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As far as competition prep goes, equestrians have it rough. We spend countless hours cleaning tack, scrubbing white socks, packing the trailer like it’s a game of Jenga, pulling manes, booking hotel rooms, and writing checks, that by the time we actually get to the show, we’re kind of exhausted. On top of that, we work so hard to make sure that our equine partners are happy and healthy that we sometimes neglect our own wellbeing.
While I won’t object to stuffing the cooler full of wine and calling it a day, I find that riders who establish healthy horse show practices early on usually do the best in the ring and get the most out of their time at the show. Below are six suggestions to help you stay on top of your game, both in the saddle and out!
- Stay hydrated.
Even though it seems obvious, most riders don’t drink enough fluids, either because they’re too busy running around the show, they don’t feel thirsty, or they don’t have access to water. Yes, show days are usually hectic from start to finish. But, even though there’s a lot going on, you’ll have more energy to get stuff done if you properly hydrate your body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women should drink about eight/nine 8-ounce beverages per day. And, if you wait to hydrate until you feel thirsty, you’re already playing a game of catch-up. Granted, you’re not dangerously dehydrated the second you feel thirsty, but it’s your body’s way of reminding you to drink up. Of course, if water isn’t your beverage of choice, feel free to swap in Gatorade or Powerade, but be sure to pay attention to the sugar levels of these drinks.If you’re tired of constant trips to the concession stand, invest in a reusable water bottle. My personal favorite are S’well Bottles, which keep cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12 hours. They come in 3 convenient sizes (9 ounces, 17 ounces, 25 ounces) and with a variety of colors and designs, they’ll ensure that no one steals your drink. My 17 oz. S’well fits perfectly in the pocket of my ring backpack!
- Pack healthy snacks.
Let’s face it: horse show concession stands usually don’t offer the healthiest options. I think we can all agree that we want to do our best in the ring so that we get our money’s worth, but it just won’t happen if you don’t properly feed your body. Sliced fruits and veggies are an easy option, and because they contain a large amount of water, they’ll also help to keep you hydrated.If you want to make things even easier, find a granola or protein bar that appeals to you and bring a handful. I recommend taste-testing protein bars before you head to the show, because some definitely have an acquired taste. Be sure to check the label as some are high in sugar and fat despite boasting a large amount of protein. My personal favorite are Zone Perfect Nutrition Bars, which come in a variety of flavors and serve as a good afternoon snack and can even replace lunch.
- Make a playlist.
Do you often get nervous before you trot into the ring? Do you find it difficult to sleep the night before a big show? You’re not alone! If your stomach feels like it’s doing flips on show day, consider making a short playlist of some of your favorite songs. Want one that’s already pre-made? Check out the R4WB Positivity Playlist. Listening to music before your ride can enhance your performance and boost your motivation and can even help you regulate your horse’s pace in the ring. According to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, music helps to regulate stress by cortisol levels in the brain (read more about his research here), which is why Olympic athletes are usually shown with headphones in just minutes before a big match or race.If music isn’t your thing, consider listening to Equestrian Mental Skills Coach Tonya Johnston’s podcast “Inside Your Ride” with the Plaid Horse. Johnston interviews riders such as John French, Anne Kursinski, and Hope Glynn about the mental aspect of equestrian sport. Johnston also has several videos and a book filled with strategies to overcome riding challenges.
- Wear sunscreen and/or bug spray.
Even though we wear long sleeves, pants, and tall boots, our skin shouldn’t be neglected, especially that on the face and the chest. Even if the weather is cool and overcast, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Get in the habit of applying a layer to face and chest in the morning and again mid-day. The Sugar Sport Treatment Sunscreen stick is easy to use, sweat proof and the perfect size to keep in a ring bag or tack trunk.Mosquito and fly bites are more annoying than anything, so pack bug spray in case the bugs are especially bad at the show. Mosquitos thrive when there’s a lot of standing water, so spritz all over your body if it’s been rainy or humid.
- Keep a first aid kit in your tack trunk or car.
We’ve all had those show days where the weather is over 90 degrees, the ring is taking forever, and we just can’t catch a break. By the time we unzip our boots–no matter how long we’ve had them or how broken in they are–there’s a fresh blister brewing behind the knee or on the Achilles tendon. What about those times when you’ve been braiding manes since 5 a.m. and your head is pounding? You’ll thank yourself for packing a small first aid kit that includes various sizes of bandaids, Neosporin, gauze, and ibuprofen.
- Enlist a trusty barn mate or parent to video your rounds.
Just like professional athletes spend time pore over film to prepare for the next game, so too should equestrians watch videos of their rounds or dressage tests. You know how your trainer always tells you to stop twisting over your right hip but you never actually feel yourself doing it? Watching yourself ride allows you to see those same things your trainer talks about. We can learn a lot from watching our rounds, like how our position affects our horse and how our pace and rhythm changes throughout the course. In addition to being a teaching tool, watching video also serves as a confidence boost. Look at you go! You got around that course! 9 nine times out of ten, that distance you thought was really truly horrible was smoother than you thought.
I hope you find these tips helpful in preparing for your next show. Remember: the most important thing to bring to a horse show is a good attitude and a smile. Where are you showing this summer?
Be happy and ride happy.