Fitness

FitRiders: Hannah Pierucci

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Hannah Pierucci, an emerging dressage rider based in Texas, took a quick break from her winter training with Kathy Connelly in Florida to chat with Stable & Spice about eating healthy as a working student and how she stays fit enough for her working student schedule and confirming her current horse at Grand Prix!

Photo: Annan Hepnerm provided by Hannah Pierucci

Photo by Annan Hepner, provided by Hannah Pierucci

Hannah has been riding her whole life and starting showing around the age of 4. By middle school, she was competing at third and fourth level. While in high school,  Hannah finished her USDF bronze and silver medals while working as the head rider for JCAndalusians and as the rehabilitation rider for USET vet Tim Ober.

She recently graduated from Virginia Tech and moved down to Texas where she completed her gold medal in 2015. She is currently in Florida as a working student for Kathy Connelly. Kathy has been a long time family friend and mentor, currently working with Hannah to confirm her current ride (Andalusian stallion Espiritu) at Grand Prix. Hannah is working towards building her own training business and, eventually, competing internationally.

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How do you find time to prepare healthy food when on the road at shows? Is it a priority?

The day before a show starts I usually head to the grocery store and quickly pick up small snacks because I don’t usually have time to put together full meals while I am at a show. Eating well while on the road is a priority because it helps keep me going during the exhausting days of a horse show. Granola bars, water, fruit, and almonds are a few things I like to be stocked with at horse shows because they are quick and easy to grab and go with throughout the day.

How do you fuel on horse show days? (snacks/drinks/etc)

It would depend on the time of year. During the summer when it is warm I prefer to eat lighter foods like fruits and vegetables. I love eating apples,  oranges, cherry tomatoes, bananas, and carrots because they are light and refreshing snacks. If it is colder I might eat something with a little more substance to it like a granola bar. What really fuels me during the morning of horse show is coffee. I know it may not be as healthy or hydrating as most beverages, but it does help wake me up! Water is always my most important purchase no matter what time of year is. I prefer drinking Smart Water because it already contains electrolytes, which helps me hydrate more quickly (and tastes better!).

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What does a typical day look like? (general time break down wake up to bed)

My work days in Florida and in Texas are very different from each other.

Florida: I usually wake up at 6:30 and get to the barn by 7:00 to feed, pick Stu’s stall, and then bring him on a walk. By 8:30 I start setting up the arena for Kathy’s lessons and help her get started at 9:15. My schedule for the rest of the day depends on whatever her lesson schedule is. I usually teach a few lessons or have a lesson of my own on Stu with Kathy. Whenever I have some free time, I try to sit and listen to Kathy teach. Around 2:30, I start evening chores. I pick Stu’s stall and feed him dinner then bring him on another hand walk. Kathy usually finishes her last lesson around 4:00, at which point I pick things up around the arena and clean up the barn. I usually leave the barn around 5:00, but it depends on the day. I come back to the barn anytime after 7:00 to do night check and then my day starts all over again.

Texas: My schedule at home in Texas is much different. I usually wake up at 6:45 and leave for the barn around 7:15 to get there by 8:00 (it is a bit of a hike!). Once at the barn, I have 7 or 8 horses to tack up and ride. Three days a week, I ride at two other barns in addition to my main barn. On these days, I finish the horses I have in training at our barn and clean tack to head to my next barn at 3:00 where I ride a 2-3 young horses for a client. Then I finish riding, I head to my last barn where I teach one of my students.

Is exercise/working out a priority for you? Why?

Yes it is! Although I believe riding is exercise in itself, the only way to get stronger than you already are from your normal everyday riding routine is

to workout at home. The more physically fit we are, the more endurance we have. Instead of being drained after your first ride of the day, you are able to go through a full day of riding without straining your body. Exercise also increases the strength of your core and seat, which makes you a more capable and effective rider.

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How do you fit in time to exercise when working with horses is exhausting (being on your feet all day)?

Because riding and barn chores are inherently physically demanding, I find it is better for me to make stretching more of a priority when I get home from an especially busy day at the barn rather than doing additional exercises. My body is already sore and tired, so I find stretching loosens me up so I am not as tight the next day.

What kind of workouts/exercises do you find improves your riding?

I find exercises that increase the strength of my abdominal and quadriceps muscles have the greatest impact on my effectiveness as a rider, so I like to incorporate different exercises that isolate these muscle groups. My go-to exercises include: crunches, wall sits, lunges, running, and planks.

What is your go-to meal when you’re tired and can’t think of what to eat?

Boneless skinless chicken thighs, quinoa, and a salad with a balsamic vinegar & oil dressing. This is basically what I lived off of in college (except it was brown rice instead of quinoa). It is super cheap and easy to make!

What exercise do you hate to do, but know you need to/helps you?

Planks! I absolutely hate exercise’s that are static. I much prefer cardio because you keep moving, but I know planks are great for working the abdominal, shoulder and lower back muscles which strengthen my position.

Describe one (or more) common physical challenges riders experience and how treating themselves more like a professional athlete would help.

A common challenge that I have found many riders deal with is tension in the upper thigh and knee, which impedes the effectiveness of their seat and leg, aids. I do believe some riders are more prone to this type of tension due to their own fear or lack of confidence in their horse. I also feel such tension can be caused from improper care of our own bodies before we get on a horse. We have to remember that we are just as much of an athlete as anyone else competing in a sport and with that, we should take care of our bodies the same way. Every professional athlete stretches before they exercise to prevent injury and decrease the time it takes to warm-up their body. I believe this is a big part of riding that is overlooked.

The way we sit on a horse makes our bodies more prone to tension on the back part of our thigh (the hamstrings) and our calves. If we are tight in our hamstrings and calves then our legs are not relaxed and our ability to sit deep into the seat of the saddle and stretch down into the stirrup with a long soft leg is inhibited. If our leg and seat aid is hindered, then we cannot effectively ask a horse to be in front of the leg, relaxed in their back, or go into the bridle with a soft connection. I think that stretching is a key element in fixing this obstacle that many riders (myself included) deal with.

Here are a few very simple stretching exercises that I use myself:

Stand with you feet at hips-width, raise you hands above your head, and gradually bend at the hips while keeping your legs straight at the knee. Once your hands are pointed at the ground, then relax and hold the position for about 30 seconds before slowly standing back up.

Sit on the ground with your feet stretched out in front of you, then lean forward with your arms stretched forward and try to get as close to your toes as possible. Hold this for about 30 seconds before sitting back up.  (For me, this one is the most difficult!!)

Find some sort of ledge or step (possibly one from your mounting block). Stand up with the ball of your foot on the step and your heel hanging off. Allow your weight to stretch down in your heel until you feel your calf stretching down. From personal experience, I would suggest holding onto something for this one if your balance is not the best!

There are many other ways to warm-up your body before getting on. Yoga and Pilates are just some of the classes I have known to help people because they involve a lot of stretching. I am not a personal trainer by any means (or even close to one), but I have found that these exercises have been very helpful when done before getting to the barn everyday.

Thank you, Hannah, for taking the time to chat with us! If you are interested in working with Hannah, she is returning to Texas in April and will be training out of Creek Colony Farm in Richmond, TX. Please contact Hannah at 561-628-9068 for more information about training, lessons, etc.

Digital strategist Kristen Smith, author of If The Saddle Fits, offers equestrian bloggers a place to learn, grow and connect with Blogging From The Barn. She holds multiple nutrition certifications and at her day job, helps equestrian professionals and businesses to harness the power of social media at KLSmith Creative.

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