“To have a winning combination, both horse and rider need to be in their best physical condition,” says Shannon Klepper, 2008 president of the International Association of Certified Equine Fitness Trainers. “It’s amazing how much time and money is spent on training and conditioning our horses to be in peak physical condition, but when it comes to our own physical condition, we often let that fall by the wayside.”
Sometimes horse owners become so wrapped up in the care, comfort and performance of their horses that they forget that they are half of the competitive team. The rider’s physical fitness, nutrition, rest and overall health also play a determining role in the overall show ring performance. Here are ways competitors can consider their own personal care during competitions.
It is hard to imagine a retired award-winning barrel horse pulled out of the pasture, complete with grass belly and nose whiskers, and and taken to a show. Horse owners simply wouldn’t ask their horses to do something they weren’t conditioned to do for fear of injury or poor performance.
So why do they put themselves in position to be tired, sore and unhappy at a horse show? Some could argue that the love of horses is powerful enough to drag trail-ridden, busted-up cowboys and weekday soccer moms turned weekend Annie Oakleys to the horse show without fear of sore backs, feisty attitudes and empty wallets.
Consider this: Your wellness program at home will directly affect your horse’s performance in the show ring, your investment of time and money, and your overall enjoyment of competing with your horse.
Shannon suggests exercising at least three times a week for 20 minutes to prepare yourself physically for a horse show.
“Think of your horse first,” Shannon says. “It is extremely frustrating to see an unfit rider blame all her problems on her horse. Oftentimes, a lot of ‘problem’ horses are truly a result of a rider’s inefficiency in the saddle. Improper cueing, continual weight shifting and unsteadiness are just some of the problems that can be remedied by a consistent at-home workout.”
If you cannot get to the barn every day, supplement your schedule with programs like cardiovascular workouts and yoga to build endurance, strength and flexibility. Balance, strength and stamina are all major elements to sitting correctly in the saddle, being able to balance on your horse and maintaining the correct position.
At the Show
Sleep, hydration and nutrition are basic factors that immediately impact performance whether you are at work, school or in the show ring.
Giving consistent performances in the show ring can be directly related to just being consistent in your lifestyle. A side note: Consistent performance equals more blue ribbons. So start by taking care of yourself at the horse show, then build a program that will keep you in your best shape and at your top performance level.
You’ve seen those amateur and youth exhibitors who rush to the show after work or school, unload the trailer, braid or band their horse’s mane, hang water buckets and finally, at 10 p.m., they ride to get their horse acclimated to the show pen.
Before they know it, it’s past midnight and the idea of the alarm clock going off at 5 a.m. is almost too much to bear. The next morning, those riders are walking around the barn like zombies, wondering why they forgot to put their number on, missed the second spin in their horsemanship pattern and how they got the coffee stain on their new white shirt.
Study after study shows that sleep deprivation affects the brain and immune function, not only making you miss your pattern, but also causing your sniffle when you return home from the horse show. Recent studies regarding athletes find that sleep deprivation also impacts glucose metabolic efficiency.
Horse people translation: You don’t get the energy you need to repair muscle, your entire body slows down, and your stress levels increase, which means tired, sore and unhappy horse competitors.
Topping off sleep-deprived bodies, competitors try to find energy substitutes with a host of energy-boosting drinks (Starbucks being my favorite), sports drinks and sodas that seem to go hand in hand with a candy bar from the concession stand.
Why is water so important to performance? Think back to why you keep your horse’s bucket full. It aids almost every system in the body, transporting nutrients, aiding in digestion, ridding your body of waste and toxins and aiding in energy production.
Whoa … what did you just read … that’s right … aids in energy production.
So put down your morning cup of joe and pick up a bottle of water and start chugging.
Who can resist the smells from the grill or concession stand? There is nothing more tempting than hot, fresh French fries coated in ketchup. But stop and think how this is going to impact the way you swing your rope in the heading or lope over logs in the trail.
Competitors invest too heavily in horse shows to throw everything away because of a few tasty concession stand treats. Fatty foods displace carbohydrates. Translation: You don’t get adequate energy, creating muscle fatigue and increasing chances of weight gain.
Becky Malmo, the head equestrian coach at California State University-Fresno, and her staff understand the importance of proper nutrition with regard to a winning show-ring performance. Not only do they schedule breakfast during competitions, but last year they started providing breakfast and lunch for their team and the opposing team on show days.
“Providing riders with fuel is essential to their success,” Becky says.
With so much invested in horse showing, competitors should search for every opportunity to increase their chances of not only winning, but also enjoying showing and riding their horse. Simple changes in diet, sleep habits and preparations at home can make the difference in a fourth-place ride and belt buckle glory. The next time you pull your horse out of the stall, take a look at his muscle tone, sharpness of eye, healthy sheen of his coat and be jealous!