I recently met equestrian Haley Gassel online. I was immediately taken by her honest, authentic, and realistic approach to health and wellness. She has her moments just like all of us and isn’t shy about her love for chocolate and smoothies alike! If you look at her social media pages, there’s no questioning that Haley enjoys a good workout. She’s also a busy person like the rest of us, attempting to manage multiple spinning plates, including, training, riding, traveling and showing, and working out, while holding down a full-time job. And she doesn’t hold back about the daily challenges she faces juggling all these pursuits. Some days are good and others are not. How is Haley different from any of us? She’s not, but she has discovered that having a healthy eating plan in place is the way to get it all in.
Here’s her story and some very useful suggestions on how to set yourself up for making healthy food choices while on road.
As an equestrian, most of us do everything possible for our horses to make sure they are in tip-top condition, including giving them the best of supplements, feeding the finest grain and hay, incorporating fitness strategies like hills, flat work, and gymnastics, and utilizing a top-notch team of veterinarians, farriers, chiropractors, and so much more. But what about US? The RIDER? What about our fitness and nutrition? My horses ALWAYS come first, but why do we forget to take care of ourselves? It’s rare in this sport to hear about riders who treat themselves the same way as their horse and I wish it was something that we all took more seriously!
I began riding at the age of seven. My parents bought me a pony from the local kill pen and I never turned back even though I got bucked off more times than not! Fast forward 20 years later, I’m competing at the Grand Prix level, developing young jumper prospects, pursuing health & fitness coaching, training for a bikini competition, as well as working as an equine insurance agent.
Fitness was never something I was into, but in May 2013, my family and I lost everything in a house fire, and just a short month later I was unexpectedly broken up with by my long-term boyfriend. Not being able to function, eat, sleep, or focus with all of this personal loss, I began to slowly sink into a downward spiral. Knowing I didn’t want to end up down a dark path, I turned to fitness to cope with it all. I started out knowing absolutely nothing about fitness, reading the directions on the machines, and not at all confident in what muscle group I was working, but I kept at it. After a few years of researching, learning, and growing, this passion and joy eventually led me to become an online health and fitness coach in 2016! While helping others learn how to be active and healthy, my love for fitness has evolved into my becoming a fitness competitor.
My philosophy on riding, fitness, and nutrition has changed quite a bit over the years. I went from being a person who always said, “I do plenty - I ride multiple horses a day, I’m at the barn all day, I don’t need to work out!” to “I will do whatever it takes to improve as a rider and prepare myself to compete and win.” Cross training is something that I believe every single rider can benefit from whether it’s yoga, cardio, weight training, CrossFit, etc. We use SO many muscles while riding, but strengthening them, preparing our lungs and overall stamina for competition, and stretching our muscles after a long day at the barn can make such a difference. I’m the one who will do what the average person won’t do to give myself an advantage. I never go to a horse show to play, I go to win.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR HEALTHY EATING ON THE ROAD
PACK SNACKS. Believe me, I understand the long days at the barn. Most of the time when we are in a rush we don’t eat well or even forget to. My best suggestion whether you’re at the home barn or at a show is to pack a cooler full of snacks—things that are very easy! Items that are “grab and go” such as fruit, air popped popcorn, hummus and crackers, peanut butter to-go cups, yogurt, rice cakes, etc. Every rider needs nutrients throughout the day to keep up with the amount of calories they’re burning!
SELECTION. Check menus before you go to barn dinners! Seriously! And, if you’re allowed any input in selecting the restaurant, try to avoid places that are known for fried and unhealthy foods. Select what you want before sitting down at the restaurant. You might even want to do this when you’re not super hungry. This way you’re less likely and tempted to cave into certain cravings while scoping out the menu! A bonus tip: most menus have a “healthier” section to select from, always keep an eye out for those!
STICK TO SIMPLE. When looking at a menu, try to stay with grilled and sautéed foods, and stay away from breaded as well as saucy items. Order a side salad and veggies, ask for items without the butter and sauces, or to be placed on the side so that you’re likely to use less. And don’t forget to be mindful of drinks that are high in sugar and very low in nutrients.
TEMPTATION. It’s always there. Take a deep breath and think about the long run. When I want an item that’s tempting me I immediately think about my long-term goals— how is this choice going to affect it? How will this make me feel after eating it? Will I feel immediate guilt and wish I hadn’t? Eating something that may not be good for me can offer a temporary satisfaction, but my health and ultimate results are my long-term satisfaction.
BALANCE. Restricting every single meal isn’t healthy for the mind OR the body. I stick to an 80/20 “rule.” 80% on track, 20% splurge!