Nobody rides for the awards, but everyone appreciates them. Coming up with the right idea at the right price is an ongoing challenge. I plumbed years' worth of discussions on social media to learn about riders' favorites. Here are 91 ideas, from old standbys to the downright bizarre, to get your juices flowing.
These days, it's easier than ever to have your ride logo embroidered, engraved, or printed on just about anything. Riders love a "branded" award that keeps the happy memories alive. For bonus points, include the date and location -- bearing in mind, of course, that doing so could limit carryover of extras to next year. Riders cited these items among their favorites:
Many riders report that practical items -- the things they keep in their cars or barns or living rooms and keep using for years -- are their favorites.
Some riders really like traditional awards that carry emotional significance. Ride photos are always a hit. Some managers get especially creative in making unique trophies, buckles, plaques, or certificates to commemorate riders' accomplishments.
Distance Riders of Manitoba president Darice Whyte spent the year snapping photos of riders, then had the best ones printed on metal for the club's division winners. They turned out gorgeous! Here are a few more examples:
Crafts by Local Artists
Some ride managers excel at sniffing out local talent, and artists can be amazingly generous when it comes to handcrafted awards. From potholders to pottery, horseshoe art to painted rocks, artisan soaps to quilts, you can't go wrong with something this special.
Just for Juniors
Who doesn't love seeing juniors get some extra love at the end of a ride? Many rides offer extras for our youngest riders. Some reported favorites include:
Former junior rider Kelly William Stehman now sponsors juniors herself. She suggests awarding "things that would be good for juniors to add to their saddle bags or something that would help them become better riders. Things like scoops, sponges, stethoscopes, quality multi use tools. Maybe some sort of GPS unit to help them learn pacing or some hoof boots as a big award."
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15 Gift Ideas for Distance Riders
Mr. Sweaty and I make dinner together most nights. It's a form of entertainment for us, and we keep it interesting by trying lots of new recipes. Only the best make it into the Recipe Roundup.
Here are our November winners:
Apple, Dried Cherry, and Walnut Salad with Maple Dressing
We tried this salad out on company (live dangerously, I say!) and it was a hit, even with the teenager. We've made it at least three times since. It's excellent exactly as written. If you share my distaste for soybean oil mayo, Primal Kitchen's avocado oil version is a great option.
Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad
Mr. Sweaty was suspicious of this one, but he's glad I prevailed. Even if you aren't a Brussels sprout fan -- or a kale fan -- you should give it a try. No mushy, boiled veggies here. The sprouts are served raw, sliced thinly and treated like crisp micro greens. I added a handful of dried cranberries to really take the salad over the top.
Grilled Red Pepper Dip
I assigned this dip to my mom, who hates to cook, for a Thanksgiving appetizer. She used jarred roasted red peppers instead of grilling fresh ones, and it still turned out delicious. We microwaved the dip to soften it up before serving. Hint: melt leftover dip into scrambled eggs for a savory breakfast. Yum.
The prep on this takes a bit of time, so pour a glass of wine and enjoy the process. It's hardly egregious, just more effort than I think the average home cook spends on a weekday evening. Trust me, the silky, tangy, buttery sauce is worth it.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Ah-ha! Finally, a make-at-home sweet and sour chicken that tastes like good Chinese takeout! The recipe I linked to served as our starting place, but I mixed and matched from several other recipes to invent my own sauce.
Here's how to make the dish the Sweaty Equestrian way:
Eliminate the sauce ingredients (the last 6, sugar through garlic) from the original recipe. Make the rest of the recipe as instructed, but use this sauce instead:
3 Tbs soy sauce
1 cup pineapple juice (actually, a touch less than 1 cup) saved from the canned pineapple chunks
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs ketchup
1 Tbs sambal oelek
1 1/2 Tbs cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs water (aka cornstarch slurry)
Combine the pineapple juice and soy sauce to equal 1 cup of liquid. Combine the pineapple-soy mixture with the next four ingredients (brown sugar through sambal oelek) in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the cornstarch slurry and simmer, stirring, until sauce reaches desired thickness.
Three Cities of Spain Cheesecake
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new house cheesecake! (That makes two.) I served this on Thanksgiving to rave reviews. A few notes:
1. The recipe mysteriously fails to specify pan size. I used a 9-inch springform.
2. I used my own graham cracker crust recipe. It's just crumbs and butter, pressed into the bottom of the springform pan only (not up the sides), baked at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes, and cooled before pouring in the cheesecake batter.
3. I baked the cake in a water bath with great success, thanks to this silicone pan protector, which may represent the best $20 I have ever spent.
4. In a nod to Thanksgiving tradition, I topped the cheesecake with Homemade Salted Caramel and toasted pecans. The caramel was delicious, but I'm more of a cheesecake purist, so I'll skip it next time.
That's it for November! Be sure to follow The Sweaty Equestrian on Facebook to get a heads-up on next month's roundup.
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How I Think About Food
My body and I are having a disagreement: It is forty-two and thinks that's an excuse to not be in its thirties. I beg to disagree.
A lot of good that's doing me.
Here's the thing: I have been "the fitness type" for a very long time. Having maintained the basics with casual running since college, I got serious about strength training in about 2006. I started with bodyweight work. Within a year, I'd added a home gym complete with barbell, dumbells, pull-up bar, and bench. Within 3 years, I had kettlebells, a weighted vest, a wellness library, and some pretty respectable muscle mass.
Fast forward to now: My home gym is further tricked out with a power cage, second barbell, box jump, spin bike, and yoga mat. I use them all pretty religiously. Between late December 2019 and mid-July 2020, I worked out every single day. For something like 186 days.
And yet...and yet. My muscle mass isn't what it used to be. I can tell that I'm not as strong, both when I do "real things," and when I look in the mirror.
Part of me says that's a normal part of aging. Everyone has a harder time holding onto muscle (let alone gaining) as they get older. Sarcopenia is a thing. I'm lucky to have a solid fitness base that keeps me motoring along pretty well. I'm even luckier to have a partner who doesn't labor under the delusion that a woman's value rests upon her appearance.
However. Another part of me won't give up that easily.
There's a lot of overlap, of course. Most of the tried-and-true principles still apply. But, I can do quite a few things differently to maximize my muscle gains in (gasp!) middle age:
1. Increase Muscular Effort while Decreasing Injury Risk
With age come nagging injuries that persist longer than they did when we were young. I'm almost always tiptoeing around a touchy elbow, wrist, sacroiliac joint, or knee. If I waited for everything to feel perfect before embarking on a muscle-gain effort, I'd never get off the sofa. That said, max lift attempts aren't as appealing as they used to be.
Traditionally, most athletes build muscle by incrementally increasing the amount of weight they're lifting. Working out while avoiding injury means challenging muscles in other ways. The word on on the street is that these methods are as effective -- or nearly as effective -- as stacking on the plates.
2. Commit to Consistency
Back before COVID, I was at a backyard party chatting with a guy who was mid-50s, lean, and ripped. He commented that the biggest factor in staying fit as he got older was consistency. Unlike in his younger years, he couldn't expect to miss workouts without losing ground.
Even in my early 40s, I can attest that not only is it harder to build muscle than it used to be, but I lose it more quickly when I step off the wagon. As I overhaul my workout schedule to focus more on muscle growth, I'll be making sure that each muscle group gets worked 2-3 times per week.
3. Eat More Protein
Across many years and many sources, I have consistently been reminded of the importance of protein for muscle growth, especially with increasing age. Recommendations generally range from 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. The latter is hard to pull off, but it's what I'm shooting for. This will take some planning!
4. Emphasize Mobility
Oh yeah. I know. We all know. Our tissues lose elasticity, old injuries form mental and physical scars, and we lose range of motion as we age. This makes us more prone to injury, which impacts our workout consistency, which invites sarcopenia in for a beer. I'll admit that mobility work isn't my strong suit. It always feels less productive than doing a solid workout, and it takes a lot of time. But, if I want to see gains, I'm going to have to commit to more intentional mobility work and better warmups.
Knowing may be half the battle, but it's only half.
I know what I need to do. Now, it's time to put it into action. I'm going to spend some time this week overhauling my workout calendar and menu planning for extra protein.
How about you? Do you ever get the feeling that whatever you've been doing just isn't working anymore? Maybe it's time to make some changes...and make some change.
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How I Think About Fitness
Is it just me, or do some people get harder to shop for with every passing year? Here are fifteen ideas to help you surprise your favorite endurance rider this Christmas:
Custom Gold Foil Map
These gorgeous maps can be customized to showcase any special location, especially if it has an intricate shoreline or trail system. I purchased one in copper on black. It's stunning in a black wood frame, and the seller was a pleasure to work with.
Charlie Mackesy Book or Print
If you haven't seen this guy's art, you must take a look! Mackesy's work embodies the kindness and gentle humor I associate with Winnie the Pooh, but with horses and without the cheesy illustrations. (Sorry, Pooh.)
High Quality Layers
It seems like distance riders are always asking each other, "What do you wear to stay warm and dry on stormy rides?" My suggestion is to look for gear brands instead of equestrian-specific brands, because the technology used for skiing, cycling, and other outdoor adventure sports is so much more advanced. Some of my favorites are Outdoor Research, Rab, Patagonia, Marmot, and Mammut. Every serious rider needs a good down "puffy" coat and a 3-layer, waterproof, breathable rain shell with taped seams.
Does your rider have a farm name? Ride with a team? Manage an event? Surprise them with the perfect logo -- no design skills needed. You can create your own with support from an app like Weebly Logo Maker or commission an artist on Fiverr. The logo itself is a great last-minute gift, as you can usually get one in three days or less. Pay a few extra bucks for the vector file, and you'll be all set to customize anything: window decals for the truck, completion awards, a metal sign for the driveway, whatever!
Riders can keep both their diamonds and their fingers safer by trading out gold rings for silicone ones during barn time. As a bonus, they're comfortable and stocking-stuffer cheap. Vendors like Qalo and Enso Rings have options that go beyond basic gray.
Satellite Communication Device
This is a great gift if you have a healthy budget. I like the Garmin inReach, which fits nicely in a front pocket of my running vest. Its interface is easy to use and can even be operated through a smartphone app, which gives the user a proper keyboard instead of just the integrated grid. Your rider will be able to drop "breadcrumbs" when exploring new territory and send unlimited free pre-typed texts/emails. They'll also have have two-way, real-time communication capability -- no internet or cell service required. And, of course, there's the SOS button if shit really goes down. Bear in mind that you'll need to pay a subscription service (about $15/month) to keep the device active.
Riders doing longer distances often go to bed well before dark. I like a good sleep mask to help block out the world. This one from Sleep Master is my favorite for comfort (very silky, highly adjustable, stays in place) and effectiveness (larger surface area blocks all light).
While you're at it, these Acoustic Sheep SleepPhones are a nice alternative to earplugs for muffling the clatter of ride camp. They're nice at home, too, for listening to music or a sleep meditation without bothering your partner.
Every rider's nightmare is to lose a horse in the wilderness. Equine ID collars can be worn in camp or while riding to help bring a missing horse home. These I.C.E. clips make good stocking stuffers. I'd like to have one on every saddle!
Merri Melde -- aka The Equestrian Vagabond -- makes adorable equine pins and magnets (and other things too) sure to bring any rider luck.
Custom Stuffed Horse
Speaking of adorable! These are pricy as plushies go, but this Etsy vendor will put your horse's markings on a stuffed toy for the cutest keepsake ever.
Most distance events have a race photographer. You can usually find out who took photos at any given ride by checking the event website or Facebook page. Frame a great shot or have it printed on glass, canvas, or metal. You could also make a collage honoring one special horse, or perhaps all the different horses your rider has competed with over the years.
How about paying for a clinic, ride entry, or private lesson with an expert in your area? A session with an equine massage therapist or chiropractor wouldn't go amiss. Also, it's AERC membership renewal season...
For a truly unique gift, look for a craftsman in your own backyard. A couple years ago, my dad worked with Forgiven Fabrication (they are on Etsy now!) to turn a photo of me and my first endurance horse into a steel silhouette.
Cowhide and Sheepskin
Nothing beats coming back to a cozy home after a winter ride. Cowhides and sheepskins are perfect for adding warmth and flair to just about any style of decor. Even better, they hold up beautifully to pet hair, blood, and barf. Trust me on this.
I've had good experiences with Cowhides International (get the Brazilian ones, they're higher quality) and Sheepskin Shop.
What are you hoping Santa brings this year? Add your ideas to the comments, and happy gifting!
The skies have rained and blown for weeks. Blankets have been on and off the horses. Salted mashes consumed. Saddles nestled in the tack room, waiting.
And then, yesterday!
Dawn broke still and the farm floated alone in a heavy cloak of fog. Mist froze on branches, wire, hay, and manes. I warmed a saddle pad and bit indoors, waited until afternoon to mount.
Down went the first two rides on my calendar. But I had a horse ready for the third…
…until a normal dose of bute crashed her kidneys without warning. She spent most of a week – not to mention a substantial amount of cash – in the hospital. We saved her life, but not her career. Horses with compromised kidneys shouldn’t be put at risk of dehydration. She can do lots of things now. Endurance isn't one of them.
So, I got my old campaigner out of semi-retirement. He was a rock star before headshaking syndrome put him out of the game back in 2016. But he’d been looking better for months. No reason not to give him a shot; we could always reverse course if he wasn't happy.
He was happy. So, so happy! It was all I could do to keep his inner monster from eating too much trail, too fast, at Top o’ the World. We finished our first 50 together in several years. And we really were on top of the world.
Then. At the next ride, he colicked near the finish. We treated. He’s fine. But I gave him the rest of the season off. Next year may be on the table for him, or it may not. We’ll have to take it as it comes.
Maybe I'm getting a little better at that – taking it as it comes. Not just with endurance, but with a political train wreck at work, and with the intrusion of a housing development they want to build in the field next door.
It’s easy to get angry, isn’t it? When all you want is a break? Just some clear sailing, please, for once?
But we don’t learn much on smooth seas.
When the waves are high and the fog closes in, and we are chilled to the bone just trying to find our way…that is where the answers are. A world that shrinks, also sharpens. The things that are closest, the ones we tend to ignore, come into focus. We learn to rest in uncertainty. And if we can find peace in that place, we can find it anywhere.
There’s an interesting book, if you’re struggling, called Life is in the Transitions. It tells stories of people who have suffered much more than I. The author observes out that – contrary to our cultural undercurrent of expectation that life is “supposed to” always move us onward and upward – our lived experience rarely follows that trajectory. We should expect to be in the midst of transition (often the uncomfortable variety) for a high percentage of our lives. Might as well get good at it, eh?
Trail riding can be nice, I’ve discovered. Just walking. Getting to know a new horse, without focusing on hills and heart rates and speed. Exploring new trails or visiting old ones. Quietly watching the sun soak through the freezing fog...melt the resistance..and shine not on the way things should be, but on how they actually are.
It’s bright again today. I’ll saddle two horses – the one with damaged kidneys and the one that colicked – and embrace this fleeting moment that holds them both.
Years ago (twelve? fourteen? too many!) I visited a middle school with a robust physical education program. Gesturing toward a whiteboard on which students' athletic stats were tracked, the gym teacher asked, "How many pullups can you do?"
Erm... I was there for work interests, not personal ones, but apparently my reputation as a "fitness type" had preceded me. The teacher's face was expectant. Of course I could do pullups.
Except, I couldn't.
I could, however, artfully dodge the question. It stuck with me, though, and that very afternoon, I set out to correct my deficiency.
I can't remember now how long it took me to get my first dead-hang pullup, but I can tell you this: I vowed then and there that I would never not be able to do pullups again. There's something undeniably empowering about them -- especially for women. (Here's a great video if you want to learn how.)
I've kept that vow for over a decade. I've gone through phases of doing exactly zero pullups for months at a time, but I've never lost the ability. Those dry stretches take a toll on capacity, though.
Take now, for instance. Since riding couple 50's at Top o' the World this summer, I've really slacked off my formal workouts. I'm feeling pretty wimpy. Ugh. Time to get my pull-up count back up!
To do it, I'm dragging out an old technique that I've used off and on over the years: Greasing the Groove.
Greasing the Groove is a term coined by Pavel -- you know, the guy who popularized kettlebells in the West -- in his book Power to the People. Basically, it involves repeating a movement frequently, but at a weight and number of repetitions that fall well short of your maximum capacity. The idea is to strengthen neural pathways, essentially training the body to perform the movement efficiently.
GtG is usually used for bodyweight work like pullups and pushups, not least because it isn't terribly convenient to get yourself to a barbell several times a day. The simplest version is to simply do the exercise periodically throughout the day, but only at 40-50% of your max number of reps. The goal is to build neuro-muscular connections, remember, not muscle per se.
Some people do their reps every hour, on the hour. Back before the house fire, I had a pullup bar in my main bathroom doorway (ah, the benefits of living alone) and did a few pullups every time I went pee.
This time, I'm going to try a new routine that builds GtG into my work-from-home weekdays. It's minimal, as GtG goes, but it's manageable. (In my world, not realistic = not done, so this will have to do!)
Here's the plan:
I generally work at my desk for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Each of my first three breaks will begin with GtG. My schedule makes sure I do each movement at least 3x per day, 3x per week.
Day 1: Pullups and pushups
Day 2: Pullups and chinups
Day 3: Chinups and pushups
Day 4: Pullups and pushups
Day 5: Chinups and pushups
What about max sets? Those are important too, but I'm handing them separately from GtG. They're a whole different concept that I'll work into my overall workout schedule.
The plan goes into action today. Wish me luck!
The Sweaty Equestrian