Adapted from the original article written as an ambassador for blog of The Fit Equestrian LLC.
As you may know from the deluge of social media posts about eating disorders in February, the official National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week was February 22nd-28th, 2021.
Despite this being such a popular movement, for most individuals, it’s just a fleeting week that doesn’t produce much systematic correction. What we need is a catalyst for change.
As humans, we have selective memory which makes our brains prefer information that is most meaningful to ourselves. If we can make NEDA personal by sharing our own experiences, both big and small, then we can make a more lasting impact.
My journey with an eating disorder started like any other, which is yet another reminder of how simple it could be for support systems to spot them early on. I was first influenced by friends and older girls from school through casual conversations about how pretty one girl in class or in a movie looks (who is undoubtedly skinny).
As my peers and I grew up in elementary school, I noticed many of us fell into habits of restrictive eating, or self-consciously preferring certain clothes. The general consensus was that we all wanted to be as small as possible, ideally to fly under anyone's radar until puberty runs its course for the next five years.
I experienced growth spurts very early on and inevitably stood out amongst my peers. At home, I also stood out because my twin brother was growing far slower than me. The only time I never felt out of place was when I was in the saddle. I always gravitated towards the big horses because of my naturally long legs and arms. I felt so empowered to be able to ride such strong animals. Still being a little kid, I never really saw myself as a “fat rider” until middle school when I was finally the height to match the right-sized horse. Then, self-consciousness kicked in for every aspect of my life. Long story short, it didn’t feel good at all.
I never pursued school sports teams in middle or high school because I solely focused on my riding. I was so driven and narrow-minded with my ambitions, for better or for worse. I loved riding and wouldn’t change anything. But, because I never did school sports, I never really felt like I fit in with the other “jock-like” students. And of course, there were the kids that would protest that riding wasn’t a sport.
After seventh grade, which was a very low year for my mental health, I decided I needed to really restart for eighth grade in order to give my high school years the best shot. I was living every day of middle school, just hoping I could survive to see myself in high school. But more specifically, I was hoping to see myself as my ideal version of a high school student. I always dreamt that “high-school me” would be tall and slender, have straight silky-smooth hair, and always have a few notebooks in her hand. There are so many issues with this ideal, but most obviously because I have wildly curly hair.
But “middle-school me” desperately just wanted something good to live for. So, starting the summer before eighth grade I forced myself into an intensive exercise regiment and restrictive diet on top of my increasing riding schedule. Then, shortly after school began, I was given the opportunity to train with Olympic Showjumper Anne Kursinski for that winter’s WEF 2018. It was a dream come true! But it also gave me a pit of endless dread that I wouldn’t be good enough. I heard rumors that she was a hard instructor and talked about rider’s fitness and health. (In my young mind, I just interpreted that as desiring a skinny body).
My disordered-eating habit turned into an actual eating-disorder when I began being bulimic. Starting out as a quick purge after a dessert or large-meal, quickly unraveled into an extensive trip to the bathroom after every meal. I remember often running up to the single-stall bathroom in school mid-way through lunch so that I could throw it all up before my next class.
It’s painful to remember, and I’m sure it’s painful to read, but that’s why I want to show others that they aren’t alone with this difficult journey.
When freshman winter rolled around, I was as lean as I had even been. However, I didn’t feel that way at the time which is why I now see how truly sick I was. My entire time down at WEF I was never once criticized for my weight, even though I was terrified every single day that it would come. On the contrary, I had an incredibly successful time under Anne’s guidance with my then-horse Chaz moving up from the Children’s to the Junior Jumpers.
But it was just one thing after the next that fed my eating disorder. In April, I had a George Morris riding clinic and I was terrified I could be called out for my body. That clinic went very well and no criticism arose. But then, I decided to pursue the Big Eq classes with Chaz. Well now of course I had to be skinny right? Soon, it became too unmanageable to sustain while continuing long days doing barn work.
I felt weak and I never even saw myself as skinny, so in what world is that considered a win?
When I switched back to the junior jumpers fully and pursued the working-student position with my then-trainer, I really forced myself to stop my eating disorder. It was not easy, and I had several remissions, but I knew it had to stop if I wanted to pursue my passion at the best of my ability.
I am really grateful my disorder wasn’t so extreme that I couldn’t get out of it alone. I do not recommend trying to heal on your own, it is a very lonely journey. And even in my case, where none of my family or friends knew, I still found support online through educational resources and truly inspirational women. Social media can lead to these downwards spirals, but it can also help you get out of them. I met so many amazing individuals that were struggling with similar disorders and we helped each other through it.
It pains me to see, and to know, so many young individuals that struggle with eating disorders. But I am never surprised by it, because our society generates such a toxic culture around body image, especially in athletics.
I think body image issues are especially prevalent in the equestrian world because there’s still doubt around how much the rider is truly an athlete in the horse-and-rider pair. Instead of admiring a strong rider, often people are influenced to look for a far leaner rider, who may not have the strength to be as effective as the bulkier rider. On the flip side, there are riders who are thicker and have always been that way and can seem to keep on weight. So in reality, the body types of athletes are wide-ranging.
What we should be asking ourselves is, “how can I become a better athlete?” not automatically, “how can I change my body?” The difference between those two questions is that the former is focusing on improving ability and the latter is focusing on improving vanity.
If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, please seek out professional help. Visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support for screening tools, helplines, and more information about eating disorders.
For the original TFE blog post click below:
Despite the phrase, “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas”... what happens, meaning, the food you eat and the fitness routine you have on vacation will affect you after the trip. Some trips are purposefully vacations involving full relaxation so maybe you can pass on the latest HIT workout but your fitness routine can still entail health benefitting exercises like stretching, foam rolling, casual walking, etc. And that ice cream you’ve been dying to consume on your vacation is totally acceptable, but maybe eating it every single night isn’t the best decision. As you may have suspected, this scenario ties back to the phrase, “everything in moderation”. Unless I really need to take out certain foods from my diet for medical/ethical reasons, I have an open mindset on foods I consume as long as it’s in moderation.
One dinner entree I had at a restaurant in Lake Placid, NY last week. It included grilled tuna, topped with a citrus cabbage slaw and guacamole on the side. Soooo delicious!
On other trips, like horse shows, my nutrition is more imperative because I need to ensure my body feels as good as it can, and my fitness routine is daily. My nutrition regimen is very loose, I just focus on intuitive eating by eating as many healthy options that are available to me. I do this by hitting all the important food groups: fat, protein, and carbs. The foods I normally stick to are lean proteins, healthy fats with lots of omega-3s, and carbohydrates including vegetables, multigrain bread, etc.
On early riding days I grab some oatmeal and mix in nuts and dried fruit (and flaxseed if I brought it with me) and sometimes I had fresh fruit on top! It makes for a delicious breakfast that is agreeable in my stomach for early mornings.
Unlike when I am at home and practice intermittent fasting (from around 9pm-11am), at shows, I make sure I am fueled in the morning. First off, because hotel breakfasts are free, and second because I rarely have the time to stop and eat a healthy lunch at the show. If I am riding first thing in the AM and I’m not hungry I have oatmeal with nuts and fruit, or I have a bagel with cream cheese and fruit. If I can eat more food I will have their eggs so I have some fat and protein in my system. I always pack apples and/or bananas in my bag for my horses and for me! Instead of lunch, I make sure I have snacks packed if I’m hungry like a piece of fruit, nuts, protein bars, etc. Then for dinner, I always get a salad and have a protein added or get an entre that is packed with veggies and protein.
This was a delicious entree I had at a restaurant in downtown Lake Placid, NY. Medium-rare grilled salmon on a bed of spinach, accompanied with sautéed vegetable in a mouthwatering sauce I'm forgetting the name of, darn! Also sided with mashed potatoes. (I don't like potatoes but as a mashed potato aficionado...my mother loved!)
While at away shows, which are usually three-seven days long, I stay at hotels which all have gyms. The gyms are minimal but certainly get the job done! Because horse shows entail competing, I don’t want a heavy workout to get in the way of me competing my best. Therefore, my fitness routines include lots of full-body exercises that I know won’t make me feel that sore the next day. My fitness routines all have the goal of getting me to loosen my body and work muscle groups I need to feel strong for my competing, without getting me too sore. I like to do a treadmill walk at my hotel every morning before I go flat my horses so I feel warmed up and loose, I usually do it for 10-20 minutes depending on how much time I have. It usually has to be around 6 am.
An example of a hotel gym fitness routine of mine is:
I have increased my workouts slowly to get to this point, and for me, this workout is not intense, it just gets me to use my muscle groups and I don’t feel sore the next day. However, if this workout seems daunting just decrease weights and take breaks in between the exercises, I go into them without breaks unless I need it. If this doesn’t seem hard enough remember it's just supposed to be a supplement workout because of competing at the show, but if you want it harder repeat the circuits more or add more weights and work on fewer breaks in between the exercises.
I always do my fitness routine in the late afternoon/evening after riding/showing because I never want to deplete my energy before riding, and that way post workout I can take a cold shower and sleep it off!
The next edition of this Nutrition & Fitness routine will be for my day-to-day schedule in the summer. Following that will be an edition for my Nutrition & Fitness routine during school.
Thank you for reading! Check out my other articles if you haven’t already. Stay tuned for more!
The story I am about to share delves into the roller-coaster of a journey I have been through for most of my life. It is one that dives into the complexities of my state of mind when coping with health challenges like my life-long balance dealing with minor scoliosis as well as short-term injuries that take me out of regular training.
As someone with a so-called Type "A" personality (being organized, obsessively writing goals/schedules, always wanting to push myself further, etc) I find dealing with injuries is significantly hard more so on my mind than my body. It's hard to tell myself the best way to heal from an injury is rest. Therefore, instead of thinking my recovery period entails being a couch potato binging Netflix, I find a productive outlet so I still feel like I am doing just as much. For example: doing yoga, foam-rolling, experimenting with pilates, or other things I think of as productive for myself such as playing the piano, reading more books, organizing my room (a family favorite!). I apply this to not only injury recovery but also downtimes in my riding competition schedule such as when autumn show finals are over and before WEF. That 1-2 month downtime is really important to focus on personal health. Downsizing the amount of exercise, then fully resting, starting back up, and getting even stronger than I was last season. Sometimes doing this cycle during another point in the year like in the summer for a week or two helps me, but if I experience injuries that year it's not as necessary since I most likely already took a rest period.
Even more crucial than setting certain periods of the year for rest, is listening to your body. I find this difficult because I always doubt if I'm doing enough or doing too much and how much pain is too much pain to push through. There are so many double-standards in our society. In athletics, I find the double standard of pushing yourself v.s listening to your body extremely prevalent. For example, I notice on social media people posting "no pain no gain" much how much pain gives you gain and when does it become harmful? On the other hand, people post things like "treat yourself" while eating a donut or sleeping in. How much "treating ourselves" is the right amount? When does it start reversing all the progress I make in training? The answer to these questions is unique for everyone but because people post and share their journeys on social media it's easy to compare each other's lifestyles. I consider my lifestyle as being fluid: there are weeks I train harder than others, weeks I eat my food than others, weeks I sleep more than others, etc. But there are goals I create that set guidelines for my lifestyle. Within those goals is a kind of freedom that never makes me feel like I am restricting myself. The freedom also allows me to listen to my body. For example, let's say I have a personal goal to run a half marathon this fall. One week of my training I feel pretty crappy or I am swamped with exams so I have to step down my training. The next week my body feels really recovered so I step it up. Eventually, I get back to where I was stronger than before and I can keep progressing. Another example is sleep. I used to think if I didn't wake up at 6:30am on the weekends I wouldn't be productive enough. I told myself I was still sleeping in since I normally wake up at 6:15am on the weekdays but in reality, it was just a weak excuse to push myself harder. Sometimes my body really needs an extra hour or so of sleep, and as research shows sleep is incredibly important for the overall health of mind and body. So all in all, listening to my body has become the golden rule in my lifestyle.
During recovery from short-term injuries, I reflect on several things, such as, how the injury occurred, what I have to do to recover from it, and how I can prevent it and other injuries in the future. Fortunately, I have not experienced too many significant injuries, but the ones I have endured took a toll on my psyche and have forced me to have that changed mindset I explained earlier. Recently I experienced shin splints from right above my ankle up my inner calves. I have never experienced shin splints before and no one in my family has either so I was scared at first. I was scared of the unknown: how bad they are, how long recovery would take, what recovery even entails, etc. My first step was to instinctually stop my running. To be honest, the shin splints were so bad I couldn't run even if I wanted to. I could barely walk without hobbling around. My second step was to research everything I could about what my pain was (found out it was Posterior Shin Splints). Then I researched a lot on various recovery routines and finally how long it would take to recover. It was a daunting realization that this was a serious injury when I learned the recovery time could be up to 3-4 months. That is a whole lot of time out of training, especially since the summer just began and I always increase my running now since I have more time and it's so beautiful outside. At first, I was extremely unhappy because all I kept thinking about was the time it would take to get back to where I was with my running fitness. However, after some revaluation, knowing the injury could take up to 3-4 months, motivated me to take this recovery seriously. First, I researched and found a recovery routine to follow religiously. Then, I researched and figured out how to prevent it from happening again. So I am now following a routine that entails icing, foam-rolling, Epsom salt baths, walking with proper shoes, etc. Finally, I am slowly but surely increasing my running again in five-minute intervals on the treadmill at 5.0 incline and jog pace so my calves don't have as much stride to work for.
As for prevention, yesterday, the day I began to run again, I went out and bought new running shoes at an actual running store in town where the people there were able to help me find the right shoe and insole based on my foot, my usual mileage, and the fact that I have experienced shin splints. The outcome? A shoe from a brand I never even heard of, an insole that provides me stability and injury prevention, and knee-high compression socks to help with performance and recovery. (Although I was a big embarrassed wearing these pink socks to the gym today they sure did help! P.S I would have bough black ones but they were out of stock. I wonder why...) All in all, I am having a very positive outcome from my shin splint injury. I have had other short-term injuries that weren't nearly as easy to cope with as this one. The biggest reason they were more difficult was my mindset through them. I only saw the injury as a limitation from anything fun I could due. Seeing injuries as an opportunities to explore new things has allowed me to have a positive and productive mindset through recovery. Furthermore, it keeps me motivated to follow my recovery rituals like icing, foam-rolling, etc. and preventing myself from having another performance related injury.
Short-term injuries are one thing, but life-long injuries or conditions are a whole other beast. Really anything that will be a life-long challenge is a beast of its own. At least for me, knowing I will have to deal with something my entire life has been a hard realization and I only just recently able to process. I have minor scoliosis, it only effects me when standing for a while, pushing myself in sports. It isn't really visible to the public eye, but it is to me, everyday. My pelvis is slightly rotated forward and my right hip is slightly higher than my left. If I put my hands on my hips it's blatantly obvious I'm crooked, and if I put my feet together my right knee is higher than the other. Having to deal with the pain is one thing, but knowing I have it every time I look in the mirror is another. I used to hate my body for it. I used to try to manipulate my back in ways to make it become straight. I was so desperate for it to go away.
My pediatrician told me when I was younger that I would grow out of it; I never did. I decided I needed to find an alternative, anything that gave me a chance of progress with my back. While training with Anne Kurskinski during WEF 2018 she suggested I start going to a chiropractor. I immediately jumped on this suggestion and found someone up north near my hometown I could go to regularly. The day my X-rays came into my chiropractor's office was such a pivotal moment for me because my chiropractor not only solidified my hunch that I was crooked, he also said he would even be able realign my back significantly. To consider that even a possibility was a dream come true. Since then, I have been going regularly (its been about 15 months), I have been doing specific exercises, I have been listening to my body and eating healthy. However, it hasn't been a linear journey. Some weeks I come to his office an inch more crooked than others but all that matters is progression. For a while I needed to cut down on my running because my crooked spine was causing pain to shoot down my thighs into my knees. When I went to a specialist a few months back he told me my unaligned spine was significantly due to muscle imbalances. For example, my abductors (outer thigh area) was far weaker than my adductor (inner thigh). This was due to riding and the necessity of inner thigh strength. So I started doing targeted abductor exercises after that session a couple months ago and I have felt a big difference in my posture and performance in running. Although it is difficult to cope with something I know I will have in one way or another my entire life, finding alternative outlets I never knew I had, and creating a productive and supportive program for recovery, has helped me carry a positive mindset through my own short-term and long-term injury recoveries.
First of all I need to make a disclaimer. I never say I am on a "diet" because the word diet has changed from what you eat to: a certain restrictive palate of food you make yourself eat for a certain amount of time. Instead I say I have an "intuitive eating" lifestyle because I never plans on ending this and reverting back to just junk foods.
The second disclaimer is that I am NOT a certified nutritionist, nor have certified background in this. Do not follow this as your own diet, this is just me sharing my journey, what I do and how I think it has helped me!
Lastly, I find it very interesting the week I decide to write this blog post is actually the same week as the annual NEDA Awareness week. Please, if you ever feel like you are beginning a restrictive, or overall negative eating habit, reach out for guidance from trusted adults or even find support on the NEDA website. That being said, it is perfectly normal and healthy to adjust your eating habits to avoid unhealthy foods, but the key is to remember balance.
The Balancing Act.
Eating healthy RARELY means following a certain diet for only a certain amount of time. That induces a back-and-forth lifestyle between extreme "healthy" food to terrible "junk" foods. That type of back and forth creates enormous stress on your body and can really mess with you mentally & physically. The best balance is a compromise between foods you need to consume for proper nutrients, while consuming the foods that you actually enjoy eating!
There is no doubt eating healthy has to be a balance between consuming the proper nutrients and indulging in foods that make you happy. The key is adapting your palate to a healthy range of sugar-sensitivity so you can enjoy foods just as much, but shift your guilty pleasures from a nightly sundae to a yogurt with berries or a piece of melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate.
Avoid the Added Sugars
Originally my palate preferred more sugary foods based on the terrible mainstream food industry of America, but overtime I was able to adjust my palate to less and less sugary foods. This way I was still enjoying my food! For example, I have overtime adjusted my sugar cravings from things like pints of sugary ice creams to no-sugar added yogurts with berries, or 90% dark chocolate, or even homemade peanut butter cups. This way I am able to indulge in my desserts, without feeling any restrictions, but still keeping in mind what my body needs. Changing my overall diet to less-sugar based also allows me to indulge in the occasional sugary dessert at a social gathering, because I don't feel guilty since I don't eat it everyday. This change in diet has also really improved my overall mood, self-esteem, energy levels, decreased my joint discomfort, and helped me optimize my performance riding and running!
I have avoided eating any really processed foods from boxes/wrappers, and steered clear of "white carbs" like white bread, white pastas, etc. Overall I try to eat only multigrain/complex carbs so they stay in my stomach longer and aren't immediately digested into sugars. For example, multigrain breads with low sugars (highly recommend Dave's Killer Bread) and when I have pasta I like to eat Red Lentil Pasta (I get mine from Trader Joe's) or I ask for whole wheat pastas at restaurants. If I eat something that has processed carbs, like normal pizza I try to add a lot of nutrients of fats and proteins on top so it stays in my stomach longer! Eating too many sugars can induce insulin levels and blood sugar levels to extremely fluctuate sometimes making you feel energetic and then light-heady or drowsy, etc.
Don't be scared of fats!
One of the most damaging fads in the American food industry was creating the taboo around eating fats. The rise of low-fat foods in the 1900s meant compensating with more and more sugars and chemical ingredients which are really the big toxins.
However it is not black-and-white....there are fats to avoid like saturated and trans fats, but ironically by avoiding fats the sugar is usually increased and the sugar actually induces body-fat increase from the refined carbohydrates. Increasing the intake in unsaturated fats, and especially omega-3 fatty acids is very important. Most American diets are much higher on Omega-6s than Omega-3s and making the ideal ratio of 3:1 but some are now saying 1:1 or even more omega 3 to omega 6. The benefits of Omega-3s are enormous, such as reducing risks of heart health, reducing inflammation, improving mental health (still very recent studies on this), reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome, reducing chances of cancer (still new studies on this), improve bones, sleep and skin. There are a plethora of benefits, proving its essential role in our diets. However, most of the food industry neglects these essential fats (so I sometimes feel like the world is against me eating healthy lol), but in recent years there has been a huge rise in interest of eating healthy. I have lately seen many new food brands that are promoting healthier ingredients which is wonderful to see.
My Dos and Don'ts
Instead of leading a life within a constraining diet I just set light dos and dont's that I tried to stick with. These are my dos and don'ts and I am only sharing the list to provide inspiration if you want to use some of them!
1) Try to eat lots of dark green vegetables/other vegetables high in nutrients
2) Incorporate fruits in desserts to serve as a natural sweetener
3) Balance each meal with foods you want to eat and foods you may not love but want to try incorporating more into your diet (like for people that hate veggies--slowly incorporating ones you like more and more into your diet to get accustom to them)
4) Incorporate foods high in fatty-acids into every meal
(For example, I put flax-seed meal in my yogurt, and take Omega-3 supplements if I can't find a way to eat them in a meal)
5) Incorporate protein and fats and complex-carbohydrates into each meal so it is more filling and nutritious
6) Induldge in the occasional sugary dessert if you want, because why the heck not!! If its a periodic indulgence I feel way less guilty, and can actually enjoy it! Unfortunately, if its a week-long of splurging my body feels so crappy and I really regret it.
7) Try to incorporate various protein types (legumes, seafood, poultry, red meat, etc.) if your dietary needs allow it.
1) Try to avoid refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white pasta, plain bagels, etc.) because they are processed as sugars
2) Try to avoid automatically going to very sweet desserts all the time
(Some times a piece of dark chocolate or yogurt with berries does the trick for me!)
Example School Day:
Start my morning with-- black coffee with half & half creamer or unsweetened almond milk creamer
~Breakfast before school classes~
Example go-to breakfast (8am)-- Yogurt
Snack (optional, sometimes eaten)
Lunch (1pm)-- Salad (My school has a cafeteria)
**After school I workout or head to the barn**
Post-workout Snack (approx 5pm)-- either of the following
Dinner (below is one of my favorite meals ever.)
I also just love eating any leftovers I can scrounge up to make a delicious meal!
Example Weekend Day:
Starting my morning--Coffee with creamer (very necessary)
Breakfast I sometimes skip to induce intermittent fasting if I am not hungry; or if I have a big day and am hungry I make the yogurt I shared above or a peanut butter sandwich shown below, which is easier to bring on the go:
Snack (when I'm out all day I pack a snack I can eat, such as when I'm at the barn or the show all day)
Lunch (If I am out all day I sometimes just eat a filling snack like nuts, or I end up eating lunch at like 4pm)
I like to eat a Filling Salad full of a variety of veggies, sources of fats & proteins or a sandwich I packed like below:
Dinner (second favorite dinner shown below)
I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something new or were inspired by anything I have shared! I look forward to continuing this blog post series. This is one of a series of nutrition related blog posts I plan on writing. Please reach out if you have any topic requests or questions.
Have a wonderful day,
Its February so the new year is in full swing now and everybody is working hard to accomplish their goals that they set on the bright horizon. With this comes a load of training that entails many inevitable highs and lows because progress is not linear. Sometimes these roadblocks take a hard toll on us or our horses. When these tough times fall on us its important to remember the reason behind all of this...the joy of riding. When riding gets to a point where it's unhealthy stress, it's important to take a step back and access the situation. This has happened to me many times, and every one of those times I've had to alter something in my life to shift riding back to the joy and therapy its always been for me.
WEF Training & Aspirations
Since I have arrived at WEF last week, (WEF Week 4) my awareness of people's desires to rush anything has really heightened. This is not a new phenomenon but I think it is far more common at the beginning of the year when everyone is figuring out their ambitious goals. For example, wanting to move up multiple divisions. Sometimes this is perfectly fine but in past experience, like with my previous horse lease Chaz, it takes the right combination of enough experience as a rider at that current height, enough experience from the horse at that height and lastly enough confidence from both the horse and rider as a team. The extent of any of these factors becomes more and more important the higher the divisions because every move up requires more tactful riding.
I am also trying to ride as many different horses as I can while I am down here so I can gain as much mileage as possible.
I am really proud of the training that my horses and I have accomplished so far and I think its paying off in the long run. Both Bijoux and Uno have so much potential, my overarching goal is to just to help them become the best horses they can be.
Shouldn't the welfare of our horses really always be the encompassing goal?
'til next time...
All photos by Penny Hansen
There is no doubt that riding is a unique sport being the only Olympic sport involving animals. It is a sport that involves not only full body strength, but also mental focus and the sensitivity and patience required so understand equine body language. The communication needed between a rider and their horse is crucial in order to thrive in any field of the equine world. The best part of riding for me is knowing that I am able to have a bond with a 1200 lb animal that doesn't speak the same language as me but still we are able to face obstacles together (literally). I can truly say horses are some of my best of friends because they try so hard for us, they are so forgiving, and they help us become the best versions of ourselves. After all, isn't that what friends and teammates are supposed to do?
Riding has always been a great outlet for my competitive & sporty nature, but even more so it has been a vital outlet for me throughout my life juggling various personal, family, and school issues involving my parents divorcing, battling depression and anxiety and finding my way into high-school. I would not be where I am today without horses, but even more so my parents who have supported me through thick and thin providing me the opportunity to keep horses in my life.
Riding is my passion but horses are my family.
It is so unfortunate the equine world is overall expensive because many people are not able to afford to ride. However, there are numerous new up and coming therapeutic equine programs that have proved incredibly beneficial. I recently read a Noelle Floyd Article by Stephanie Richards that shares the journey inmate Tarry James has experienced with horses. James describes the free-roaming horse she connected with as, "a buddy in my arms", revealing the deep companionship horses can provide.
Tammy James was selected for the equine-assisted psychotherapy program through the (WRAP) finishing her jail sentence.
Reading this article opened a new door into the equine world for me, showing me more and more examples of the benefits of working with horses.
Kristen de Marco, the Executive Director and Founder of Gateway Horseworks, explains that through their program, "the horses become metaphors for how we explore relationships and for what we are facing outside the arena...We can work with horses to explore how we feel as people.” This has been a really critical aspect of riding for me because there have been darker times in my life when nobody's words could get through to me, only the friendship with a horse. In fact, Dr.Page Walker Buck explains that for people with symptoms of PTSD, therapies involving animals have been proven far more beneficial than talk therapies because of cognitive processes working differently.
“To reconnect with nature and horses brings women back in touch with themselves in a way that may or may not happen through medication and talk therapy.”
Kristen de Marco and Dr.Page Walker Buck both hope that this new Stable Pathways can help improve the lives of women by providing them the means to find the light within themselves to shine in the world around them.
I highly recommend this Noelle Floyd article to learn more about the benefits and science behind equine therapy programs and what a difference they can make in someone's life just like inmate Terry James. It is wonderful to see how broad the equine world is. Although there is a plethora of equine disciplines, they originate from the same love for horse's and the desire for that special bond between horse and human.
Like most riders out there, my journey did not begin in a show barn filled with cute hunter ponies and big and flashy jumper horses. My parents knew nothing about horses or the horse industry so it was treading in unmarked territory.
My journey begin with me and my love for horses. I loved horses as much as I loved puppies, which is very hard to match. I always had to find the horse stuffed animal, not the unicorn, but the horse. The one I dreamed of all night wishing it was real, and I could groom and ride it all day. Along with my childhood imagination, came the flow of horse movies and play figures. I can't even imagine how many times I re-watched the move Spirit and forced everyone else to watch it with me! It was obvious then that I had a passion for horses and I wanted to share this passion with everyone.
As soon as I could talk I pleaded to both my parents that I start riding horses. In my mind...everyday was another chance my wish could be granted! At the age of three I sat in the saddle of a fat half-linger named Angel. And it truly felt like the heavens granted my wish, and an angel came down in the form of a pony. Oh how joyous the imaginations of children can be. I began at a very small beginner-rider barn that had many dogs older horses that did either English or western. They taught me the best way, horsemanship skills and playing games like "around the world" or balance exercises in the saddle. I saw riding a horse as a package of horsemanship, love, and time in the saddle. I remember my instructor and other rider's moms saying I had natural talent and I thanked them for the compliment but I never new what to do with the compliment because I truly felt like I barely knew the horse world. So I enjoyed my little local riding bubble.
From here, I rode all the farm's different ponies, some naughty, some really slow, and some way too fast! After a couple years of getting the walk trot canter basics and confidence, I debuted in my first show! Of course I had no idea what to expect, neither did my parents. All we did was find our trainer, they put me on the horse and brought me to a ring with tons of other riders riding and jumping. The parents were all watching us from the sidelines. I soon realized it was a schooling ring but it seemed like I was still being judged in that ring...by my trainer, my parents, and least comfortingly the other rider's parents. But of course I didn't let that get to me because at six years old all I cared about was listening to every word my trainer said, and riding my pony proud! I remember feeling somewhat relieved when I found out my trainer got to go in the ring with me, and then I saw all the other riders came in with their trainers too! It was a lead line class and when I realized what this was I was a bit annoyed I couldn't ride in the ring alone (my competitive nature began young!). And I got champion that day, my first show ever which I was very happy about, but also questioned why I won. My trainer said it was because I was on the correct diagonal in the trot and no one else was, but in my head I thought that wasn't a good enough reason to be champion. Thinking back now, part of me wishes I was less harsh on myself as a young child. Most of us don't realize children of such innocence can be holding such negative thoughts. But I think it's what drove me to become better and immerse myself further into this sport.
After a couple more years, I reached the most advanced class at that farm in Saturday group lessons with girls way older than me. I always felt a bit intimated but I thrived with my competitive nature always trying to ride the best. I had been to shows doing the pony hunters jumping flower boxes and what I'm guessing was the pre-children's. They were all at this one schooling show which made it feel comfortable. The higher level I moved up the more I began to think about the horses I rode and comparing myself with my peers in the ring. When I asked to do more shows and my trainer telling my parents she doesn't have enough experience to train me any bigger my Mom began looking for a new place for me to ride. I am very thankful that first trainer was honorable enough to tell us when it was time for us to move up, very few trainers are willing to sacrifice part of their living for the future of their students.
I moved to a barn farther away and it was much fancier. But I didn't see as many people there, it seemed lonely. The horses were so pretty, hanging there big heads over their stall door opening sniffing my faces with their warm breath. They had grooms, I've never met a groom face to face before then. I rode this beautiful flea-bitten grey pony named "Danny" who was a saint and the cutest little pony hunter. I missed tacking up my pony but I enjoyed the lessons in the field, outdoor ring, and big indoor ring. And jumps everywhere! My trainer their, who was the assistant trainer of the head trainer, was amazing. She lit up my world and opened me up to more of the hunter jumper industry. I loved that farm, my trainer and most of all my pony Danny. But when I asked to show Danny the barn said I had to buy him. My parents did not know the first thing about the horse industry, let alone buying the horse. And I was only probably seven years old so we ended up deciding it was time to leave and find a place I could show the horses at, and only pay for lessons or lease.
My riding career took a big turn. I could have found another hunter barn and probably began showing in the A circuit on pony hunters at bigger rated shows but my mom pursued a recommendation from a friend. It turns out it was a dressage trainer, when I went there it seemed like the only choice I had considering I didn't anything myself. I loved riding and I loved horses so there was no way I would say no, I just went along for the ride. (Pun intended). I fell in love with the horse I got to lesson, he was a big off the track thoroughbred - turned low level dressage horse. (There went my pony days!) I learned SO much during this time in my development. Although not what I had in mind, it shaped who I became as a rider. I fell in love with dressage, the movement of horse and rider in unison, dancing at a beautiful lulling rhythm. For the next four years (pretty much third grade through sixth grade) I rode at this barn and competed in dressage doing low level tests. And I began riding with a jumper trainer there, leased my first pony, and then leased my first horse who I eventually ended up buying as a Christmas present. I was filled with pure happiness and bliss that day! My first horse! What more could I ever want? My mare, Connie, was older and experienced at showing up to the High Child/Adult and maybe a bit higher. Her job was to give me experience in the jumper ring for the first time. She was amazing, and I moved up from under two foot courses to 3'9 courses on her in 2-3 years I think. I went to shows and competed Level zero, one and finally two, and got blues! During a difficult time of my personal life, she was the light in my darkness. As time went on it was clear she was getting too older to push higher so a new horse came along while I kept Connie who deserved a great life. (Still today she is living in happy retirement!)
My second horse I owned...Joe was interesting. Of course I fell in love at first sight because he was a big red chestnut with a star on his face. (What I call a backwards quotation mark!) Apparently he was to be my big jumper moving me up to the high children's and into junior jumpers. That didn't go quite as planned...and I even ended up having to move barns to help me progress with him. At my new barn (fifth barn) I became a student of a trainer who transformed my riding career the most so far. Through a journey of two years, we were able to help Joe progress in his flat-work enough to actually become a passable equitation horse with good flat-work. In this time, my trainer really refined my equitation and ability to ride Joe, who we still agree is one of the most difficult horses ever. Don't get me wrong, he's easy if you let him do what he wants, but during training when we both had to learn to do things differently he could give you a serious workout! He taught me patience, and hard work can pay off, and especially, that not everything is about the ribbons.
From there, I began my journey with the great white shark, and horse that has a special place in my heart....Chaz. He brought be from winning Low Children's Jumper classes in schooling shows to Winning High Children's classes at WEF in a little over a year...and then competing successfully in the Low Juniors, then the Medium Junior Jumpers and then finally a 1.35 Mini Prix last August. Our journey was only 22 months long but it feels like a lifetime. So many adventures trail-riding, showing, learning how to take care of horses at shows, showing in the rain at lake placid, walking classes in the new international ring at Princeton for the intimidating 1.15m High Childrens jumper class to going to WEF together for the first time and training under Anne Kursinski, to going to the Virginia EAP Clinic by ourselves to last but not least the Mini Prix that was the biggest we ever really jumped...let alone competed. My trainer was holding her breath the whole time, and when I left that ring with only one silly rail and a smooth round both my trainer and I were crying tears of joy because Chaz jumped his heart out for me. That was the biggest either of us have ever shown. He really wanted to please me, I think he knew it was the final hoorah for us.
Overlapping last summer, began my journey with both Veintiuno and Bijoux Vincenza who have really helped me progress my riding training wise and show wise. I racked up ribbons with both horses in the Junior Jumpers this summer and fall and even got champion and won some classes! But most importantly, both horses have taught me to be a tactful rider. They are very different rides so I had to learn how to adapt from one horse to the next like its second nature.
I moved to Brass Ring Farm less than a month ago. I love the barn I was at and I still admire the trainer I had because she is a kind and honest woman, and a intelligent and wise trainer. But I decided it was time to leave, because of personal goals and my goals for both my horse's futures. I do not know what is in store for myself and my horses in the future, but I look forward to whatever comes our way. Starting this years show season strong...both Uno and Bijoux are in Wellington prepping for our WEF season for Week 5-12. I hope to compete both in the Medium Junior Jumpers, sell Bijoux to a junior or amateur wanting to win some ribbons and move up Uno to whatever height feels right!
With horses you can't set anything in stone, that's what makes it interesting. After all, we are all in it for the ride!
Click below to read by new The Fit Equestrian LLC. Blog Post about how I tackle resolutions and make them worth following or ditching!
(Also includes many stories of my struggles and triumphs of dealing with them through development into being an adolescent).
As a first-timer I certainly went into this clinic anxious, but I had an overall feeling of preparedness. Maybe it was all the years of horse knowledge I have grown to know like the back of my hand, or the years of riding that makes the saddle feel like home, or even knowing there will be others just like me who need me as a friend, and helping hand this week. It certainly helped the week go smoothly, bringing my long term horse Chaz, who I could trust to be a good horse this week. And I don't mean in terms of being easy to groom, or easy to ride in clinics, because he certainly doesn't fit that picture. He was a good horse this week because we have traveled to shows together more times than I can count, and every one of those times he's just proven to be a seasoned traveler not affected by anything. In fact, he's even better at shows, so I knew it would be a good week with him. I packed up my stuff, put Chaz on the trailer, and we took the trip down to Lexington VA on Sunday. The clinic didn't start until Monday mid-day but getting there the night before let Chaz adjust and make me feel extra prepared.
The clinic entailed five days of stable-management sessions with Colleen Reed, and four days of riding sessions with Geoff Teall. And of course, also the round-the-clock care of our special athletes! When we weren't in a stable-management or riding session we either observed a riding session and took notes or was jump crew in the ring.
Even though I observed three of the four riding sessions each day, it never got boring because I was always learning something new. Geoff Teall uses repetition of specific riding theory principles, in order for us to hear it, understand it, and apply it. By the end of the week he had us reciting exactly his words, and we all were visibly showing we were applying it to our rides.
The stable management sessions will Colleen Reed were so interactive, engaging and interesting. Every session revolved around going through specific topics of horsemanship chosen and we all talked during the sessions, using our previous knowledge or experiences to answer horsemanship questions. The week of stable management sessions made me realize how much any average horseman wouldn't think to care about, or know how to handle. After the five days of sessions I felt prepared enough to have my own barn full of horses to care for! One topic that Colleen Reed kept bringing up was "Bio-security". I never thought a lot about bio-security before this clinic, but now I think about it like instinct. The word by word definition of it is "procedures intended to protect humans or animals against disease or harmful biological agents". This basically means the measures us as horseman must take in order to protect our horses against diseases or other biological agents that they can be exposed to daily. This was especially helpful to learn about during the clinic considering we just brought our own horses to a new environment and expect them to perform their best.
I learned incredible amounts of stable management and riding theory knowledge during this clinic. Even more valuable, I gained so much experience traveling down to the clinic with just a parent (who is not experienced with horses) and making the clinic successful. I met so many wonderful riders, who do the sport for the love of horses. Putting yourself out there, trying to gain as much knowledge and experience in riding is really commendable. I recommend taking part in an Emerging Athletes Clinic to any equestrian who is in this sport for the love of horses, and wants to gain invaluable knowledge and experiences.
For riders, the summer is a season of opportunity. Finally, long-awaited ambitions can be chased, and time-consuming barn chores can be tackled. As a full time high-school student my academic year gets so busy that I have to push away chores that aren't time-sensitive, as well as being at the barn as little time as possible to fit in studying. Starting the first day of summer I practically live at the barn, well at least I look like I live at the barn! Because I'm able to be at my barn for longer hours, I'm able to ride more, spend more time with my horses, and take care of barn chores more. I get to fully immerse myself in the equestrian lifestyle, (shaving in my hair and all!) ... and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
With summer, comes bigger summer shows! Without having school hanging over my head like a dark cloud, I'm able to focus more on competing. Last year was my first show year with Chaz, a giant 14 yo 17.2hh grey Zangersheid warmblood who showed me the ropes of the High Child/Adult Jumpers and moving me up to the 1.20m classes. I will be showing Chaz in the Low Junior Jumpers competitively through October this year.
This is a special year for me because I recently gained an opportunity through Seabury Equestrian Partners I LLC. to bring along and compete "Veintiuno" an 8yo KWPN from England who has competed up to 1.40m already with an amateur. This summer I plan on competitively showing him in the Low Junior Jumpers and possibly higher. The summer is a great time to start new partnerships with horses because I am able to spend much more time with them on the ground, creating a strong bond quicker than I could during the school year.
I recently gained another partnership through Wyatt Equine Ventures LLC. to compete "Bijoux Vincenza" a 10yo Mare for sale who has competed up to 1.35 with an amateur. I plan on competing her up to the medium junior jumpers while we promote her for sale in the US. This mare will give me the confidence to move up to the medium junior jumpers with her before I take it on with my longer project horse "Uno". I see lots of blue ribbons in this girls future :)
In addition to gained an extraordinary amount of experience in the show ring this summer, I will also be gaining immense horsemanship and barn management knowledge by spending more time at my barn as a "working student" for my trainer as well as participating in an EAP Clinic this July. Seeing as I want to build my own business when I am older, taking advantage of any opportunity that I come across in the horse industry is essential to gaining as much experience as possible before taking it on myself in the future.
This summer show season will be a real turning point for my junior career. I can't wait for it to unfold in these next couple months!
Included but not limiting to: horses, nutrition, workouts, student life, running, nature, current events, and more.
My name is Martha Wyatt-Luth, I have been riding since I could talk but loving horses since I was born. Between being a studious high-school student and riding up to 6 days a week, my days get pretty busy. However, dedicating time to "hobbies" helps me keep going even on the longest days. For example, I love running and I hope to do a marathon one day!