“If you want to succeed, it’s so important to be present and as stable as you can be for your horse, which is why I came up with … four areas of your life that you can focus on to help rein in the wild beast of your routine.”
There’s no denying that being an equestrian can often mean living a very unbalanced lifestyle: there are lots of demands on your time, and some of us live out of a gooseneck trailer for the better part of the year, spending more time on the road than at home.
But if you want to succeed, it’s so important to be present and as stable as you can be for your horse, which is why I came up with something I call ‘the four horsemen of stability’ — four areas of your life that you can focus on to help rein in the wild beast of your routine.
Horseman #1: Rest
There’s no substitute for sleep. The US military and many private companies alike have spent a lot of time, energy, and money on studies of things that could replace sleep, and they keep coming up empty-handed. The vast majority of the adult population requires at least seven hours of sleep, and adolescents even more — and so the trick here is to assume you are part the of the population that needs eight hours of sleep. Remember: you are the rule, not the exception — I know I am!
Horseman #2: Hydration
I subscribe to the notion that you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. To make that math simple: say you weigh 150lbs, half your body weight is 75lbs — and so, you should drink 75 ounces of water a day. Drinking water is not something I struggle with during the summer: I’m constantly drinking room temperature water and find it easy to do so. However, during the winter I struggle a lot more with drinking enough water, and that may well be an issue you have, too.
I used to track my intake with eight pint glasses of water a day, but once I found a water bottle I love, I changed to the half-your-body-weight-in-ounces program. I have found that drinking herbal teas helps me with increasing consumption, or just drinking warm water, with a touch of fresh lemon added for flavour as needed. If winter drinking is something you’re struggling with too, give that a go – and remember that your daily coffee intake doesn’t count towards your hydration goals.
The moral of the story? If you’re not tracking the water you’re drinking, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
Horseman #3: Nutrition
I’m not a registered dietician, and being a nutritionist requires a degree of its own for good reason. However, I can tell you the mantra that works for me. It’s from the journalist and author Michael Pollan, who says: “Eat food — not too much; mostly plants.” The most important part of that is this: eat food. You must fuel your body. When I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I’m more likely to skip a meal than eat too much, and especially on busy competition days, I think we’re all guilty of the same.
Because I was working student from a very young age. I got in the habit early of skipping breakfast, drinking coffee and not eating until 12:00pm or 1:00pm. Even when I was in school, I remember the knock down, drag out fights I would have with my parents and nannies about eating breakfast. We finally got into the habit of eating instant breakfast, and that was the negotiation we settled on. The thing was, when I had breakfast it would jump start my metabolism, and I would be starving by 10am — which was painful in school, because I couldn’t eat until lunch time. That leads me to the second point of Michael’s point: not too much. Nowadays, I meal prep my lunches (and in reality, my husband helps a lot with this). This stops me from eating too much, because I know what I need to be full, and if I’m still hungry I drink a pint of water and that usually fills me up, while helping me hit those crucial hydration goals.
The third point is mostly plants. The majority of your calories should be coming from plants. I truly believe this, and when I’m eating completely vegan is usually when I’m feeling my healthiest. I have upgraded from instant breakfast to THIS Garden of Life Protein Powder, with a banana for taste, and maybe some spinach. I like this brand because it’s plant-based, it’s made from real food, and it’s naturally low in sugar. Adding the banana kind of defeats the purpose of low sugar, but I’m ok with that — fruit is a preferable sugar source than a chocolate bar that you’ve grabbed at the gas station because you’re starving between rides.
Horseman #4: Activity
In all honesty, this is the section I am the most qualified to talk about — but paradoxically, it’s also the section I personally struggle with the most. I’ve always been someone who leans into things that I struggle with, which is why I was a working student for a Grand Prix dressage rider after regular scoring in the high 30s to low 40s in the dressage phase; why I’m a very dyslexic published writer; and why I HATE EXERCISING and hold a degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science.
Activity is different from exercise. I define exercise very specifically as something you do with the intended purpose of adapting to positive physiological change in the body. I don’t ride to make my body stronger; I ride because I love it. Many runners are hitting the pavement to ‘get in shape’ but are actually doing more pounding and concussion to their joints than adapting positive physiological change. Then there’s barn work: you’re doing this to have a safe clean space for your horse, so pushing that wheelbarrow does not count as exercise — however, it does for sure count as physical activity.
Being active is important because our bodies were not designed to sit at desk or on the couch. Riding horses definitely counts as physical activity; hand-walking horses definitely counts as activity. Walking is actually a very healthy way to be active, because it’s such a low-impact option. Activity is the last on my list of the four horsemen of stability, because when this one gets out of balances for most equestrian it’s generally to the extreme of too much activity — and although it’s not easy to lessen the activity you’re doing on a daily basis, being conscious of it and the effect it has on your body will help you use the other three ‘horsemen’ to find a balance.
If you’re feeling like you need to strength certain areas of your body, or just want to be better in the tack, I’m happy to help you with personal training. All of my sessions are via Zoom so you don’t have to leave the barn or your house — depending on which has better WiFi! You can sign up for a session here: https://www.hiddenheightsfitness.com/