July 2018 - Three Takes On Nutrition & Fitness

Dressage rider Amélie Kovac, eventer Krista Stevenson & jumper Kenneth Vinther share what works for their current stars & themselves.

by Kim F. Miller

It’s often said that every horse and rider is an individual requiring a different approach to all aspects of their training and health management. That’s certainly true of the three pairs featured here. But there’s common ground, too. Exercise outside of the arena, for example, is critical to the physical and mental well-being of these dressage, eventing and jumping equine stars. Ivar loves a trip through the orchards in Somis, Collichio loves a gallop on fire trails in Hidden Valley and Caison winds up most at-home days with a long stroll up and down the driveway in Petaluma. Read on for more details about what works for these top horse/rider pairs.

 

Amelie Kovac & Ivar. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Amélie Kovac & Ivar

Ivar

Handsome Ivar didn’t look so hot when Amélie imported him about a year ago. The 5 year old Dutch Warmblood son of Desperado “was not scary skinny, he just had no muscle,” Amélie explains. He has since gained 1.5 inches in height, to 16.2 hands, and plenty of weight and muscle. The rider had little control over the former and complete control over the latter, although she describes his hindquarter and overall build-up as more a result of her basic training program than of a specific attempt at body building.

“I like to do a lot of different things, but I don’t think about it in a physical way, it’s more for their mental health.” Trail riding, cavaletti and small jumps are more for fun, with body building side benefits.

Amélie describes her training program as “lighter than most.” Whether the horse is a 4-year-old or a finished Grand Prix horse, she typically works them in the arena four days a week. The intensity and duration of those sessions varies. “If they are doing really well in training, I keep it light and keep them happy and feeling good in the body, with an emphasis on suppleness. If they are being a bit naughty or we’re having some difficulty, I will focus on that and get through it.” Whatever the case, “I believe that physical strength comes with the time working on suppleness,” she says, with workouts suited to each horse’s individual needs.

Trail rides route through the orchards surrounding the private stable in Ventura County’s Somis where Amélie keeps her own four horses. The mode is mostly walking on the buckle, but when the footing is right, she cues trot and canter. “I definitely take advantage of that, I think it’s something fun for the horses.” Trail rides and lunging are the main exercise during the three weekdays that don’t include arena work. Ivar and his stablemates typically spend at least two hours in grass pastures everyday, finished with a late-afternoon hand walk. “I like to spend as much time with them as I can.” Amélie appreciates the luxury of working only with her own horses and a few owned by friends.

Amélie loves Cavalor feeds. “It’s one of the best we can get in Europe and it’s the best we can get in the States,” says the French native. Although Ivar is famously high energy, he gets Cavalor’s Endurix, a high fat energy feed. “When I imported him, I had him on a more mellow Cavalor formula. At first, he was great, still very hot, which I enjoy. But after a couple of months, it’s not that he was lazy, it’s that he was not himself: not as spicy. So, I switched him to Endurix, and within three days he was back to himself. He gets three 2.8 liter scoops of Endurix a day, plus 2.8 liters of Mash & Mix. “I think something wet is good for their tummy and it helps put weight on.” He gets an alfalfa breakfast, followed by timothy hay feedings, for a total of four daily meals. “He eats it all up!”

Not big on supplements as a general rule, Amélie does give Ivar Equitop Myoplast to help him build weight and muscle. She became familiar with the amino acid supplement during four years training in Holland and reports a “huge change” in Ivar’s musculature in the eight months he’s been on it. “It helps muscle growth and health through training and if your horse is off for some period of time, it helps prevent muscle loss.” (Equitop Myoplast is available through the Dutch website, www.divoza.com.)

Amélie

Twenty-six year old Amélie typically rides seven to eight horses a day. When time allows, she indulges her passion for Mixed Martial Arts, which combines jujitsu, kick boxing and other forms of fight-style work-outs that engage the whole body. “I love it because it’s really about working when you are past exhaustion and can’t breathe any more! When I start something, I get obsessed with it and that’s what it’s been.” Drives from Somis to Glendale for workouts that sometimes lasted four hours are no longer feasible time-wise, but Amélie hits local UFC gyms whenever possible to work with heavy punching bags and other equipment. “I love striking, so I can go for hours and it’s good for me.” She got into MMA purely for fun, but the fitness side benefits are a bonus. “I can only do something if I love it. I can’t go to the gym just to go to the gym.”

Nutrition-wise, “I like to eat literally whatever I want to eat.” She acknowledges that nutritionists do not recommend her routine, but what works for her is not eating through the day, then eating whatever she’s hungry for at dinnertime. The once, occasionally twice, a day meal plan works for her. She’s a “very picky” eater and by the time she gets to dinner, she’s hungry but satisfied with modest quantities because “my stomach has kind of shrunk through the day.”

During a period of intense immersion in MMA, Amélie’s coach wondered if she could get down to “bantam weight,” 135 pounds, from her normal 145 to 150 pounds. She followed a very healthy, carefully calibrated diet for several months and worked out “like crazy” to get down to 141 pounds. “But I was not happy and I was thinking about food all day.” She’s doesn’t advocate the day-long fasts for others, but “for me, it’s how I’m comfortable and feel strong. I feel healthy and not obsessed with food during the day. It works for me.”

Amélie does not expect to compete Ivar this summer because competition is not a big part of her young horse development plan. But this flashy pair might be found at shows getting familiar with the environment.

Krista Stevenson & Caison. Photo: Sherry Stewart

Krista Stevenson & Caison   

Caison

Woodside Preliminary Challenge Rider winner Krista Stevenson and Caison have had ups and downs in their first two years together. That’s to be expected as the now 16 year old Krista and the 10 year old Hanoverian move up the ranks together, but everything came together beautifully for their Woodside win in late May. Krista credits much of their success to the structured conditioning program set at Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma, where she trains with Andrea Pfieffer and Amber Levine.

Working up to big competitions like an FEI 1-star, “Cash” typically gets a weekly gallop on the Farm’s hill. Six runs up the approximately 500-meter incline is an ideal cardio and muscle building work-out, with Krista aiming for about one minute to finish each. That’s a “pretty quick hand gallop” between Training Level and Prelim pace, she explains. Twenty-minute trot-sets in the indoor arena or the groomed track on the Farm’s cross-country field are a more regular part of his routine. Three days a week, the emphasis is flat work, with one of those being in a lesson. And whatever the work-out for each day at home, a leisurely walk down the Farm’s long driveway is an ideal finish. “Walking is really important because there’s no pounding on the joints, but it helps build muscle.”

Krista typically rides Cash six days a week, with a day off for total downtime. After competitions, though, he gets more physical and mental rest. After the Preliminary Challenge, for example, Cash had four days off, including two walk-only days. “That allows him to mentally wind down and relax, without the stress of training. And that helps their body recover, too.”

He lives in a “pod,” a three-walled stall that opens onto a “pretty good size field,” which gives the approximately 17.1 HH horse plenty of room to move throughout the day.

Cash’s summer feed routine includes a flake of alfalfa breakfast, pasture grass lunch and two flakes of oat hay for dinner. LMF Showtime delivers its advertised “maximum condition, maximum calm,” and additional supplements include Cosequin joint supplement, rice bran and Apple A Day electrolytes. The latter is especially important for hydration for summer training and competing.  If the weather is extra hot for traveling or showing, Krista adds bran mash or grain in water to his meal plan. “He sucks it right up,” she says. “But we keep watching it. You have to make sure they are drinking plenty of water.”

Molasses cookies with peppermints are his favorite treat, “but he’ll eat anything!”

Krista

Having a mom who is a personal trainer is a big edge.  A rigorous academic track at Sonoma Academy precludes a ton of gym time during the school year, but Krista maximizes it with targeted exercises. “My mom understands what I do and how important core and leg strength and balance are.” Squats and lunges with a tensioned band around her thighs are an effective exercise to build strength for those last few minutes on cross-country, she notes. She’s grateful for the fitness, fun and learning opportunities of riding additional horses for her trainers at Chocolate Horse. “If you’re used to riding a few horses, it really helps with cardio and keeps you going.”

Dried fruit and trail mix with nut and sweet pieces are favorite competition day snacks for the tack trunk. And hydration is just as important for Krista as it is for Cash. Developed for oral rehydration therapy, Drip Drop is a product she uses to replenish electrolytes, along with ample quantities of water. “If I drink too much fluid with a lot of sugar, I get headaches. I stay away from Gatorade or soda.”

Krista and Cash’s next big outing is The Event at Rebecca Farms July 18-22. They plan to run the CCI 1-Star and cheer on the Area VI Junior and Young Rider teams contesting the North American Junior Championships held simultaneous with the event.

Kenneth Vinther & Colicchio. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Kenneth Vinther & Colicchio

Colicchio

West Coasters are familiar with Kenneth Vinther as a CWD Saddle rep and, more recently, proprietor of his own supplement company, Equsani. But seeing him in Grand Prix victory parades is relatively new. With his own 10 year old Holsteiner stallion, Colicchio, they finished 14 of 49 in their 1.5M debut, the HITS Coachella AIG $1 Million in March. They’ve since ridden onto the national radar with a red ribbon at the Blenheim FEI 3* 1.5M, a yellow ribbon in the $100,000 Del Mar National Grand Prix in May and blues and high placings at the Temecula Valley National Horse Show series. In a sport of myriad variables, Colicchio’s consistency is remarkable. This year alone, he’s earned over $60,000 in prize money and dropped only three rails in the 17 1.45M or higher classes he’s contested.

The Casall son’s breeding career is taking flight, too. In his first season being collected, Colicchio now has his first mare in foal.

Kenneth and his then-wife, dressage rider Karen Ball, bought him as a foal and imported him to the States as a 4-year-old. He started his jumping career in earnest as a 7-year-old, with Kenneth guiding him up the levels. A nutrition and fitness routine that is custom designed, yet simple, is a big part of the stallion’s steady ascent.

Gut issues are common with stallions and Colicchio’s colicy past compounds that concern. That’s what prompted Kenneth to find and develop a European natural algae-based product marketed through Equsani as GastroPower. “It balances the stomach acids and helps the horse’s fore and hind gut function effectively,” he explains. During the 18-month test trial on the product, Colicchio “turned around 100 percent.” Before that, it was difficult to keep weight on him, he suffered “small colics” and he was “not a happy horse.” Horses are more sensitive to how they feel physically than people realize, Kenneth says. “They have no other way of communicating besides their behavior, so their stress and discomfort come out in different behaviors.”

X-FIT is another Equsani product that Kenneth considers key to his horse’s health and peak performance. It’s a plant oil-based fat concentrate engineered into “free fatty acids,” the form in which the equine small intestines can most effectively absorb them into the bloodstream. High fat diets are common, Kenneth notes, but due to the molecular structure of those fats, horses can only digest approximately 20 percent of the fat in most products. “The rest goes out the back.”

Weight, improved muscle tone and coat condition are some of X-FIT’s benefits, but faster recovery time is the most distinct result, Kenneth says. By day three or four of a show, Colicchio comes out raring to go, but not hyper. The lack of sugar and carbs makes it a “controllable type of ‘cool’ energy,” the rider explains. “I get a lot of riders commenting on his physical shape and I credit a lot of it to X-FIT.”
Timothy and alfalfa hay are the stallion’s main meals, with a bit of mixed grain to feed the supplements.

Colicchio is a lucky steed who lives at El Campeon Farms in Ventura County’s Hidden Valley. “When you want to train for the higher levels, your surroundings are a big part of that,” the rider says. The privately owned farm is a first class training facility with all amenities needed, but what Kenneth loves most are hilly trails and open fields to gallop in. He works on the fire roads at least twice a week, letting Colicchio dictate the pace – walk, trot or canter. “I’m a little atypical in regards to protecting the horse,” Kenneth says. He describes working on hard, uneven, even rocky ground as a form of equine CrossFit that’s super for soundness, conditioning and agility. On course, horses are asked to turn sharply or gallop hard to big fences, putting a variety of stressors on their muscular and skeletal system. “A lot of lameness issues come from insufficient training at home,” Kenneth believes. Riding only in a pristine sand arena makes them weak. “My horse is extremely fit at home, so when we go to a show, it’s like a vacation.” A certified trainer in his native Denmark, Kenneth says, “I’ve never had a horse with a tendon-related lameness. Only a few hoof abscesses.”

Arena work focuses on dressage and lateral work and low-height gymnastic grids. Colicchio is a little nonchalant jumping at home, so the balance and rhythm exercises that grids facilitate are his best show prep. “Plus, you always want them to be fresh and happy to jump when they get to the show. If you do it too much at home, they don’t have that little extra.”

Kenneth

Although he’s a natural athlete, Kenneth found the move from the 1.4M to 1.5M division a wake-up call about his own fitness. “When it gets that big and technical, you don’t get away with the things you get away with in a smaller class.” Before entering the HITS AIG Million, he approached fellow El Campeon boarder Devon Maitozo, a World Champion vaulter, the discipline in which Kenneth got his start. Devon needed help with a horse, so they swapped expertise, an arrangement that’s led Kenneth to much improved physical and mental fitness. Ground-based core exercises and Orange Theory heart-rate monitored, high-intensity workouts have made a big difference. And, so has developing a routine to follow before big classes, a mental strategy that Devon coached him on. “That’s changed my game,” the show jumper says. At 47, “I’m not a spring chicken” and the new physical and mental routines have helped him focus and manage his once out-of-control nerves.

Kenneth keeps his own nutrition routine simple, too. He and his girlfriend, Renee Spurge, the owner of LA Saddlery, cook at home most nights, with fish, chicken and a variety of fresh produce on the everyday menu. “If you eat a little variety and a lot of greens, you should get all the nutrients you need.”

He recently turned professional in hopes of developing a small string of horses. Grand Prix dreams are hard to realize with just one horse, but Kenneth predicts “a big future for Colicchio.” Blenheim EquiSport’s 2* at the Del Mar Horsepark and the Thunderbird 3* and 4*s in British Columbia are on the summer itinerary. If all goes as hoped, the World Cup season will be their next goal. Make it or not, “I’m having the time of my life!”