How Can Riders Prepare to Feel Their Best on Show Days?

Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

ShowMD’s Dr. Barb Blasko provides her top tips.

As equestrians, we are often guilty of taking better care of our horses than ourselves. But focusing on your own optimal performance conditions will only improve your days in the show ring. We asked Dr. Barb Blasko of ShowMD, horse show onsite urgent care and concierge medical services, for her top three tips.

1. Stay hydrated

It’s easy to forget to drink water, especially when it’s not hot out. Bring your own water to the show, and try to drink at least three liters a day on show days. 

More accurate calculations can be based on individual body weight and intensity of activity. A show day would be a moderate-high intensity day, or activity that raises your maximum heart rate by 75% or more.

The amount of water needed could be calculated as follows:

Body weight x 1.0 = Fluid ounces/day (in pounds)

If you weigh 150 pounds, your daily water requirement would be 150 fluid ounces. 

To determine need in liters, you would multiply by 0.03.

150 fl.oz. /day x 0.03 = 4.5 liters/day

Often athletes wait to drink until they are thirsty, which is not an accurate indicator of how much fluid has been lost. Athletes who wait to replenish body fluids until feeling thirsty are already dehydrated. 

Most individuals do not become thirsty until more than 2 percent of their body weight in water is lost. When athletes only drink enough to quench their thirst, they may still be dehydrated, which can affect their performance. 

The American Council on Exercise has suggested the following basic guidelines for drinking water before and after exercise:
– Drink 17–20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising.
– Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up.
– Rehydrate after every event by drinking a minimum of 16 ounces.

Avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks as well as alcohol as these will dehydrate you rather than hydrate. Having a celebratory adult beverage won’t hurt, but save those for when you’re back at the hotel to avoid any unwanted side effects.

2. Eat 

Proper nutrition at a horse show is important. Some riders either forget to eat or say they don’thave time to eat, but skipping meals could mean a blood sugar crash mid-class and prevent you from performing your best.  

Breakfast should have a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

– Multigrain or whole wheat bread/toast with any kind of nut butter

– Hard boiled eggs, egg bites, or Frittata

Lunch should combine protein and complex carbohydrates. 

– Wraps and sandwiches are great on the go options  

Snacks should have a combination of protein and carbohydrates. This gives whatever you’re eating more staying power. 

– Carrot sticks and sliced apples—a dual-purpose treat for you and your horse. Add nut butter for a little fat and flavor

– Almonds

– Hard boiled eggs 

– Protein bars/shakes

– Bananas

3. Down time

Get enough sleep! Sleep is essential for overall health and wellness for both athletes and nonathletes alike. Sleep allows your heart to rest and your body to repair itself. It can also help your body recover after physical exertion and promote cardiovascular health. 

Adequate sleep also helps you recover from illness and can prevent you from getting sick in the first place. During sleep, your body produces cytokines, which are hormones that help the immune system fight off infections. These restorative effects are collectively important for athletes’ recovery and performance.

When athletes practice or learn new skills, sleep helps form memories, and contributes to improved performance in the future. Sleep is also essential for cognitive processing. Loss of sleep is associated with a decline in cognitive function. 

While quality sleep has positive effects specifically on athletic performance, a lack of sleep is detrimental to performance and can impact many things including:

– Inhibited ability

– Decreased accuracy

– Quicker exhaustion

– Decreased reaction time

– Difficulty with learning and decision-making

– Risk for injury

– Risk for illness or immunosuppression

Sleep recommendations for athletes’ range between seven and nine hours nightly. Elite athletes are encouraged to get at least nine hours of sleep nightly and to treat sleep with as much importance as athletic training and diet. 

Sleep hygiene tips:

– Creating an appropriate sleep environment. Your sleeping space should be dark and cool with little to no noise. 

– Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. These beverages can interrupt sleep or lead to more disturbed sleep.

– Stay away from electronics in the hours before bedtime. This includes TVs, cell phones, and computers. The blue light that these devices emit can affect your circadian rhythm.

– Have a wind-down routine. Activities such as reading, taking a bath, or meditating can help you relax and get ready for sleep.

– Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying. Do a quiet activity in another space until you feel sleepy.

Visualization

Find some alone time before your class or your course walk without your phone. When I walk my course (I do jumpers) I leave my phone in my trunk or my ShowMD trailer. I try my best to not carry it with me. 

Take some time and visualize your ride. Visualization allows you to run through the course before you ride. That way, there are minimal surprises in the ring. If you can picture the course in the new environment in your head, you’re not dealing with as much new stimuli when you should be focusing on performance. 

Many athletes have also reported that they are less nervous and anxious before events because they have already seen themselves performing the way they want to. Athletes with performance anxiety are better able to shut out the crowd and have increased confidence in their performance ability with visualization.

Drinking enough water, providing your body the nutrition it needs, getting enough sleep, or taking a time out to visualize are all essential components in athletic performance. Every athlete is different and each athlete has different needs, but these basic guidelines can help guide in achieving optimal performance.  


Barb Blasko, MD

THE EXPERT:  Barb Blasko, MD

Dr. Barb Blasko is a Board-Certified Emergency Medicine physician with 22 years of experience working in multiple Emergency Departments throughout the US. She is a passionate entrepreneur who has created ShowMD to improve the lives of her patients in equestrian settings. Her expertise spans medical fields including specialty in clinical strategy, Emergency Medicine, telemedicine and biomedical informatics. With her own horses, she actively competes in USEF show jumping competitions across the west coast, and truly understands the needs of equestrian athletes. 

*This story was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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