Have you ever gotten to the barn after work, in a bad mood, having eaten nothing since lunch, then rushed to get on your horse and had a bad ride?
Have you ever known that you’re hungry or thirsty or both and decided that there was no time to eat or drink anything, so you got on your horse and had a bad ride?
Have you ever gotten up way before the crack of dawn to get to a horse show and decided you could do without eating and had a bad ride?
Now, of course, it’s always possible to have a bad ride, and you can’t blame everything on what you ate (or didn’t eat). But riding on empty can turn a good ride into a bad ride, and a bad ride into a worse ride.
Your body just doesn’t work as well when you’re hungry or dehydrated (even slightly). Mentally, you can become slow or foggy. Emotionally, it can be difficult to keep things in perspective. And spiritually…well, it worked for Mahatma Gandhi, but chances are that starvation won’t work for you when you put on your jodhpurs.
Eat, drink and be merry. It works for holiday parties and it works for riders in the saddle, all year long.
I know it works for me. I eat often. Not a lot but a lot of times a day (at least four). I like to graze so much, I might be a reincarnated herbivore, a horse perhaps (those who live in the land of jodhpurs understand, I’m sure).
I feel best if I can eat 20 to 30 minutes before a ride. Something light and nutritious, that will give me the fuel I need to be athletic, mentally alert and spiritually centered. I know it sounds lofty, but that’s what food does for me. If you haven’t tried eating lightly, nutritiously and often, you might find it does the same for you.
Here are some of my favorites pre-ride snacks:
Fresh fruit. There’s no fruit that I don’t enjoy, but an apple or a banana or a couple of clementines are grab-and-go foods. I appreciate the fact that they come in their own containers (the peels) that keep them fresh all day. I’ll happily eat a couple of pieces of fruit (ideally, one is a banana, which is the fruit that most resembles a piece of bread) before riding. A Honeycrisp apple is so huge and satisfying that it’s a meal in itself.
Dried fruits. There’s such a variety available. Raisins, dates, figs, prunes, apricots, cranberries, cherries, even the exotic mango and pineapple slices or goji berries.
A handful of nuts. Raw cashews, walnuts, pecans, or pistachios (already shelled and an indulgence). I prefer a single variety to an assortment, which, over time, feels more like true variety to me. I like my nuts plain, no salt added, unsmoked and not “dry roasted.” Right now, where I live (and where, at the moment, I can walk on top of the snow), it’s cold enough to keep nuts fresh (frozen?) in the car. The rest of the year, I store my nuts in the fridge.
Nut butter (peanut or almond, natural and unsweetened) on a few gluten-free crackers (because I’m allergic to wheat) or an apple. Another way to combine fruit and nuts is a raw bar, and I keep a bowl by the door, so I can always grab one on my way out. I’ve loved Larabars for a long time (lemon and ginger are my favorites), but I bought my first Pure orange-cranberry bar a few weeks ago and I’m a convert.
Plain yogurt and fresh fruit or honey. There are so many good natural yogurts available these days, with the increased popularity of “Greek” yogurt. I pack some goat yogurt with raw honey or berries in a jelly jar with a lid and put it in my little cooler with an ice pack.
An avocado! With a slice of lime. This snack is a little messier than most, but there are days when it’s worth it, when you need some long-lasting fuel to burn (think fat). As an alternative, some smoked fish, or a can of sardines does the trick. If I go for this kind of snack and I have to be on the road, I pack utensils and a small ziploc bag that I can throw everything into and deal with later, when I get home.
As a trainer and instructor, I’m a coach not just at horse shows but every time I’m in the ring with one of my students. Sometimes, when one of my students is very emotional, I have to ask when she last ate. When I hear an answer like, “I had a piece of pie for breakfast and I’ve had nothing since then,” and it’s six o’clock at night, I know why things aren’t going so well, or why she thinks they’re not. All I can do at that point, short of bringing out my jar of almond butter and suggesting that we take a break, is to suggest that a snack before riding might help.
I encourage my students to pack healthy snacks for a horse show rather than wait in line for a hot dog and chips or Pad Thai (which still strikes me as an oddball choice for a horse show food truck, as much as I love the dish).
And skip the Gatorade. Salt is good if you’ve really worked up a sweat, but sugar and food dyes are not. For hydration, nothing beats water, unless it’s coconut water (which is an excellent match of electrolytes to what is naturally in our bloodstreams). It’s hard to find a bad coconut water, but some are tastier than others. Some, like Zico, are so light that they have almost no coconut taste. I prefer a stronger, sweeter coconut taste, and I found it when my local supermarket started carrying Nirvana.
There will always be people who feed Circus Peanuts to their horses, but it seems to me that many of us feed our horses better than we feed ourselves. Change that, and people and their horses may find themselves merrier, not just during the holidays, but every day.
What’s your solution for pre-riding hunger, athletic fuel, at the barn or a horse show? Share your healthy suggestions!
We have a food dehydrator, so we make beef jerky from lean meat. I really do well with protein, so that works well for me. I have so many minor allergies to the various chemicals and preparations you can get in store-bought snacks that it works well for me. I also love plain dried peas or edamame and have at times managed to find dried fruit which is pure fruit with nothing added (but which for some reason doesn’t work well in the dehydrator for us). I love peanut butter on some sort of vehicle for it – love it on celery. And bananas are my favorite but don’t do well here if outside at all due to the heat.
Great ideas! Thanks.
Elaine L. said:
Hey! No knocking circus peanuts (unless you mean the orange candy ones) The natural circus peanuts are very good for horses, especially IR horses!
I think of those strange orange marshmallows as “circus peanuts.” Everything else, to me, is just a peanut (although I know there are Spanish and Virginia peanuts and probably others I don’t know).
Before I moved my horses to the pasture where they are now, a local hunter/jumper trainer had ended up moving into the barn with a few of his clients. One afternoon one of his students came in for a lesson complaining about feeling lightheaded. He asked her what she ate and when she told him nothing he reamed her out for the next half hour. “How do you expect to ride if you don’t eat?!”
I suspect she made sure to eat before her lessons after that, or at least didn’t complain about it…
Also- avocado is the food of the gods. Oh, and you’ve gotten me completely hooked on Boursin. That stuff is awesome.
Hi Shannon – Funny story about that Boursin…I traveled to the South of France as a teenager with my parents, and one afternoon, we went to a 3 star restaurant in Cannes called L’Oasis. When the waiter rolled the cheese cart over to our table and asked what kind of cheese we all wanted, I said, “Boursin.” He said, “Oh, bébé cheese!”
I guess they thought of it an introduction to cheese for babies! Still, I love that bébé cheese. My favorite flavor is the shallot and chive, but I also love the pepper and the garlic and fine herbs. Have you tried it inside an omelet? It’s fantastic with tomatoes or asparagus or mushrooms.
Emergency food I always carry: a jar of sunflower seed butter, a packet of Scottish Oat cakes, a couple of apples and a bottle of water. If I don’t eat, I don’t function, I don’t get people who don’t eat. Horses are strong, if we want them to do their best for us, we need to be strong too. Can’t do it without food.
Happy New year!
Happy New Year to you too (and to all my readers)! More excellent, healthy suggestions. I’ve never tried sunflower seed butter, but it sounds wonderful, and now I will. Thanks for the tip!
Mmm Boursin …… I’ll say, “Cheese!” to that 🙂 All time favourite snack: a crisp, juicy apple (eg. Granny Smith) and a stick of hard cheese such as mature Cheddar or Cantal – otherwise dried cranberries and almonds, plain yoghurt with fruit, cottage cheese or celery sticks filled with low fat cream cheese do the trick when I feel an energy dip, though sometimes only the ballast of a buttered crust of pain de campagne will suffice!
On day rides with French friends, I was astonished at first to see their mid-ride picnics. Out came the baguettes and saucissons to be carved up with hunting knives, followed by varieties of salad, with chicken legs or tinned fish, then cheese and fruit – all washed down with red wine (in moderation). One woman always produced a miniscule primus stove to brew her perfect coffee! A long day’s ride with an only slightly adapted traditional lunch seemed perfectly natural. So I’m guessing French riders neglecting to eat sufficiently are a rarity! Bonne Année!
Oh my goodness, that sounds wonderful. Although I could do without the red wine (or any color for that matter) before getting on a horse…the perfect coffee, though, sounds perfect indeed, just like the ride and the gourmet picnic. I’m envious!
Thanks for mentioning the cheeses, because I now have another new thing to try in the new year – Cantal. I just googled it and saw that it’s an older variety than Roquefort (I haven’t confirmed this but the same website says it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder!). I love a good cheddar and have just discovered Collier’s from Wales which is now my favorite. And yours is?
Bonne Année! I hope the coming year is terrific for you.
I don’t have a particular favourite Cheddar as long as it’s mature, I’ve only just been able to get it regularly locally, so I am just grateful it’s available though Cantal and Salers are quite similar. After a quarter century of French cheeses – and I still can’t learn to love the more pungent ones – I yearn for the creamy subtlety of Cheshire, Lancashire and Wensleydale cheeses. As a little girl in Lancashire, going to the market with my mother, the cheese seller would make me a paper “twist” (of the kind they used to pour sweeties into from big glass jars) of the crumbs from the big Lancashire cheeses that gently disintegrated round the edges where the cheese wire bit through. Started me off on a lifetime’s bad cheese habit! If you haven’t tasted, and can find any of those three I’d love to hear what you think – though they are at their best very fresh!
I tend to like a really creamy, aged and not tart Cheddar. I do have a couple of good sources for cheese locally (including Whole Foods), and next time I go, I’m going with a list — your list. I’ll let you know how they strike me. Two of my all time favorites are the Petit Basque (horrendously expensive here) and Comté. Do you care for those?
Yes to Comté, I like the slight waxiness! Petit Basque doesn’t ring a bell – I’ll have to get back to the cheese counter too ….. is it a goat’s cheese? If you like those, our local cabecou (AOC Rocamadour) is delicious and I have a soft spot for (I think) Valençay – an ash-coated cut off pyramidal chèvre, though I find aged goat’s cheeses have a bit too much of the old Afghan coat pong! Ossau Iraty, the Pyrenean sheep cheese is another favourite. All cheese is now horrendously expensive here so I always appreciate recommendations as buying blind is pretty costly. I’d love to know what cheeses are local to you, unless perhaps we’ve wandered a bit too far off topic!
Oh, I love how we’ve wandered off topic…although since cheese is a favorite of a few of us who’ve shared our thoughts on food for riders, I’m not sure that we’re very far off topic!
Petit Basque is far from traditional. It’s a new cheese, introduced in 1997 (!) by the French dairy company Lactalis. It’s a pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees (yes, right where you live…they say half of it comes over here). It’s brined and ripened for only 70 days. It’s slightly softer than Gruyère and milder than Manchego with a buttery richness like Butterkase, and a somewhat nutty flavor.
I, too, have a soft spot for goat cheese, although I don’t like the heady ones. I’ve tried some of the NY goat cheeses but none have captured my fancy. The ones that have are from California — I’m in love with Purple Haze (seasoned with lavender and wild fennel pollen) from Cypress Grove Chèvre. It’s absolute heaven broken into bits on a salad of arugula and roasted beets drizzled with balsamic. A few candied walnuts takes it over the moon.
The same company makes a unique goat cheese called Humboldt Fog. It’s thick, with a layer of ash under the rind and one that runs through the middle, making it quite elegant looking when cut. It’s somewhat like a ripe Boucheron but in reverse, with a softer, creamier middle and a firmer, crumbly outside. But very little tang. I’m just not very fond of tang, although if it’s salty enough, like Roquefort, the tang takes a back seat and then it’s fine with me.
Can you tell that food is my other passion aside from riding?!
It’s way past any kind of bedtime, but I can’t resist a last riposte! Purple Haze: if only the French producers would get so creative. Your salad is a version of my summer favourite, but I’ve never come across a candied walnut, though I live in the north of the Midi-Pyrenées; Quercy bordering on the Perigord, home of walnuts and truffles.
In our out-of-the-way area (the Lot département) it is frustrating how cuisine is stuck in hommage to its traditional past and afraid to innovate – with just a few exceptions! Katie, your passion shines through everything you write – that’s why I can’t help getting involved!
I love having you involved and always enjoy our discussions, on so many topics — well, gardening, horses, and food at least!
When my family lived in Geneva, my mother decided to master the art of french cooking (sans Julia). So I grew up eating things like pate and Coq au Vin and wine gelatin. I have one of Robert Carrier’s cookbooks and it’s a blast from that past.
I love that traditional food but I eat a lot more fruit and vegetables these days. I love to cook, but often don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. Food keeps getting simpler and simpler for me, but there’s still a time for Chicken Paprika now and again!
Here’s one of the soups I’ve been making that is simple and scrumptious:
Heaping tbsp. virgin coconut oil
Medium to large onion, chopped
1/2 a large squash (I love Kuri squash for this but butternut works well too), peeled and cubed (~ 2″ x 2″)
1/2 an apple, chopped (I like a Fiji, but any apple would be good)
1/2″ x 1″ piece of ginger, peeled and minced
Salt (Grey Celtic preferred) and black pepper
Melt the coconut oil in your soup pot and sweat the onion. Add the squash and apple and stir them around in the pot. Just cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Simmer until the squash is soft, about 20-30 minutes. Put most of the soup in a blender, retaining some unblended for texture. Garnish generously with parsley and a sprinkling of coarse Celtic (or other) sea salt.
A nice variation on this substitutes butter for the coconut oil, onion/carrot/celery in a 2-1-1 ratio for the onion, and chopped celery with leaves for the parsley.
A quick P.S. Just found Petit Basque – very like the Ossau Iraty (and Etorki) “brebis” cheeses I love, but in a neat pocket format. And very expensive here too – I’m just proceeding by nibbles! Also still looking for coconut oil locally (for cooking – and tails/manes) before I resort to the net ….
Hope all’s well and that you’re keeping grazing, as per your advice – bon appetit!
Thanks for checking back in! Glad you found the Petit Basque and enjoyed it. I’m glad to hear the others you like…I haven’t ventured further into cheese world since your first recommendations.
All is well, just very busy. It’s frigid here (10 degrees F @ 8PM), we’ve been doing the delicate dance of managing the snow and ice, as we’ve had days in the 40s with nights in the teens. One of the horses has needed special care as well.
Rick’s surgery went beautifully and his recovery is going well (he made himself an exercise bike from an old Fiji!). Luckily, I have some help here on the farm at the moment, or it would be brutal.
Brrrr. Stay well!