HUMIDITY AND PERFORMANCE
I often explain to other equestrians that I am a better horseman since I became a serious runner 15 years ago. Knowing how it feels both mentally and physically to prepare for an athletic competiton has changed the importance I place on the preparation of both myself and my equine partner. Therapies (massage, chiropractor, etc.), proper nutrition, days off for physical and mental breaks, proper shoeing and weather conditions are just a few of the items that are always on the forefront of my mind.
Living in the Intermountain West, heat is an important consideration that I manage when planning both my runs and what time I am in the saddle. In our region, one typically needs to do is step into the shade to find a much cooler temperature. Last year, while on holiday in Hawaii to watch the championships in my husband's sport, surfing, I experienced a negative change in performance pertaining to my daily runs. My times were slower and breathing seemed more difficult. The external temperature was not what I considered hot, but I knew something was influencing my pace. To find an answer, I messaged a friend that leads an active lifestyle and spends a significant amount of time on the North Shore and I also did a bit of research online. I discovered that there was an important factor limiting my performance: humidity.
PRESTIGIOUS SUMMER CHAMPIONSHIPS
Why am I addressing this topic? We are entering championship season including three of the biggest events for both young riders and open hunters starting with the USEF Pony Finals (Aug. 7-12), followed by the Platinum Performance/USHJA Green Hunter Incentive Championship (Aug. 14-16), and concluding with 2018 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Aug. 16-18). All three events are held at the Kentucky Horse Park. This is my favorite venue, but when I competed here a few years ago in late June, it was a week when the weather was definitely warm and humid.
Since both of my trips to the International Derby Championships have been cancelled at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, I researched what to “generally” expect in August. According to Weatherspark.com, the summers in Lexington/Fayettville are described as hot and humid. As I learned from running in Hawaii, attendee and competitors, particularly who live in dry climates, need to be aware of how potential humidity can impact comfort and performance.
YOUR BODY AND HEAT AND HUMIDITY
Physiolgically, our bodies work hard to regulate its temperature to stay cool. Active.com succinctly explains the process:
When it is hot: When your body temperature rises during exercise, your body sweats and the evaporation of water off the skin works to cool the body, as does the body sending blood to the skin. The body also demands oxygen in the muscles during exercise, so blood is diverted to the muscles, causing less blood to flow to the skin. This is when you overheat. The body can also send less blood to your muscles and more to your skin to try to cool; but in turn, your heart rate spikes as you work harder.
What happens when it's humid: The risk of overheating or heat exhaustion is higher during humid workouts because the body is working harder to cool off in the saturated air.
Relative humidity is the amount of water in the air, and when those levels are high, the body struggles to stay cool. The more humid it is, the more water there is in the air, and thus the evaporation of sweat is more difficult. In this case, sweat stays on your skin, signaling the lack of evaporation and cooling.(1)
Checking for excessive hot or cold temperatures using weather apps with 10 day forecasts is a common tool when packing for trips and planning daily physical activities, but relative humidity, as I learned the hard way in Hawaii, should also be monitored and managed to assist in ensuring optimal comfort, health, and performance.
MANAGING HUMIDITY AND EXERCISE
Obviously, at horse shows, you cannot dictate the weather or when a specific class will run, but you can takes steps to better prepare for humidity. I discovered a few tips published on The Alternative Daily’s website called “Exercising In Humidity” that seem to resonate with the equestrian athlete:
Hydration: Stay hydrated all day making sure to drink water before, during and after a workout. Hydration throughout the day will help you to avoid symptoms of dehydration during your workout
Wicking: Wear clothing made of fabric that will wick the moisture and sweat away from your skin. Equestrian apparel companies have taken a lead from athletic apparel manufacturers and integrated this technology into both show and schooling shirts, breeches and coats. It is important to consider the climates where you train/and or show when purchasing these items.
Go Light: Choose clothing that is lighter in both weight and color. Wearing dark show coats is an important part of tradition in the show ring. On hot and humid days, limit time time spent in this garment.
Lightweight breeches can make a big difference. I personally wear Ovation® Aqua-X™ in neutral beige because they are specifically designed to be cooler.
IMAGE: Ovation Riding Aqua-X Front Zip Breeches. Image source: Facebook @OvationRiding
Also, choose a white long sleeve show shirt that is light in weight, breathable, wicks, and has underarm mesh. Essex Classics has a large selection of show shirts created specifically to keep the show rider as cool as possible called the “Talent Yarn Collection.”
IMAGE: Sample of Essex Classics Talent Yarn Show Shirts. image source: Facebook @EssexClassics
Hats: Wear a wide brimmed sun hat to keep the sun off your head and face. Riata Designs is a popular brand found ringside from coast to coast.
Sunscreen. Re-apply as needed per the directions.
Sun Glasses: On very sunny days, wearing sunglasses can sometimes have a positive psychological effect — if the sun doesn’t seem as bright, you may not be as focused on the heat. And of course, it will protect your eyes. (2)
EQUESTRIANS ARE ATHLETES
We owe gratitude to the fortitude of the visionaries in the hunter/jumper industry for making August in Lexington a pinnacle month marked on the show schedule for the top show ponies and the highest echelon of hunters in our country. When traveling to the Kentucky Horse Park, one needs to be prepared for potential heat and humidity.
These factors should be monitored to assist in managing your athletic performance and general health when competing at any horse show that is held in a humid climate. Always remember that #equestriansareathletes and to earn this recognition we must train and plan accordingly!
DISCLAIMER: Street to Stable offers health, fitness and nutritional information that is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
1) Casonova, Amanda. Running in the Humidity. https://www.active.com/running/articles/running-in-the-humidity. Sourced July 26, 2018.
2) Lebow, Hilary. 7 Tips For Exercising In Humidity. https://www.thealternativedaily.com/7-tips-exercising-humidity/ ; published September 11, 2016. Sourced July 26, 2018.
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What does it take to be a true champion? The small moments of victory that don’t garner an external reward? A larger meaning? How do we foster a championship mentality all the time?
Here are some of my thoughts.
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