The Maryland Equestrian
I had the pleasure of meeting Laurie (online) to talk about an article in Horse & Style magazine we were working on together and through our chats I learned she was also celiac (auto-immune disease where ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine). It's always interesting to meet other riders who share similar struggles!
Laurie lives a dreamy life on a fixer-upper farm in Harford County, Maryland with her two horses, two dogs, three cats, and her husband, James. She was kind enough to share a glimpse into her life and how she navigates her work, riding, barn life, husband and everything else she manages while taking care of her health and wellness along the way.
What does an average day in the life of Laurie look like?
I think most would consider my average day totally boring, but I just love it. My husband and I own a travel company, so we are self-employed and work from home. He handles the sales side of things while I handle the more behind the scenes, day-to-day operations. We each have our own offices in the house, so even though we're together all the time, we have our own space, which I think is necessary!
I start each day by taking care of all my animals, (7 in total). We have a little farm, so my two horses are right outside. I feed, muck stalls, etc. Then I come in, grab my coffee, and get to work! I spend the morning and early afternoon working on travel-related things for our company. Then, if time allows, I spend the rest of the afternoon writing. I am a self-published author of equestrian fiction. I've published two equestrian romance novels with a third coming out soon! I am also a contributor to Horse & Style Magazine and am responsible for a few articles for each issue.
In the evening, I start the animal care routine all over again for evening feeding. I try to fit in time to ride a few times a week - whether it's one of my horses, (who are semi-retired), or a lesson at my trainer's barn. So the vast majority of my day revolves around working and taking care of animals - but I absolutely love it and wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes there are days when I don't leave the farm, but that doesn't bother me. I'm happiest at home with my fur-babies. :)
How long have you known you were celiac and had to be gluten free? Do you have any other food sensitivities or health issues that you'd like to talk about? How does it affect your day-to-day life? Social situations? Is your husband gluten-free?
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in December of 2013. I was having some dizzy spells, so I went to the doctor where they started with blood work. My anemia came back off the charts low. I had always been borderline anemic, but this was a tremendous decrease in only a six month period of time. My doctor was getting ready to send me for a variety of other tests when it came back that I had celiac disease - so everything made sense. I went gluten free immediately, and approximately 6 to 9 months later, I was no longer anemic!
Thankfully, celiac disease is the only health issue I have, (knock on wood!), but, overall, it doesn't really affect my day-to-day life at home. Eating gluten free has been so easy - I have to be honest, I'm not much of a foodie. So giving up certain things wasn't the end of the world for me. I've also seen such a shift in the short time I was diagnosed - more people seem knowledgeable about it, there are tons of options at the store, (gf pasta and bread has really improved), and most restaurants have GF menus.
Social situations, however, are tough. Even though most restaurants have GF menus, I do worry about cross-contamination. There are some places I won't go to anymore. Not long after my diagnosis, my two best friends were both diagnosed with celiac disease as well, (what are the odds?), so I don't worry when I eat at their houses!! But for an event like a wedding or a bridal shower, etc., I always just eat before I go and bring along a little snack.
I have gotten pretty paranoid about where/what I eat outside of the house. Being glutened is the worse, so when in doubt, I never risk it. When I get glutened, it takes weeks before I feel back to normal again. The extreme exhaustion I feel is scary. Sometimes it's so bad that I can hardly drag myself outside to care for the horses. So being careful and eating well is vital - I want to feel great all the time so I can take care of and enjoy my horses!
My husband is mostly GF because we make our meals together - he's not going to make a separate gluten-full meal for himself! Every so often he'll grab a pizza or something - but it's not always worth it because gluten does bother his stomach. But we were both looking to make changes with our diets and just never seemed to get around to it...whether it was laziness or ignorance, we could never make the changes we needed. My diagnosis forced us onto a path to a healthier lifestyle, so we are both grateful for that. It really opened our eyes to our food in general and makes us question everything, which is a good thing.
What principles do you follow when feeding yourself & your husband & four-legged family?
I have to be honest in that I'm still learning about food. Like I mentioned, until my diagnosis, I never thought about what I ate, the ingredients, how it was made, where it came from, etc. Then after being diagnosed, I only worried about if it contained gluten or not. Now we are very mindful of all everything! Still - it's a lot to know, a lot to research, things are ever-changing, and there's a ton of misinformation out there. In order to keep that manageable, we abide by the "one change at a time," rule. The first change was going GF, obviously, which was a big one. Then we started eliminating as many processed foods as possible. Then we started researching what "organic" meant and now only buy grass-fed, cage-free, etc. meats and eggs. We love dairy, but only buy organic products. We also started buying blocks of cheese and shredding them ourselves - we had no idea how many preservatives were in the pre-shredded packages! You think you're getting just cheese, but you're not. It's scary how unaware we were. But, it had to be one change at a time or it would have been overwhelming. And I'm always up for suggestions and learning from others!
Also, when we do buy processed foods, we pick the one with the least amount of ingredients. The longer the list, the more preservatives, additives, etc. that you don't need. Again, this is something we started doing only recently.
What are a few examples of wellness routines that you use to support your life (both in and out of the saddle)?
diet plans or practices
I will continue my GF lifestyle forever, of course, but I'm also trying to cut as much sugar out as possible. It's been a challenge! I also only drink water, coffee, and milk. I haven't had a soda in years and honestly can't imagine drinking one now. Also, we use butter instead of margarine, and have whole milk, full-fat everything, etc.
As an equestrian, I'm very active by nature, so I plan to continue with that. I'd like to make more time for non-riding exercise, but that's been hard.
cross training (do you work out or do any sort of cross training exercises?)
I don't do any training other than riding/mucking stalls/taking care of our farm, etc. It's a lot of work and keeps me very active. Sometimes I feel like I never sit down. That said, I still need to do more and want to work in time for some cardio. I used to run 3 to 5 miles every day, but it was just too hard on my knees.
I can get down on myself pretty quickly, (about anything and everything), so I've really made it a point this past year to try and think positive and build myself up when I can. It's so important to like yourself as a person and cut yourself some slack. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness of life that it's easy to take for granted all the wonderful things around you. I really try to live in the moment and appreciate the little things. Dusk is my favorite time of day, and I like to spend it outside on the farm watching my horses graze, the deer run by in the woods, and the foxes scampering around the fields. I remind myself that eight year-old Laurie would be so happy that this is how life worked out lol!! I've always had horses and wanted a little farm of my own, so even on my worse days, I look around and see that I'm surrounded by happy/healthy people and animals, and I really can't ask for more than that. So sometimes just taking a minute to stop and look around gives me that peace of mind I need.
Since I work from home and have all my animals in one place, I'm someone who (thankfully) doesn't have to drive all over the place and be on the run constantly. I've really gotten used to that life, so when things get busy and I have a lot on the calendar, I get overwhelmed. For me, self-care is making sure I have built in some days where I have nothing on the calendar. If I look at the upcoming week and see a few blank days where I have nothing going on, I get so excited because that's exactly what I need. When scheduling events, things with friends, appointments, etc., I go out of my way to keep some days open. I like being busy with work and around the house, but find I do my best and have a clear head when I buffer in that downtime.
morning or bedtime routines
I like to start and end my days quietly - which is very easy to do when you don't have children! My mornings are quiet as it's just me and my animals...then it's just me, my coffee, and my computer. Before bed, I like to read which helps to quiet my mind.
Do you work with alternative health practitioners such as chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, Chinese medicine, nutritionist, etc.?
I saw a nutritionist initially after my diagnosis, and she helped to give me some overall insight and advice. It was very helpful but I don't see her regularly...and don't see anyone else.
What foods do you rely on for nourishing yourself when training and showing? How do you stay well-hydrated?
This is where I struggle. Before a lesson, I'll grab a KIND granola bar, but horse shows are tough. I'm terrible at packing a cooler, and there is almost never anything I can eat at the food trucks onsite. I usually spend the whole day munching granola bars and fruit, but that's not enough to sustain me throughout the entire day. If the show is local and ends early, I'm okay. But if it's an overnight one and I'm on my feet all day, I crash in mid to late afternoon. Thankfully my husband is usually there and runs to the nearest Chipotle for me! But I need to get better at packing real food v. snack food. Fruit is a good, quick snack, but I'm pretty picky with the fruits I'll eat...and they don't really fill me up.
Regarding hydration, I'm great at that! I basically have a water bottle with me 24/7 when I'm showing and drink water like it's my job! When I'm in my actual classes, I'll have my husband or trainer hold my water bottle and I'll grab it in between each flat class.
How do you prepare for shows? Do you ever experience performance anxiety and, if so, how do you manage it? Do you take supplements for managing anxiety?
I do suffer from anxiety before shows, but for me, I find that it's related to the sheer familiarity of the show/classes itself. If it's the first time I'm showing a particular horse, I'll be nervous no matter what. If I'm riding in a division I've never ridden in before...or jumping higher than I've jumped in a competition, then I'm a wreck. However, after I've done it and that particular class, etc. is under my belt, I'm good to go. I just have to get out there and do it...and then I'll feel confident that next time.
I don't take any supplements for anxiety but would be open to suggestions if someone has one that works for them. I do try and visualize myself going in, jumping my course, etc. and find that that helps. I am also working really hard on being confident and reminding myself that I'm a better rider than I think I am, (we are all our own worst critics, I think). I show completely for fun though, so I'm not going for year end awards or anything like that. I try to keep my, "I'm just happy to be here," mentality at the forefront of my thoughts.
What are your favorite meals, foods, snacks and beverages? Do you use supplements? Are there foods or supplements that you feel give you a competitive edge?
I love breakfast foods - especially for dinner! I also love salads. I eat spinach salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, grilled chicken, etc. multiple times a week. I find that my body really craves the greens, so if I go a few days without spinach, I can tell. I get tired and feel just icky overall. We also eat a lot of Mexican - it's Taco Tuesday in this house all week!
Regarding beverages, I only drink water, coffee, and milk. I drink alcohol occasionally - I'm talking like two or three times a year. I just don't like it enough to have it more than that! I have coffee every morning but limit myself to just one cup. I used to use a flavored creamer, but then I realized ALL the ingredients were just terrible. (Again, it's about awareness and I just didn't think twice about it until the last year or so). Now I use organic half and half and a little bit of raw sugar.
I use a collagen supplement - it's by Further Food - and I add it to my coffee every morning. I also take a vitamin D chew most days, but that's generally it. I have iron pills that I used to take regularly, but I haven't needed them in a while.
Your favorite ‘cheat’ foods? ;)
Cereal - specifically cinnamon chex. I know it's terrible for me and super sugary, but it's quick and filling if I'm in need of a pick-me-up before running out the door. My husband has been after me to give it up, but it's hard!