"I've yet to find studies reporting any negative effects of being fit," says star hunter rider Hope Glynn. She and her horses have derived many benefits from a proactive and carefully plotted exercise and nutrition routine and that seems to be increasingly true for many successful riders and horses.
Everybody goes about it differently, but we did find some common ground while getting the "skinny" from several top riders. Most notably, treadmill and eurocisers are common denominators in effective equine fitness routines and exercise outside of the saddle is critical cross training for most of the professional horse people we spoke with.
Grand Prix Dressage Rider Kristina Harrison-Antell
A stall that's been converted to a Pilates studio is the most obvious evidence of Kristina's devotion to Pilates, for herself and her students. She practices Pilates two to three times a week and her junior riders take part in a weekly class at the barn, located at The Paddock Riding Club in Los Angeles.
Kristina Harrison-Antell works out on the reformer with instructor Kerry Campbell. Photo by Gussie Antell.
"For me, I'm sitting in a contracted position for several hours a day, so I need to work the other muscles to keep my body balanced, supple and flexible." The core strength Pilates builds leads to lightness and strength in the saddle and facilitates the body alignment that's essential to harmonious riding. That alignment, Kristina believes, has helped her stay pain free, which is an accomplishment at any age and especially so as we pass the 40 mark.
Pilates has helped her teaching, too. "It's made me look at riding differently because I've learned where my body is and how it moves through space. That's something I hadn't thought about before, when I could do things but I didn't know quite how I was doing them. I've become a better teacher because I know what muscles are involved when somebody needs to move a body part for better alignment. I know where it needs to come from."
As for diet, the tall, trim and elegant equestrian follows a general plan of healthy eating. She eats very lightly through the day, with dinner as her main meal, and she's well aware that over-indulging in sugar tires her out quickly.
The 4-year-old Dutch Warmblood is "an interesting case because everything makes him high," Kristina explains. "We've been trying to put weight on him and have tried every product out there. We had him on grass hay and he was a good eater, but not a great eater. He'd pick through it and there was always hay left on the ground." As something of a last resort, she tried hay cubes but was not optimistic. Even though processing reduces the cube's protein content, she still feared it was enough to make Finley high. Soaking the alfalfa cubes in water, to a soup-like consistency, did the trick: "He gobbles them up!" Making his mark in Young Horse circuit, including top 5 placings in important qualifiers at the Flintridge Memorial Day CDI, Finley is a "big boy in a gangly stage." The soaked cubes have been key to maintaining weight and manageable energy levels, and their double duty as hydrators is a big bonus. (Kristina was amused last year while accompanying her daughter Rison at the NAJYRC Championships to see "hydration cubes." It was the same water-soaked cubes she'd hit upon some time ago, but under a fancier name.)
Young riders Rison Naness,foreground, and Stella Leitner, join dressage trainer and Grand Prix rider Kristina Harrison-Antell, background, in at-the-barn Pilates class with instructor Kerry Campbell of Pilates Body Shop. Photo by Gussie Antell
The cubes are in addition to orchard/grass hay flakes, Glånzen Horse Tech nutraceuticals and vitamins, GutWerks probiotics with active yeast and Reitsport HA 100, which supports hoof, coat and joints.
Exercise-wise, a eurociser, turn-out time and variety are all part of the weekly routine for Finley and his stablemates. Eurociser sessions are typically 45 minutes a day in the morning, at a moderately brisk walk pace. Slower and there's too much time for play that could exceed safe interaction, especially between young horses. "I couldn't live without my eurociser," Kristina enthuses. "Our horses go into their stalls tired, but not exhausted, and happy to be home in a good way."
Four days a week, schooling follows the eurociser, with turn-out time in the afternoon so that horses are tired enough not to get too crazy while at liberty. On a fifth day, riding time is spent puttering around the property or a light school in a different ring, which keeps minds fresh. And all horses get back-to-back days off from schooling, which Kristina says the horses seem to like and benefit from more than a previous schedule which broke up two off days during the week.
Kristina and Finley. Photo by Christiana Martin
She's also a big fan of icing. Finley's day ends with treatment from a Game Ready icing machine, during which he wears a magnetic blanket from Respond Systems. He loves his regular massages and benefits from treatments using electromagnetic laser therapy, also made by Respond Systems.
Kristina's approach for Finley is the same that shapes the routine for all the horses in her care: "Anything to help him last for his career and keep him happy and comfortable in his work."
Aspiring Olympic Eventers: Matt Brown& Super Socks BCF
Eventer Matt Brown's cross training of choice, Kenpo karate, came about many years ago when a dojo-owning client offered to trade karate for riding lessons. Today, his quest to represent the States at the Pan American, then Olympic Games, in 2015 and 2016, keeps him too busy riding to get to the studio very often, but the mental and physical skills he learned while earning his "shodan" (black belt) in 2000 remain a big help to his riding. In addition to general stretching, the practice builds core strength and the ability to move your body in relation to another's, like dance training, which Matt describes as super helpful as a rider.
Matt Brown and Super Socks BCF.
Other than that, he finds his regular riding keeps him pretty fit. He typically rides six of the 30 horses in training at he and his wife Cecily Clark's East West Training Stables at Primo Cavallo Farms in Petaluma. A full afternoon of teaching follows that.
Diet-wise, Matt and Cecily were longtime vegetarians, and now substitute fish and some poultry for red meat. They generally snack lightly through busy days at the barn, rather than take time out for meals. A substantial dinner is on their agenda most evenings and Matt puts an emphasis on protein during competition to maintain the required stamina. "I am a caffeine junkie," Matt admits. "Usually coffee, but I sometimes go for a Red Bull in the afternoon."
Super Socks BCF
The 8-year-old Irish Sporthorse, owned by The Blossom Creek Foundation, is one of Matt's two current Three Star horses. He leans toward the Thoroughbred side of his breeding and so requires a diet carefully designed to give him enough, but not too much, energy.
Like most of the horses in East West's care, Super Socks gets a forage-heavy diet, mostly high quality orchard grass hay, with some alfalfa. Cavalor was chosen as an East West sponsor because Matt and Cecily loved the digestibility and effectiveness of their feeds and supplements. Cavalor's Pianissimo, Strucomix Original and Endurix are faves for Super Socks and he also gets a daily dose of Muscle Fit from Cavalor as well as Advanced Protection Formula from Auburn Labs.
Grain is kept to a minimum, and usually fed with lots of water. "For most of our horses, I can put a handful of grain in a bucket of water and they'll drink all the water to get the grain at the bottom." It's great for everyday hydration, and especially when travelling because horses often drink less on the road and when away from home.
Using a proactive approach to joint maintenance, Matt has all his upper level horses on alternate weekly doses of Adequan and Legend.
His horses' fitness routine centers on conditioning every four days, typically interval training, on flat ground, at trot and "a good forward canter," with increasing intensity as a competition date nears. Every other week, they haul off the property to do the same routine on hills. Twice weekly dressage days are strength training and twice weekly jumping days are split between jumping at each horse's competition height and gymnastic work that includes grids, cavaletti and bounces.
Super Socks walks and trots on an underwater treadmill weekly at nearby Circle Oak Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, and he spends much of his day in a quarter-acre turn-out.
High Performance Hunter Derby Pair Hope Glynn & Chance of Flurries
"In your 20s, fitness is about looking and feeling good," says the 37-year-old trainer and star rider who, with her husband Ned, runs Sonoma Valley Stables in Petaluma. "You progress to a point in life where you realize that it also helps prevent injuries, aches and pains." Stamina and improved performance are other perks of being in overall better shape now than she was in her 20s. It doesn't hurt that she, and Ned, who's lost 36 pounds, look fabulous, too!
Three or four sprint triathlons per year are Hope's current method for staying in ideal riding shape. "I'm not good at them!" she notes of her results on the clock, but they serve her quest for a varied fitness routine that avoids the wear and tear likely in activities that require doing the same thing for a long time. Core work and high intensity training or spin cycle classes at the gym, and swimming, are all options that use muscles, like her torso and triceps, rarely used while riding. "My abs won't stay strong from riding alone, so doing some sort of core work keeps them strong, which, in turn, helps me prevent back injuries."
Fit Family: Hope, Ned and 9-year-old Avery Glynn
celebrate the completion of a sprint triathlon, an event
Hope finds perfect for helping stay in ideal riding shape.
Seeing his wife ride with less back and knee pain than she experienced in her 20s convinced Ned to get on the fitness bandwagon about a year and a half ago. They're both passionate about their health, but not nuts. Hope chooses hotels with gyms when travelling, and carries a T25 Power Workout DVD with her, so that any breaks in the schedule can be put to good use. And if those breaks don't happen, she doesn't sweat it. "I never worry about it. I tell myself that anything is better than nothing, like 20 minutes on the treadmill or a quick two-mile run." She advises a 'take what you can get' attitude when it comes to making time for exercise.
She, Ned and their 9-year-old daughter Avery don't follow any set diet, but they opt for high protein, low sugar and low carbs whenever possible. "The only thing we are adamant about is getting that protein at every meal, and especially breakfast. I really notice it in my stamina if I don't have a decent breakfast."
Supplement wise, Hope is a big believer in Omega 3s. Their anti-inflammatory properties have helped her stay comfortable in her joints.
Chance of Flurries
Hope's faith in Omega 3 for herself inspired her to try them on SVS's horses. The quality of the fish oil used in these supplements is critical, Hope explains. Her equine Omega 3 supplement of choice is Equine Omega Complete (and Mega Omega for herself), and the star hunter Chance Of Flurries and most of his stablemates receive daily doses of the oil.
A High Performance Hunter champion at Thermal and many other venues, the 14-year-old gelding suffered a suspensory injury a year ago and his return to work was carefully thought out. "He'd always been a bit of a quirky horse, energy wise, and my question was how do I get him fit enough to be successful and mentally in a good spot?"
Hope and Chance of Flurries.
She and Ned invested in a Horse Gym USA treadmill, to complement their eurociser. It's a great substitute for haunch-building hill work or beach rides and it was another idea that came from Hope's personal fitness plan. "I found that working on an incline on the treadmill worked muscles that I didn't use for walking or running on flat ground. Thinking about how a horse takes off for a jump, I thought it would be good to build up his haunches if he could work on an incline." It turned out to be a key part of Chance Of Flurries' successful return, which included a second place finish in his comeback at the $10,000 Brookside Derby in April.
Chance Of Flurries also benefited from Hope and Ned's shifting attitude toward fitness. "I used to think we were better off having the hunters a little fat and out of shape, because we want them to be quiet and slow.
"But since I've learned a bit more about nutrition and exercise, I think they are so much more susceptible to injury when they're fat and out of shape. We set out to find a regular routine for each horse – maybe it puts more focus on topline and less on jumping – that keeps them fit mentally and physically, so they are happier, quieter horses in general."
Most horses work on the Horse Gym three days a week, the Eurociser two or three days a week, plus turn-out and riding six days a week.
Whatever each horse's routine, consistency is the key. "As far as our horses' overall mental and physical health, I'd say that's the strongest part of our program."
Grand Prix Show Jumper
Susie jumped her first 7' Puissance wall at the ripe ol' age of 18, back in 1971. Now a super spry 61, she is still jumping the biggest courses on the West Coast and winning. Blue ribbon runs in San Juan Capistrano and Showpark through the spring and early summer found her in better-than-ever form. Susie attributes that largely to following the Riders-Prep program designed by athletic trainer Kori Lyn Angers. Doing the DVD routine of riding-specific exercises is new for Susie within this past year and it's paid off big time in flexibility and stamina, she says.
Susan Hutchison and Ziedento.
Photo by Captured Moment Photography
Her diet is not so hot, admits the always-trim rider. "It's horrible. I usually eat a little breakfast: oatmeal and some berries, then I have dinner at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and a cookie before I go to bed."
Treadmill work has been a constant in Susie's horse fitness routine forever, going back to her horsemanship foundation and partnership with the legendary Jimmy Williams. "Going back to 1978, we had treadmills because they really make for a great fitness program."
All of her horses get Renew Gold as a general supplement and Auburn Labs' APF, which is a great "all-around immune system booster," she says. Traveling as much as her horses do, that's a must.
Hunter/Jumper Trainer Jen Dallis Lopez
Jen's biggest health-related challenge is one most of us fantasize about: keeping weight on. "I'm 5'2" and very thin," she says. "In my downtime, I eat as much food as possible!" Luna bars are a favorite go-to grab during days without much downtime and they are part of her effort to eat healthier in general. "I have a tendency to reach for something caffeinated, like sodas. I've cut out coffee from my diet and am trying to eat to have more natural energy."
Like a lot of riders, Jen probably pays more attention to her horses' fitness and diet than her own. In keeping with a relatively low-maintenance horsekeeping approach, Jen feeds most of the horses in her program rolled oat pellets, a senior feed or rice bran. Adeptus' Gleam & Gain, electrolytes and various SmartPak combinations are feed room staples.
Jen Dallis Lopez with her husband and business partner Mike Lopez and their daughter. "In my down time I eat as much food as possible."
Photo by Erpelding Photography
Horses in Jen's Punk Pony Riding School and Fox Canyon Farms program, at Malibu Valley Farms in Calabassas, enjoy two days off a week and regular turn-outs in a shady, slightly hilly pasture. Compatible horses are turned out together in groups of three or four, either in the pasture or in a giant round pen. Jen's husband and partner Mike Lopez loves leading students on rides throughout the many trails accessed easily from Malibu Valley Farms, but not Jen. "I'm such a wimp about that!" she confesses. "But some of our horses are suitable for trail riding and it's great for them and our students to get out there."