Imagine: You wake up realizing that you are already late for your horse show, your horse threw two shoes and ripped out all his braids during the night, he is refusing to load in the trailer, and you realize you forgot your lucky socks in the dryer. Or, take scenario number two: you wake up from a poor night’s sleep, pop a few frozen waffles into the toaster for breakfast, and head to the barn for your riding clinic after which you grab a few fast food chicken tenders for dinner because you skipped lunch which leads to another poor night’s sleep.
How would you expect your stress hormones or your horse to respond to either scenario? The truth is, the body reacts to all stress in the same way; whether it be a show ring mishap or a training troubles; physical, mental and emotional stress all promote the same response within the body; specifically, the adrenal glands. The adrenals are two tiny glands that sit above the kidneys and regulate the output of cortisol, your body’s “fight or flight” response hormone.
Initially when stress is high, cortisol is secretion is increased; the problem is arises when cortisol remains high for a consistent period of time, draining the body’s adrenal glands and eventually resulting in low cortisol; further resulting in weight gain, foggy thinking, mood swings, decreased energy and more. Imagine this response happening to both you and your horse?
Today, common causes of sub optimal stress hormone balance are those illustrated in the previous scenarios; poor diet, lack of sleep, emotional triggers, over training and toxins from the environment. With this being said, several research studies suggest that through the balancing of one’s cortisol, an individual is also able to better manage blood sugar, thyroid hormones, sex hormones and even inflammation; consequently supporting better sleep habits, increased energy, reduced food cravings and so on. The question is: how to we manage stress in a culture which promotes the opposite; a culture which craves fast-passed productivity?
Although some stress may be inevitable, listed below are some stress management techniques that allow the body to better handle stress avoiding damage to the adrenal glands.
Having trouble centering? Try downloading an app such as Simply Being or Take a Break!, to guide you. Find a quiet place to meditate at the barn or before you leave your house.
Practice yoga and Pilates
Shoot for 2 days a week of recovery based exercise such as yoga and Pilates; While yoga will increase flexibility and centering, Pilates will strengthen the core and support long lean muscle mass.
Get a monthly massage
In addition to helping relax the muscles, a massage will also help detoxify key organs. It’s a great way to relax and feel better after a long show spent sleeping in your trailer or on a hotel room mattress.
Sit in a dry sauna
Spending 5-10 minutes in a sauna 2-3 times a week can help stimulate the release of toxins from fat cells as they are released through the pores. Rinse off immediately after.
Aim to eat every 2-3 hours including a protein, fat and carbohydrate. Opt for hormone free and antibiotic free when purchasing meat, fish and eggs as protein sources. Vegetables are an ideal source of carbohydrates as they provide key nutrients and water with little calories and carbohydrates. Nuts are a great snack adding and an optimal source of healthy fat!
Allow yourself 7-8 hours a night of sleep
Allowing the body enough rest is equally important as exercising and eating well. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try turning off all electronics 2 hours before bed. Even if it means turning off your favorite horse movie! Drink some soothing non-caffeinated tea, like lavender, and put on quiet music or a natural sounds CD.
Using these simple and effective techniques will help you become a better rider through increased strength and flexibility as well as provide you with the fuel to ride longer and the rest and relaxation to maintain a positive attitude. Take the time to make this year your best riding year yet. Your body and your horse will thank you.