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The interview below was featured in the Success in the Saddle Fit Rider Newsletter.
What prompted you to increase your fitness?
I’ve always been interested in fitness and nutrition but in the past few years I’d started learning more about how our riding can benefit from gaining core strength and how stability and balance in the saddle can be increased through specific exercise out of the saddle.
Being a dedicated student of horsemanship for many years has taught me that horses really are our mirrors. The way a horse behaves, moves and performs is often a reflection of their rider.
I don’t think it’s fair to ask our horses to have a level of fitness that we’re not willing to achieve ourselves. So expecting them to give us their best in competition is a matter of giving them our best every day as well.
What is your fitness routine?
I’m not a person who’s ever been obsessive about exercising, but I am committed to maintaining my general health and have noticed differences in how I think and feel when I make movement a priority. Most horse people are a little more active than the average person, due to the physical activity required in caring for horses.
My husband does most of the moving hay and feeding, so beyond riding and trimming our horse’s feet, I enjoy 20 minute Success In the Saddle workouts at least five times a week. I also incorporate speed drills and enjoy walking as well. Sometimes I take a horse or my dog and my iPod and only go about a mile, but it’s a good hustle up and downhill.
When I lived near a bigger city, I would occasionally go to a Zumba class at the fitness center. Depending on my writing and competing schedule I’m usually doing groundwork and riding at least five days a week as well.
I haven’t had much success over the years following through with exercise routines where the “burn” is too great! I’m an introvert so I don’t crave intense physical activity like more extroverted people do. I think fitness and health can and should be enjoyable to achieve. It doesn’t have to be miserable, so I stick to doing what I enjoy and what will benefit my riding the most.
What are the benefits of increased fitness for your riding?
I believe a targeted exercise program like Success in the Saddle can benefit any kind of rider, but there are major benefits to be received by a rider in the barrel racing discipline. Honestly, I don’t think the majority of barrel racers are really committed to fitness routines, but I’m not interested in being part of the majority!
So many people in our sport balance on the reins, brace in their body, lean into one stirrup or the other, lack strength and stability which results in them pulling on their horses to balance, all this happens without people even knowing it. I know I was guilty of it, and probably still am to a degree. Self-development is a multi-faceted, never ending journey!
To really benefit from fitness, awareness has to come first. A rider isn’t going to fully appreciate the benefits of fitness if they don’t realize how their riding is interfering with their horse, and what can be done about it. I feel like this understanding and my dedication to fitness gives me an edge in competition.
I’m better able to ride my horse in harmony, with less day-lighting in the saddle and erratic movements. When you’re sprinting and turning as hard as we do, as quickly as we do, it requires a very high level of balance and stability.
The more snuggly I’m secured in the saddle, and the less I get in my horse’s way, the better my horse can perform. I want to ride with my horse, vs. on my horse and be an asset to our performance rather than a hindrance. Success in the Saddle helps me to do that, and in the process – clock faster and win more!
What are the benefits of increased fitness for life in general?
There are so many benefits to fitness for improving our life in general. I don’t really think a person can fully appreciate the benefits without experiencing them first hand. When I take time out for exercise, I have more mental clarity, I can think more clearly, and have more energy so I accomplish more in less time.
Exercise increases emotional fitness as well, I’m better able to handle stressful situations or day to day challenges. It’s as if I experience greater feelings of peace and well-being when I exercise regularly. It makes me feel good to be disciplined and follow through on promises I make to myself.
For most of my life, I was really aware of my weight and what I ate because of how I wanted to look. Of course it’s nice to appear attractive and never have to squeeze into uncomfortably tight jeans, but I find it’s much easier to stay fit at this point in my life, because it’s for different reasons.
I believe our bodies are a gift. I am so grateful for all the things my body allows me to do, when we really put that into perspective it creates an intense appreciation. Exercise and eating well is a way we can appreciate the gift we’ve been given.
What is your favorite healthy food?
It’s pretty basic, but I like apples and I eat a ton of carrots, which I eat almost every day, and love dipping apple slices in almond butter and carrots in hummus. I also try to make sure I get my greens, usually in the form of broccoli or spinach. I’ve purchased a few healthy cook books and it’s my goal to crack them open and use them more often!
I enjoy living in a rural area, but this often means limited access to a wide variety of fresh produce and health food. This time of year when temps are dropping, I don’t crave fruit or “cool” foods as much, so to keep things healthy (and keep me warm) I really love a good spicy stew or soup with lots of veggies. I try to really limit sugar, gluten and dairy.
And your favorite indulgence?
It used to be the white chocolate peppermint mocha lattes with whip cream and crushed candy cane sprinkles from City Brew Coffee – they are heavenly! Since moving to Texas, I’m 40 miles away from the nearest coffee shop so now days I make a healthy peppermint mocha latte at home with organic coffee, cacao powder, Stevia, a drop of peppermint oil and almond milk – all mixed with a convenient hand-held milk frother.
I do my best to never go overboard with sugary treats, which is a great way to avoid moodiness, fatigue, brain fog, etc. Life is too much of a gift to spend any amount of time not feeling our best!
Heather Smith’s first book, Secrets to Barrel Racing Success reached #1 best-seller status on Amazon.com in May of 2012.
She enjoys competing and furthering her own horsemanship, all while developing resources to educate, inspire and empower barrel racers to win in the arena, and in life. She does so through her book series and content provided at BarrelRacingTips.com.
Those who purchase Secrets to Barrel Racing Success can click here to claim a FREE gift – an e-book titled The Barrel Racer’s Guide to Speed Development.
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