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Motivated and Dedicated: Horsewomen Committed to Fitness

We all know how much dedication and commitment it takes to own, ride and show horses, especially at this time of year. The cold dark mornings and chilly early sunsets can often offset us from our regular happy routine of trucking to the barn. With the holiday season upon us, those sweets, heavy meals, and parties can take a toll on our bodies.

As we quickly approach 2017, our televisions will be inundated with annoying diet programs, infomercials for the latest get-fit-quick gadget or loud, complicated fad workout routines. For many of us, a New Year’s Resolution is a great place to start, only to wane by March or even earlier, like the second week of February. We often make the assumption when scrutinizing others with fit bodies that they are genetically superior, or fanatically restrictive or that they have always been that way from birth.

ShelbyRatliff©MalloryHowever, for several equine competitors, diet and fitness are a passion as deep in their hearts as horses and for most, it wasn’t always a life-long regime. From designing and maintaining a daily healthy program to the extreme of bikini and fitness competitions, there is an approach available for anyone who is interested in improving their health and body shape and anyone can start at any age, at any time.

Shelby Ratliff (pictured right), who shows with Highpoint Performance Horses under the guidance of Beth Case, lives in Addison, Texas. Always working out in college, it wasn’t until August of 2016 that Shelby decided to test her competitive nature on the stage and participate in her first NPC Bikini Competition. Ratliff explains, “I did my research on coaches and gyms just like anyone would do with barns and trainers. I found my trainer Joe Fantauzzi (from Destination Dallas) and told him what my goal was. We made a plan and went from there.”

armentaSimilarly, Carli Armenta from Whitesboro, Texas, who was Reserve Congress Champion in 2016 with her two-year-old western pleasure mare, Cherrie Bomb (pictured left), has been physically active all her life. She describes, “I’ve always worked out, practiced yoga and watched what I ate, but it wasn’t until three years ago when my sister-in-law encouraged me to go to her gym with her and lift weights that I got more involved in the fitness industry. We set a goal to compete in a local body building competition in the bikini division, and I enjoyed it so much that it has become a second hobby for me ever since.”

JessicaWolfHart_cropJessica Wolf Hart (pictured right) of Brick Township, New Jersey who keeps her horses in training with Brian Ale Show Horses admits, “I have always been into fitness, but like most people it waxes and wanes. When a vacation or special event would come up, I would get on a kick and try to get to the gym six weeks out. The struggle was finding the right programs or making that time to physically get there. I found the Beach Body programs earlier in the year, and it has helped me make a huge transformation. I became fully committed in July and signed up as a coach. Ever since then I have been crushing my goals with their nutrition plans and fitness programs. As I coach, I have my own group of challengers that I help. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to stay in shape.”

JennaTolson_APHAWorldChampionJenna Tolson (pictured left) of McPherson, Kansas, has several horses including the 2016 APHA Junior Pleasure Driving World Champion, TheFairestOfThemAll. Not only is Jenna a passionate hunter under saddle and all-around competitor, but she is completely enthusiastic about her fitness ambitions. Like many of us, she is rather a newbie to the activity; she states, “I actually didn’t have anything to do with fitness until the fall of 2015. Like most girls, we stare at ourselves in the mirror and don’t always like what we see. The closest thing to an exercise “regime” I had done in the past consisted of starting to walk and/or run for a few weeks and then always losing the motivation, time, etc. and giving up.”

With an impending 30th birthday, Tolson made a commitment, “I bought a gym membership and started working out with a personal trainer once a week. I knew I needed someone that could get me in the right direction and help keep me motivated, as well.”

Overcoming Challenges

Whether fitness competitions or just getting into better shape is the goal, there are always challenges, even for the most dedicated participants. Prior to beginning her journey, Wolf-Hart struggled with eating habits, “The challenge is always finding a balance of the right nutrition and exercise program. One thing I really love about the Beachbody Programs is that you are not making a huge sacrifice. I still enjoy a lot of cheats such as wine and chocolate.”

JessicaWolfHart_fitnessShe adds, “I think the reason why a lot of people fail when trying to do a workout and nutrition program on their own, is that they try to starve themselves or cut out all the things that they love.”

Possibly due the nutritional restrictions of being a Type 1 diabetic, Tolson rarely struggles with diet sacrifices, however she explains her biggest impediment is time, “I don’t struggle with finding the motivation to eat well and exercise, but like everyone, life gets super busy, so the hardest thing is definitely finding enough time to carve out of your day to make it happen. My husband and I also travel constantly. I used to just utilize the hotel gyms, but, at this point, I don’t feel I can get in a regular work out there, so I’ll always search for a fitness club nearby before we leave. I just look it as part of my normal daily routine, just like getting out of bed and doing my hair and makeup.”

ShelbyRatliff_fitnescompetitionEasily dedicated to the focus required of bikini competitions, Ratliff (pictured left) rarely struggles with diet or exercise, but rather disappointing others. “The hardest part would be telling people you can’t eat or go out with them because you have to go to the gym. I actually had some people get mad at me for not eating or having one drink with them. I also had people support and eat with me while I eat my meals. The food itself is not hard, in my opinion, mainly because my coach made eating fun. I was never miserable about my food at all. What’s hard is dealing with the people around you who don’t get it. Once you get through the first three weeks, then, you don’t have a problem saying no.”CarliArmenta_fitnesscompetition

Carli Armenta (pictured right) stays extremely committed to her program when in bikini competition mode; she works with a professional body builder who also has a degree in nutrition. Her challenge is when life, especially horse showing, gets in the way. She explains, “Traveling is the hardest part about staying dedicated to this lifestyle. Gyms aren’t always convenient or available and healthy food options can be scarce. If I’m having a hard time finding the time or a place to work out, I make sure my diet is on point. I prepare all my food at home and bring it everywhere I go.”

Workout Routine

tolsonAll of the ladies work out approximately six days a week between 30 minutes to 90 minutes a day, combining cardio and weight lifting. Ratliff’s days start early and fast, “So during the work week, I would wake up anywhere from 5:00 am to 5:40 am and do my cardio. Then, I would go to work and stay moving around with that all day so I didn’t think about food. After work, I would go back to the gym to do weights with my coach or someone else that is on my team and sometimes more cardio. On the weekends, I would still do my morning cardio followed by weights.”

Tolson has become a morning workout junkie, too. “I enjoy the grind and it is definitely just part of my everyday routine now. I’ll even wake up crazy early to get my workouts in if I must and believe me when I say I have never been a morning person, let alone a morning gym person. It’s truly shocking to myself even. It really is possible to establish new routines and habits if you just convince yourself to stick with something for long enough to let those routines become established. It took me at leatolsonst six to eight months of consistent workouts to get to the point of enjoying it. True story! I’m not different than anyone else.”

Both Armenta and Wolf-Hart also begin their day with fitness. Armenta enjoys a run around her property every morning and Wolf-Hart finds that her program must fit in between her daily routine. “The beauty of doing a 30-minute workout in your living room gives you the flexibility to work out first thing in the morning or as soon as I get home from work. I don’t have to make any special trips,” Hart says. “I like to get up first thing, have my coffee and then get my work out in. It’s done and I can go on with my day.”

The Ultimate Payoff

CarliArmenta_MattArmentaWhile the physical and superficial benefits of a committed workout and diet plan are obvious, the women involved speak of an enlightened advantage. Ratliff has had to give up more than just food at times, but she admits the results made her tougher. “I was always a healthy person and very active, but (the fitness) industry has taught me how to be healthier and stronger mentally and physically. Not many people will tell you that you will lose friends doing this, but you also gain some of the most amazing ones along the way. The entire process has really taught me who I am. You don’t know yourself until you push yourself to the limits.”

Armenta (pictured left with husband, horse trainer, Matt Armenta) agrees that diet and exercise can be transforming beyond the physical, “My advice to others is to not be too hard on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. In the fitness world, there are a lot of ‘perfect bodies’ and it’s easy to get caught up not feeling great about ourselves, but if we just worry about being a better individual, progress will happen. Being healthy isn’t just about working out and dieting, it’s mental too. Real growth happens when our souls feel good.”

Tolson has not only gained self-confidence but wisdom as well. “The greatest amount of satisfaction comes from the fact that every positive change I can see is a result of my very own hard work and ‘sweat equity.’ It wasn’t some magic pill or fad diet. Nobody did it for me, and, in the same sense, no one can take it away from me either. There is some power in that. Feeling good about myself physically has done so much for me mentally.”tolson

Although it may seem daunting, Jessica Wolf-Hart advises that anyone can do it. “There are no hidden secrets, if you are willing to put in the time, the results will show. Reaching your fitness goals are a lot easier when you have support. Just like riding, we work with a coach or trainer, working out is no different. If you work with a great coach and support team, it will help you reach your goals.”

Tolson agrees wholeheartedly, “Fitness isn’t as hard as we try to make it out to be. I didn’t start out working out six days per week.”

She adds, “Plenty of people are completely happy doing workout three days per week and get the results they want. There is an exercise program that can fit into every schedule.”

Photos @ Shane Rux, Impulse Photography, Jenna Tolson, Carli Armenta, Jessica Wolf-Hart, James Allen Photography