– CATHY WOODS
Horse people are typically made from pretty hardy stock, but that doesn’t negate the need for, Equestrian Wellness. Self-care is paramount all of the time but during the winter months a little extra, zhuzh can be super helpful and supportive to physical, emotional and mental wellbeing – especially as we continue to deal with, pandemic-fatigue!
As a life-long yogini, I’ve always understood the importance of self-care, wellness and mindfulness and include these practices as, high priority in my daily life. However, I am also aware that a large part of the population is just now catching on to these concepts. Sadly, our fast-paced, multi-tasking, over-busy lifestyles have caught up with us. The silver-lining is, more people are turning to self-care and focusing on the importance of living well.
As a long-time horsewoman, I also understand the extra wellness needs for equestrians. The winter months can be a challenge; taking care of horses in cold weather and the extra chores that go along with that – combined with not being able to get out and ride as much, can all take its toll.
Here’s a few tips for that extra wellness boost you might be seeking this winter…
- Stay warm at the barn and for winter rides: This may seem like a no brainer, but keeping core temperature up and keeping bones, joints, muscles and ligaments warm is essential to feeling well and energized, immune health and range of motion – being cold depletes these things. Don’t skimp on winter-wear when at the barn or when doing a cold weather ride. Most equestrians have a robust, all-season wardrobe, but from time to time it’s helpful to evaluate your winter attire and determine if it needs a little upgrade; perhaps, it’s time for a new pair of fleece-lined boots, or maybe invest in some insulated coveralls. Inexpensive, boot and glove warmers are one of my favorite ways to keep my feet and hands from becoming uncomfortably cold. I’m also an advocate of under-ware, (long-Johns, thermals, Under-Armor) and, as a former dancer, I’m a big fan of leg-warmers! Additionally, it’s hard to beat the time-tested, warmth of wool, whether it be a thick wool sock or a heavy wool sweater. Top all that off with some waterproof gear, and you’re good to go! For those who get chilled easily or live in really cold climates, heated vests, and gloves are a nice option. Let’s not forget scarves, gaiters and hats; Chinese medicine stresses the importance of keeping head, ears, neck and throat warm, thus avoiding a stiff neck or a wind-cold. It’s believed that’s where the wind enters the body, depleting the immune system. With all the advanced winter gear, fabrics and style options out there, you can surely find something to keep you cozy and enhance your functional, equestrian, winter wardrobe.
- More about keeping warm: Hot winter baths are my go-to and almost every day! A jetted tub or hot tub is even better if available. It’s a great way to warm the bones and raise core temperature, plus feel a little pampered. A popular trend is, installing a home-sauna to heat-up and detox or perhaps take advantage of one at your local gym. Some people find the warmth and brightness of light-boxes helpful in combating Seasonal Affects Disorder. I’m a fan of hot teas – I call winter, tea-season! There’s so many yummy, warming flavors and it’s always fun to try new ones. (Some of my favs are, Egyptian Licorice, Ginger and Elderberry!) Drinking a warm beverage from your favorite mug adds to the experience – maybe even make it a ritual!
- Outdoor time, vitamin D and movement: Most horse owners, don’t have the option to stay indoors all day and that’s actually a good thing! Though it may not be as appealing to be outside in the cooler months, there are health benefits. Nature has a grounding, balancing effect but sunshine and vitamin D are essential for mood and immune health. If you’re feeling challenged doing winter horse tasks, maybe try shifting your attitude to be more appreciative for the added exercise, movement and time in nature. One of my winter-disciplines here in the Smoky Mountains is to walk to my barn (1/2-mile round trip), regardless of the weather. Not only does this add more steps into my day, but I always relish in the beauty along the way, whether it’s animal prints in the snow, the quiet of winter or a hawk flying above. I’m always greeted with nickers from my two senior horses, which warms my heart in any weather! Re-frame any complaining to, “Wow, I GET to do this!”
- Stretch out before horse chores or riding: Taking even just a few minutes for some warm-up stretches before heading out into the cold can make a world of difference – not only in our comfort but in our safety as well. My former ballet mistress used to say, “stretching a cold muscle is like trying to stretch a piece of gum that’s been in the freezer” – it’s not too pliable and easily snaps and breaks. There’s nothing worse than being at the barn in frigid weather, raking, carry buckets or pushing a wheelbarrow and tweak a cold muscle! And remember, when riding, if we’re stiff, we restrict our horse’s movement – you will actually have a better moving horse if you’re warmed-up and moving optimally. We warm-up our horses at the beginning of a riding or training session, let’s not forget to warm-up ourselves too! A few overall body stretches can go a long way. You don’t have to be a yoga expert to include some gentle stretching into your daily routine. By incorporating some deep breathing and a mindful, awareness into your stretches, you’ll glean the additional mental health benefits of being more centered, calm and focused; your horse will also appreciate that 😊
- Hydration: Winter is actually a common time to become dehydrated. With the cooler weather we can feel less inclined to drink water since we’re not feeling over heated. I personally like to drink mine (year-round) without ice, which can be more palatable during winter. Adding a slice of citrus or cucumber adds interest as well as some healthy properties. Being in a heated house or office can be very drying and dehydrating. Proper hydration is essential to feel well; less brain-fog, fatigue and headaches and a better functioning immune system. Grab that favorite water bottle, keep it full and keep sipping throughout the day, even when you think you’re not thirsty!
- Continue learning: Winter is an excellent time to learn new skills; whether it’s an instructional book, an online fitness class, a virtual clinic with a trainer or perhaps an interesting podcast. In the months of potentially less riding, you can stay on top of your game with the many learning modalities available. Not only is learning new skills helpful but, continued learning keeps us mentally engaged, connected and plugged in. Maybe even check out my book, Yoga for Riders or my online courses with WeHorse 😊
Many of the suggestions in this article help bolster the immune system, but in addition, eating a healthy winter-diet, supplements, good sleep and less stress are also part of self-care. Bottom line, stay committed to wellness! Sometimes, when we’re feeling a little sluggish or unmotivated during mid-winter, we really have to dig deep to stay pro-active in self-care but I believe you’ll find it’s a worthwhile investment and, come spring, you’ll need less of a tune-up! Work with what you have, do what you can and stay engaged, warm and healthy – live well!
Happy Trails & Namaste,
Cathy is a yogini and horsewoman, author of Yoga for Riders, creator of Body, Mind, Equine™ and The Mindful Equestrian™ online courses, and national retreat leader/clinician. She has taught and led retreats for equestrians and non-equestrians since 1991 at distinguished locations such as Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Yogaville Ashram, and Mount Madonna Center. As an equine enthusiast and avid rider, Cathy combined her passions to create a program called Body, Mind, Equine™ that focuses on the use of yoga principles and postures to improve horsemanship, from ground to saddle. She offers retreats and clinics at ranches, resorts, equine centers, and expos—including Equine Affaire and Equitana USA—as well as for private groups and equestrian organizations like USHJA.