

We have found that quite a few customers will claim that a product is faulty because it doesn’t fit them (I think because, if it is faulty then the cost of return is ours to bear)! Truly, 99.9% of the time it transpires they didn’t consult our fitting guide on the home page.

Whenever the guide is consulted and we are happy to clarify anything that isn’t clear- it results in a perfect fitting garment and a happy customer. I know this to be the case and will stand by that absolutely!

The craziest thing is how many customers just order the biggest we do – regardless of their measurements! I think so many have been accustomed to HAVING to buy the biggest to be able to breathe/walk/ride in them that they just assume we will be the same; we’re not! We know plus-sizing and I would venture we are the Worldwide EXPERTS on the topic. Some ignore our advice at their peril…although I suspect many like to say, “I need a smaller size!”

 What are future goals for Fuller Fillies? 

We scaled down our sales to the Trade when the recession hit as stores stopped buying for stock and began to order the odd thing here and there for a customer who wanted them. We are now in a position to go back to the Trade and get it built up again. We can now offer discounts for bulkier orders (10 or more of an item) and have found that selling to the consumer has been the best advert for the Trade Stockist as ladies are going into their local store and asking them to stock us.

I would eventually like to develop a Western Range for the US and Canada because larger ‘Cowgals’ need clothing too! In addition, the US is a lot more welcoming on the topic of larger riders than the UK – I’m sure it’s something to do with great hulking Cowboys riding tiny little ‘saddlebred’ ponies.

Is there anything that we don’t know about Fuller Fillies that we don’t know? 

One example, if you create an account on our website BEFORE you shop, the website will not only adjust the shipping as you add to the basket AND let you shop in $USD (or $Canadian), but it will also take 20% off the sale price which is in respect of the UK VAT.

Also, so long as you keep an order under the $200 mark, you don’t get charged any Stateside duties! This has been a well-kept secret by your Customs people and something we found out accidentally – add all of this together and you’ll find that in many cases you don’t pay any more than our UK X-Lovelies do…

Jo and Suz (1)

Jo & Suz – an informal shot taken after the other model didn’t turn up so I stepped in.

Any parting words of wisdom? 

Get to know our website; every scrap of information you need to know is on there! We are currently having it overhauled so very soon it will be even easier to find the info you want. In the meantime, if you don’t find the answers you need to order is absolute confidence then PLEASE use the ‘Contact’ function at the top and bottom of every page to send us a question! We’ll answer it with way more information (of the correct variety) than anyone on Facebook (unless it’s us!) Facebook is great but; nobody is interested in reading/listening  – they are all about their own opinions…so before you take someone’s word ask them what experience they have of buying from us directly – what did they buy – and when? You’ll be amazed how often the answers are, “Oh I haven’t ever made a purchase,” “Nothing’, and “Never”.

Here’s the links where Fuller Fillies can be found –

FACEBOOK –  https://www.facebook.com/FullerFillies/

WEBSITE  – http://www.fuller-fillies.co.uk/

TWITTER – @FullerFillies  LINK: @FullerFillies

PINTEREST – https://www.pinterest.com/fullerfillies