Nutrition for the horse rider? Okay, a bit niche I know but it’s something of a passion for me. I will start with where it all began. At the age of 9 I was begging my parents for a horse, I had no idea what that entailed, my family were not horse people. They didn’t buy me my own but they did, after much pestering, take me to riding lesson after riding lesson. By the time I was 10 I had fallen from ponies and horses too many times to remember but it made me strong and I learned a life lesson: when you fall you get back on.
I was addicted. I wanted to learn everything I could. I worked at riding schools, race yards, loaned, borrowed and eventually bought my own horse. I competed and I trained hard. All the time I was learning about horse management I never once thought about my own health needs. Tending to horses, out for long rides, early morning physical activity… it struck me and still does, there is a lack of quality nutritional advice for horse riders. A lot of stamina is needed when owning or working with horses but, while a horse’s feeding regime is precise and calculated, the rider’s and carer’s nutrition is overlooked.
That’s not to say that horse magazine don’t publish articles on what to eat. It’s just that most of them are wrong. Even today, I read articles saying horse riders should eat bagels, nutella, low-fat yogurt, cheese strings, low- fat protein bars, yep, these items were on the lists in various horse publications. A qualified nutritional practitioner will tell you to stay away from these items. Sure you do get some writers urging riders to pay attention to their macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), eat fresh vegetables, stay away from soft drinks, pastries etc. However, much of their understanding is outdated. For example, when they talk low-fat they fail to understand that low-fat typically means more sugar because processed foods use it as a replacement for fat to improve the taste.
I have covered the basics of nutrition in previous posts but depending of the level of riding, the amount of other exercise you are doing (running, cycling, swimming, gym etc) your precise requirements will differ. For example, a person who hacks out on weekends is going to have very different nutritional needs to that of an international 3-day eventer. The horses nutrition would be different so of course the same applies for the rider!
Healthy start and snacks. People who ride or work in the equestrian field are often snacking, it is physically demanding and snacks are a good thing. However, there are often very early starts involved and you may be tempted to miss breakfast so you can tend to your horse before work begins. Don’t. More than most people, if you are a horse rider and/or owner you need a good healthy breakfast. It boosts metabolism, provides energy and it is a great way to start the day; for some healthy breakfast ideas visit my recipes page.
Ensure your snack choices are healthy. By healthy I mean balanced. Forget low-fat – go for low-sugar. Try to avoid the pies, pastries, cakes, cookies and replace with a good quality protein bars (Lara bars are a good or, even better, make your own. Alternatively, Deliciously Ella energy balls), make your own granola bars, make a trail mix. Eat apples, carrots sticks (don’t give them to your horse!)
Lunch and dinner are just as important. Don’t miss meals. Plan ahead if you have a busy schedule.
Water discipline. Stay hydrated, everyone from an office admin to the elite athlete needs to drink water. Don’t wait until you are parched because by that time you are already dehydrated. Of course, you also don’t want to drink so much that it’s coming out of your ears! How much water to drink is dependent on a number of factors, such a:
- Environment (weather, hot, humid etc)
- How much you are sweating
- If you thirsty
The average amount suggested by many sources is 1.5-2 liters but really it is a ball park figure. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and act accordingly.
Benefits of drinking water are numerous:
- Brain health (mood, headaches, hydration)
- Digestive health
- Supports Elimination (stools)
- Flushes out toxins (detoxification)
- Skin health
- Immune support…
That quick energy boost. Energy drinks, do you really need them? I’m not a big fan of drinks loaded with sugar and caffeine. If you are out for a long hack then, if you have some healthy snacks and water it should be enough. If you engaged in prolonged physical activity without much opportunity to stop for a break and are going to carry around an energy drink or two then make sure you read the label! Otherwise, just be aware that your body really doesn’t need a big hit of stimulants on a regular basis.
If there’s one thing you take away from reading this post, let it be this: a horse rider needs food that is not going to spike blood sugars too fast and then send you crashing down shortly afterwards. Our bodies love to have energy that is released slowly and steadily thereby maintaining energy levels and mental clarity. Quality fats, carbs, protein, fiber and water are your friends.
This post is dedicated to a dear person, Sheila Lines. She took me to my first riding lesson at the age of 9 and I have never looked back. Thank you for being a supportive, caring, loving person through my formative years. I will miss you greatly.