Athletes competing at the top of the sport in any discipline know what it means to work hard. Yet for as much time and attention we give our horses, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves, which can wear down even the strongest, fittest competitor. We caught up with three incredible women in show jumping, dressage, and eventing to find out what self-care means to them and how they stay at the top of their game.
Karen Polle, Kasey Perry-Glass, and Julia Krajewski give so much dedication and attention to their beloved equine partners and team, but they also understand that when you take care of you, the better you’ll be able to perform – mind, body, and soul. In our December NF.edit, they share more than just great winter riding tips and product recommendations. They also get personal on favorite ways to de-stress and enjoy the winter season.
Photo of Karen Polle by Tori Repole for NoelleFloyd.com.
NoelleFloyd.com: Is there an exercise for your horses that you use on a daily or weekly basis? If so, why do you like it and what does it accomplish?
Karen Polle: I do a lot of hill work when possible. The farm I base at in Connecticut is on a big hill, and I spend a lot of time walking, trotting, and cantering up the hills. It’s a great way to build muscle and fitness while mixing it up for the horses so they aren’t working in a ring every day.
Kasey Perry-Glass: Lots of transitions. Walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to walk. It builds strength and helps you figure out if your horse is on your aids and listening and is great to create energy for lazier horses.
Julia Krajewski: We do a lot of grid work during winter show jumping training, at least once a week, to get the horses as supple yet strong as possible and thinking for themselves. We put several different exercises in the arena so we can combine a lot and the horses get a really good feeling for their body and get very rideable. I would always try to not have only straight lines but also curved lines, and not only 3-4 trot poles but 7-8 on a circle to get the horse really working through its body.
Photo of Julia Krajewski by Alison Green for Shannon Brinkman.
NF: Cold weather means horses are going to be fresh! Do you have a particular exercise that you use in the winter to help them settle into work?
Karen: When it’s cold, it may take a little longer for horses to warm up, so I like to make sure they walk a lot before starting to exercise. Also, lunging for five to 10 minutes before getting on can be a great way to give the horses an opportunity to warm their muscles and loosen up without the weight of a rider on their backs. This will also give them the opportunity to get out a few bucks if they’re so inclined before you get on!
Kasey: Letting them trot on a looser rein to stretch down and do lots of circles and figure eights to constantly change the bend and make them more supple. This really helps them get loose. Also warming them up slowly through leg yields at the walk.
"Always believe in yourself, your team and your horse no matter what ANYONE says. Do what is right for your horse. No matter what."
NF: What does self-care mean to you?
Julia: To me, self-care means that I try not to forget to take care of myself (body and soul) during stressful times, which somehow happens to be most of the time when you live and compete with horses. I try to make sure to take some time for myself every now and then to take a deep breath and relax a bit, to be able to look at things with a clear mind.
It also means that I try to take as good care as possible of my skin, which happens to be very sensitive. As we are spending lots of time in the sun or in cold wind, I don’t want to regret having been careless later.
Photo of Karen Polle by Erin Gilmore.
NF: Do you work out? If so, what physical exercise or stretch have you found to be the most helpful for riding?
Karen: I’ve been a big fan of Pure Barre for several years now. They have strength-focused classes and cardio-focused classes, so it’s a great way to work on different elements of my fitness. Plus, the classes are fast-paced, so I don’t have time to think about anything else but what I’m doing in the moment. It’s a great exercise in staying present, which is very helpful for an over-thinker like me. I would definitely recommend giving barre a try!
Julia: I try to work out 2-3 times per week during the winter to get well prepared for the season. During the season it's rather like 1-2 times per week. I try to train everything that helps to improve body and core stability. I vary my workouts; it's probably a mix of Freeletics, CrossFit, and some weight training.
I like to have the workouts intense so it helps to improve endurance also. To get a short yet intense program I alternate 10 minutes of jump rope with 10 minutes of workout. Depending on time and motivation I do that for 40 or 60 minutes. I find that working out next to riding absolutely benefits my riding, especially as I do only ride about four horses, and riding unfortunately puts rather unilateral strain on the body.
NF: What is your favorite scent for the colder months?
Karen: I have a Madewell candle that I really love. It smells like Christmas trees mixed with a fire burning in the fireplace.
Kasey: Lavender candles – because they help me calm down and shut the hamsters in my head – and Bonfire Smell.
Julia: My favorite perfume at the moment is ‘Black Opium’ from Yves Saint Laurent.
Photo of Kasey Perry-Glass by Shannon Brinkman.
NF: What is your must-have product for fall and winter?
Karen: Fleece riding gloves are a must! They keep my fingers from freezing so I can actually ride! I am also a fan of big scarves. They keep you much warmer than you would ever think. I use mine to cover my face on the windy days, too. I might look funny but at least I’m warm!
Julia: To keep my ears warm despite the cold it would definitely be a winter liner (my favorite is the Samshield Winter Liner) to put in my riding hat. There is nothing worse than cold ears! And I use Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream to keep my skin happy during the cold months.
"Focus on the path in front of you rather than on the big goal at the end."
NF: Are you on any product kicks lately? Anything new and exciting that you’re trying?
Karen: I’ve been really liking Platinum Performance Bars as treats for my horses. They’re packed with lots of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients to support my horses after exercise (I’ve been giving them after they jump at shows). My horses go crazy for them!
Julia: As I am teaching a lot, I invested in a heatable jacket. It works with a rechargeable battery and lasts a couple of hours with different intensities. I couldn't do hours of teaching in cold weather without it anymore!
Photo of Julia Krajewski by Ben Clark.
NF: Is there a book, quote, piece of advice, or podcast that helps or has helped you as an athlete?
Karen: I recently read “The Closer” by former Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera. I was most struck by two things that I think apply to riding – and to life in general. First, the focus with which Mariano approached each and every pitch, and second, his way of dealing with disappointment. No matter how important the game or how much his team and his fans needed him to deliver, he was able to put all of those pressures aside and stay cool and collected by solely focusing on the next pitch. He dealt with failure by learning from his mistakes without judgment and moving on. His approach worked; he retired the greatest closer in baseball.
Kasey: Always believe in yourself, your team and your horse no matter what ANYONE says. Do what is right for your horse. No matter what.
Julia: Someone said to me a couple of years ago, “Focus on the path in front of you rather than on the big goal at the end.” I think with horses there is so much ups and downs and so many things can go wrong within a second that it is really important to see and cherish the small achievements. I have a goal in mind but it takes the pressure off a bit if you don't always measure every day by it.
NF: How do you decompress or de-stress after hard rides in the winter?
Karen: I love, love, love hot chocolate. It’s the best way to de-stress, celebrate something exciting, get in the holiday spirit, the list goes on! And you can never have too many marshmallows in it.
Also, movie theatre popcorn and a movie at home! Yes, that is right, I will drive to the theatre and get a large popcorn with extra butter in the middle and on top and take it home to watch a movie on my couch.
Feature photo of Kasey Perry-Glass by Shannon Brinkman.