Click here to read the complete article
By Megan Arszman
We inspect every bale of hay, read about the latest supplements, and agonize over the amount of protein in our horses’ grain. Yet, at a horse show, we won’t think twice about eating a greasy cheeseburger or indulging in a couple of sugary treats. After all, that’s what’s available, right?
Two longtime competitors decided that’s not how they wanted to fuel up at horse shows. Melissa Sachs and Erin Shapiro Boatwright continually fight the battle to stay healthy, both in and out of the show arena. They’ve even worked to help family, friends, and barn mates to be more thoughtful in their nutrition and exercise decisions.
Healthy for Life
An AQHA competitor since age 12, Boatwright has always tried to live a healthy lifestyle on and off horseback. Recently, she changed her career path and is in the middle of finishing her Masters degree in health sciences with a concentration in nutrition at Georgia State University. Once she graduates, she’ll take an exam to become a registered dietician. “I’ve always been really interested in nutrition and there’s so much more talk nowadays,” she says. “Healthier nutrition is always on people’s radar.”
Boatwright likes the idea of the flexibility her new degree will allow her to have—she’ll be able to work through hospitals, doctors’ offices, sports teams, and even at horse shows. “I hope that as I continue my studies, I can do some positive things to help those at the horse shows who want to be healthy,” she explains.
As a hunt seat competitor, Boatwright understands the necessity of a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. “[Showing in hunt seat is] very high cardio,” she explains. “If you haven’t been eating well and you don’t work out on a consistent basis on your own, you’re just not going to be able to perform your best, whether you’re practicing or showing. We all know the judges like to have us trot around the pen for forever, so you really [need] to have the cardio strength to be able to survive that experience.”
When she’s at home, Boatwright does weight training and cardio work two to three times a week, and she has fallen in love with doing hot yoga two to three times a week. Fish is her major source of animal protein, which she balances with a primarily vegetarian diet.
When she’s at a horse show, Boatwright enjoys a protein shake (made with her Magic Bullet Blender) for breakfast and multiple small meals throughout the day. If she has time at longer horse shows, she’ll try to squeeze in a workout either at a local gym (day passes are usually free or pretty cheap) or the hotel gym. She reminds us that there are exercises riders can do in their hotel rooms, or even by the horse trailer, for a good workout such as push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, and sit-ups.
APHA trainer, Melissa Sachs, worked doing physical therapy and sports medicine while in college. She was able to apply what she learned towards not only her own conditioning, but to her horses’ benefit as well. Aside from her daily workout routine of training horses and barn chores, she enjoys an active lifestyle of running, fitness classes, and other sports.
“I have led a healthy lifestyle my entire life. That’s how I was brought up,” Sachs says. “It is very important for parents to be a good example and instill healthy lifestyle practices in their children from the start. I believe children should eat the same meals as the adults in the household, not separate processed, packaged food.”
Sachs works out six days a week and enjoys eating everything…in moderation. “I could never be a vegetarian, because I love a good filet mignon,” she laughs.
When on the road, she’ll stick to strengthening exercises, unfortunately missing out on her cardio, but she claims she makes up for it running around at horse shows. She also knows the importance of staying well-hydrated both at home and at horse shows.
Spreading the Healthy Love
Equestrians are athletes; just like their equine partners. We need to fuel our bodies properly in order to maintain peak performance. Both Boatwright and Sachs try to encourage their friends, clients, and family to live healthier lifestyles at home and at the shows.
“I really try to motivate my clients and family members to get and stay fit,” Sachs says. “I make meal suggestions and always suggest splitting meals at restaurants. Riding takes strength, especially core strength. The stronger and leaner you are, the better rider you are.”
Boatwright encouraged her husband to change his eating habits so it would be easier for her to stay on track. She points out that having a support system at home, and at the barn, makes it easier to affect a positive change.
She doesn’t mind answering nutrition questions from friends and barn mates, and, when she attends horse shows, she offers healthier alternatives to the usual chips and candy that can be found at stalls.
“I bring some of my stuff out to the stalls for people to eat,” she says. “I do see some people eating it. If I’m at a store, and I’m picking up chips for everyone, I’ll try to bring chips that maybe are a little healthier. That way, they don’t have to go all the way to where they’re only eating raw almonds, but there are things that they can eat that are better than fried potato chips. It’s about a balance between not eating the worst things and eating something in the middle.”
“I bring veggies, healthy snacks, and protein bars on trips,” Sachs says. “I keep some in the cab of the truck, because, sometimes, we span five hours between stops. I do better physically and mentally when I keep on track with my food and water consumption.”
Tips for Staying Healthy at Horse Shows
Eating healthy is hard enough, but doing so at a horse show is an even larger challenge. On top of all of this, food stands, stall snacks, and late night dinners tempt us into making more unhealthy choices. Boatwright provides the following tips to help you start the year right and stay on a healthy track all year long:
1. Assess your diet. Do you think you eat healthy? Many of us would answer yes, but, in reality, we are not even close to attaining our daily consumption recommendations. Your diet should mainly consist of fruits, vegetables, and grains, along with smaller portions of protein and dairy. Still think you eat healthy? Test it out. Write down your food consumption for one day and include everything. Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov, and click the link for “SuperTracker.” You can create a profile and enter in the items from your 24-hour food recall. The reports will show you how successful you have been in meeting your caloric and nutrient goals for the day. You can use the SuperTracker to modify your meal plan to fill missing food requirements. This site also provides general guidelines for how many servings of each food group you should eat each day.
– Tip: “MyFitness Pal” is a phone application that tracks your food consumption and physical activity. It’s great to use while at shows when you don’t have a computer. Keeping track of your energy in and energy out will make you more accountable.
– Tip: Remember, horseback riders are athletes that need to fuel their bodies properly in order to maintain peak performance. You need to eat carbs in the form of whole grains in the morning before heading out to the show (oatmeal, cereal, toast, or breakfast bars). Before you show, a piece of fruit can provide more carbs for energy without loading down your stomach. If you’re staying at a hotel, grab an extra banana, apple, or orange as you leave. Throughout the day, you will want to get protein and carbs to help your body to continue functioning in between rides. A turkey or chicken sandwich on wheat bread is a great option. If you are short on time or resources, eat a handful of nuts, preferably unsalted. Peanut butter is another great option. Make a peanut butter sandwich or eat peanut butter spread with an apple.
2. One step at a time. Eating healthy is a lifestyle choice that takes work. Making the effort, one step at a time, will help you to be more successful. Start off by making two goals: create one goal to limit a bad habit and one goal to encourage a good habit. For example, limit yourself to drinking two sodas a day instead of five sodas and try to eat two types of vegetables each day. Start working on your goals before you leave for the horse show. Small goals are attainable, even at horse shows, and will lead to a greater chance of long-term success. As you start to make better diet choices, you should start to feel better, which will only encourage you to keep on a healthy path.
– Tip: When starting, instead of being concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. This thought process should make it easier to pick healthy choices. Focus on finding foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. If you have trouble getting started, look on the internet or talk to people who you view as healthy and see what they do. Gradually, your diet will become healthier and more delicious. When you shop at the grocery store, get the majority of your foods from the aisles on the perimeter. This is where the fresh foods are kept
– Tip: Don’t forget to drink water. People often mistake hunger for thirst. Many horse shows take place in the summertime, which makes it even more important to stay hydrated. Soda, coffee, and alcohol will increase rates of dehydration.
3. Plan ahead. If you are driving to the show, stock up on grocery items for meals and snacks before you leave home. Pre-made sandwiches, fruit salads, and vegetables are easy to grab in a hurry. Having food readily available in your trailer or at your stalls will help you make better choices, rather than impulsively grabbing a bag of chips at the food stand. Snacks don’t have to be gourmet or time intensive; for example, whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese is an option. When you make meals in your own kitchen, you know what goes into the food in the form of butter, oil, and preservatives. Prepared food typically contains hidden additives such as salt and preservatives that should be avoided. In addition, bringing your own food will help you save money since restaurants and food stands are more expensive. If you are flying to the show, look up local grocery stores and make it a point to grab some items once you arrive. Many hotels have refrigerators in the room.
– Tip: Pre-made food items like veggie trays are more expensive than buying each individual vegetable and making your own, but in a pinch they are a great snack option that will fit in the cooler.
4. Stay away from the stall snacks. In between classes, many of us are tempted to dig into the bags of snacks left at the stalls. Do not even start. Once you start, you will not stop. Instead, bring a healthier alternative. Fruit and veggies are great but not always accessible. Nuts, popcorn, and whole grain chips are also good options because they don’t need refrigeration.
– Tip: Check out: Fooducate.com. This is a great website (they have phone apps too). It gives you a grade on your snack item and even suggests items that are healthier. For example, instead of Cheetos, which have a grade of D, pick white cheddar popcorn, which has a grade of A-B depending on the brand. Look up your favorite item and see how it rates.
5. Make it a group effort. Keep yourself on a healthy track by encouraging barn mates to do the same. On days when western events show, ask the hunt seat riders to provide healthy lunch or at least snacks for everyone. To go even further, come up with a contest for everyone in the barn. One contest could be to reduce the amount of sodas, chips, and beer consumed. You could even create a contest to see who can walk the most steps at a show—pedometers cost less than $5. Prizes are always motivators, so use gift cards, horse supplies, or even a credit on your training bill as prizes!
You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet. The long-term goal is to feel good, have more energy, and reduce health risks. Take it step by step and don’t let your missteps derail you—every healthy food choice you make counts. We spend so much time and effort making sure our horses are properly fed and prepared. It’s equally important to do the same for ourselves.
Click here to read the complete article