Top performance requires top condition. Whether a car, a horse, or ourselves, if we hope to achieve peak performance, we have to ensure the vehicle to success is well maintained. Most elite athletes are aware of the need to take care of themselves to produce consistent results in competition. Those of us involved in equestrian sports, however, tend to neglect our own needs with the assumption that our horse must be in peak condition for success in the pen.
In essence, this assumption is correct, but you have a job to do, too, and if you are too tired, too stressed, too hungry, or physically unfit to handle the demands of competition, it will be difficult to get the best out of your horse. What can you do to take care of yourself as you pursue your performance goals?
· Fitness. I think some of us in equestrian sports like to kid ourselves that we don’t need to be in great physical shape because it is our horse that is doing all the work. Wrong! Physical fitness not only builds endurance to get you through the hours of practice and marathon shows but it also increase flexibility, coordination, agility, and timing. It can be difficult to fit a work out into your already crammed schedule but the physical and mental benefits of exercise far outweigh the inconvenience. If you are new to the concept of exercise or it has been a while, be sure to discuss your proposed fitness program with your doctor to ensure it is the right one for you.
· Nutrition. I have covered this topic in a previous article, but it is important, so I want to touch on it again. Think of your body as a performance vehicle. What you put into it is what you can expect to get out of it. Poor nutrition and eating habits can leave you feeling sluggish with a vulnerable immune system. Performing is hard enough without having to do it while battling the flu or digestive discomfort. It can be hard to eat well on the road but with some creative thinking and planning it is not impossible.
· Injuries/Illnesses. Again, we need to be in our best possible shape to achieve peak performance. This is hard to do with a nagging injury or chronic pain. Don’t just ignore them and hope they will go away or you could be placing yourself at risk of further damage. At the very least, your performance is likely to suffer while you favor an injured appendage or become distracted by pain. See a doctor or specialist and establish a specific rehabilitation plan. You may not like to hear it but taking some time off in the short term may mean a long-term career.
· Sleep. Horse shows tend to mean early mornings and late nights. The lack of sleep can have a disastrous effect on your ability to think and react quickly under performance pressure. Lack of sleep can also inhibit your immune system leaving you vulnerable to infections and illnesses, so you may want to skip the group dinners occasionally and opt instead for an early night.
· Substance Abuse. Limit substances like caffeine and alcohol. Too much caffeine can leave you feeling jittery and can compound your pre-performance nerves. Too much alcohol can leave you feeling hung over and far from peak performance condition.
· Health Check. If you have not had a physical check up lately, schedule one in the very near future. It is important to know what is going on with your body so you can make changes for improved health as soon as possible.
· Mental Health. Is as important as physical health. Pay attention to how you feel on a daily basis and seek help if you notice periods of depression, excessive anxiety, or other emotional disturbances. Discuss treatment options with a specialist and address lingering concerns that may be holding you back from not only performing well but living a happy and fulfilling life.
· Medication. This seems like a no-brainer, but take your medication as prescribed. I have heard too many horror stories of people self-medicating to combat performance nerves and it rarely works out well. So please only take medication as prescribed (to you) and discuss possible side effects with your doctor. Side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness may impact your performance, so ask your doctor if there are any safe alternatives.
· Stress Management. Pay attention to the levels of stress in your life. Stress cannot only impact your performance but it can cause numerous health issues so it is important to manage the stressors in your life efficiently. Learn stress and time management techniques to gain a better quality of life and wellbeing.
After all that hard work and training, you owe it to your horse to be in the best possible condition you can be when you ask him to give his all in the show pen.