Hack Your Health: 4 Ways Holistic Wellness Can Up Your Game—In and Out of the Saddle

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We’ve come a long way from the days when riding was considered an exclusive, country pursuit, usually accompanied by corseted ladies in sidesaddle, plenty of tweed, and a healthy dose of sherry and whiskey. More and more today, equestrian competition is being recognized as the sport that it is by the general public, but we, as riders, often fail to recognize the other half of that equation. Riders are athletes, and we need to think about our sport, and how we train for it, like any other athlete would.

“Riders are athletes, and we need to think about our sport, and how we train for it, like any other athlete would.”

At the top of that list: taking a more holistic approach to the way we care for ourselves in and out of the ring, from our diet and exercise program, to the way we incorporate wellness techniques for the mind and body — be that through meditation and yoga, acupuncture and massage, or something else entirely.

So just why is thinking big-picture about health and wellness critical to a rider’s overall performance? For that, we caught up with Dr. Drew DeMann, a Doctor of Chiropractic specializing in Primary Care Sports Medicine at Manhattan Medicine in New York. Here, Dr. DeMann shares four reasons why taking a holistic approach to your training can help you hack your health, in and out of the saddle.

1. It can help you prevent injuries.

“If you don’t look at things holistically, and you just look at [pain] like ‘it’s a knee’, or ‘it’s a shoulder’, or ‘it’s a back’, often you miss the big picture on how people get hurt,” explains Dr. DeMann. “You could be presenting [in my office] with knee pain because your hips are too tight, or because your back is too tight.” The goal: treating these associated areas with something like massage or physical therapy before there’s a sports performance issue.

2. It can help you eat the right way.

You know what they say: you are what you eat. Ask any top rider and they’re likely to tell you that looking at your diet holistically, as an extension of your training program, can have a positive impact on your wellness and performance. From Dr. DeMann’s perspective, it’s just good common sense. “From a nutrition standpoint, it’s super important, because if you don’t [eat in a healthy way], you’re going to wind up with nutritional deficiencies over time.”

3. It can help you get your head right.

“Sports doctors can tell, when patients come in the office, who’s more likely to get better and who’s not, almost [based entirely] on their attitude,” says Dr. DeMann, who notes that taking steps to ensure your mental wellness is as fine-tuned as your physical health is essential. “If you tell your brain that you’re healthy, your brain will produce chemicals that will make you healthy. If you tell your brain that you’re sick, or that you’re not functioning properly, your brain will fulfill that outcome.”

4. It can help you train better.

Let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to maximize that hour in the gym or be the best you can be for the horse you’re riding in the moment when you wake up every day feeling stiff and uncomfortable from the training you’ve done the day before. For that, Dr. DeMann says, incorporating a massage program can be especially beneficial. “When you exercise anaerobically — as in, you’re training — you produce something called lactic acid. Lactic acid can get cleared out of the muscles, and [that’s when] you get post-exercise soreness,” he explains. “Massage increases blood flow to the muscle, and releases a lot of that lactic acid back into your lymphatic system, and that helps you to function a little more normally.”

Focus on your wellness and you function more normally and ride a whole lot better. Who can argue with that?

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