Whether you’ve grown up on horseback or developed this passion later in life, chances are, spending time in the saddle has become as second nature as walking. In some cases, we’re more comfortable there than on our own two feet, and after a while, it’s easy to dismiss ourselves as athletes. But are you ignoring aches and pains? Skipping meals? Waiving workouts? Whatever poison you may pick, you might be surprised at just how much sacrificing your own health is negating the greater good of your team and your performance in the arena.
Sure, there are a million ways to justify letting your personal fitness take a back seat. We’ve all been guilty of it, and Jackie Jatzlau and her husband, Lane, are no exception.
“He and I both went through several years that we didn’t realize that as we got older and started a family, life got really busy,” said Jatzlau, mother to Jagger, 3, and Journey, 8 months. “We were making some poor decisions eating and not being as active as we needed to be, physically. I came to the realization that just riding horses every day wasn’t going to keep me in shape anymore.”
Jatzlau hit the gym in December 2014, when Journey was five weeks old. If you ask her the secret behind her rapid, post-baby return to the winner’s circle, she’ll tell you it has everything to do with her recently adopted regimen.
“I’m riding better than I have in 10 years, but I’m also the fittest I’ve been in 10 years, and having such a young baby, that’s saying a lot,” said Jatzlau, a multi-futurity champion and NFR qualifier from Giddings, Texas. “My core is stronger, my body is stronger, my timing is better, my feel is better, I have a lot more energy and I’m more motivated when I go out to ride because my body is healthier.”
Apparently, the magic has rubbed off on her horses, as well.
“As a group, my horses are riding better than any group of horses I’ve had in years because when I go out there, I have more energy and the time I’m able to put in them is more focused and I do a better job at my job,” she said.
For top riders and fitness enthusiasts, the bars they set for their horses, they also set for themselves.
Josey Meurer grew up riding horses across multiple disciplines, but started focusing on barrel racing 15 years ago when instead of a car for her 16th birthday, her dad handed over his Dash For Cash mare. In her words, “that’s all it took.”
Meurer was a competitive sprinter through high school and in college, when she double majored in sport and business marketing. In addition to team practices, she spent several hours each week lifting weights. The results were evident beyond her times on the track, as her hard work in the gym also paid off in the arena.
“The stronger my legs and core were, the easier, more direct, and more consistent my cues came across to my horse,” Meurer explained. “Communication had never been so obvious! The difference really started to show in the young horses I was just getting started with. I was able to stay off their mouths and give them their face because I was strong enough in other areas of my body to communicate with them more effectively.”
Once she made that fitness connection, barrel horses became Meurer’s greatest source of motivation.
“I have up to half a dozen horses in a summer and we’re all a team,” she said. “If I’m not fit and bringing my A-game each and every ride, I can hardly expect them to pull their weight, either. I need to do everything I can to set our team up for success.”
Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer Nicole Laurence grew up playing fast-pitch softball, a passion that culminated with division II collegiate softball recruitment. After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science, she began her career as an American College of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer. In training country club clients, she developed a love for competitive running.
In the peak of marathon training, plagued by injuries from over-training, she turned to yoga to relieve her sore and strained body. What began as once-a-week power yoga turned into daily practice for Laurence.
“When I was marathon training, I was also riding six to eight colts a day,” Laurence said. “I noticed that my hips and legs always felt tight and achy. When I started yoga, I began to notice how much stronger I was in my core and that my hips and legs had more range of motion while riding and I was much more comfortable in my saddle.
“My core is the strongest it’s ever been since starting daily yoga practice,” she added. “Having strong back muscles is what holds us upright in the saddle. The balance of abdominal and back strength is very important for riding barrel horses. It helps me maintain my body position at full speed and be able to help my horse as I am in a stable position in the saddle. Yoga also helped me maintain my strength during my pregnancy and be able to ride again and be strong enough to compete.”