Olympic show jumping medalist Beezie Madden has been quoted as saying: “Find something that you really have a passion in, and that’s what you’ll probably have the most success at.” This quote applies well to Caitlyn Connors who is spending the winters of her adolescent years riding and competing her three horses at WEF in Wellington, FL. She is only 16 but she knows what she wants and, with the help of her parents, is pursuing her dream of becoming an Olympic level rider.
Already Caitlyn has the attitude and commitment of a true athlete. Not only does she ride her three horses every day, she also exercises and eats healthy. That is a lot of discipline and awareness for a teenage girl. How did she come to choose salads and vegetables over pizza and burgers? “My dad is a super healthy eater,” Caitlyn explains with a smile, “and my mom used to teach aerobics classes. Being healthy and fit has always been part of our family.”
While Caitlyn has been an avid runner for a while she also added a fitness boot camp into her workout routine last summer. “Doing the boot camp was fun,” says Caitlyn. “Jason Yellin, who ran it, taught me some great exercises that I have continued doing while I am showing in Florida.” One of the exercises she is particularly fond of is the plank. It strengthens the core but also works the glutes and hamstrings, supports proper posture, and improves balance.
Photo by Main Line Models
Although Caitlyn thinks her dad is her main influence when it comes to eating healthy, she also has a positive role model in her trainer Brianne Goutal, who believes that eating healthy makes her body feel better. “When you are out there jumping it feels as if your body has more energy. When you eat ‘junk food’ your body feels sluggish – and that makes jumping a lot harder,” she notes. Both Brianne and Caitlyn feel that maintaining a healthy weight is a by-product of focusing on providing your body with healthy food that fuels it. As a young and aspiring rider Caitlyn definitely thinks that her healthy eating habits make her a better rider – besides making it easier for her to stay fit.
Photo: Brianne Goutal and Caitlyn Connors
Sometimes eating healthy while always on the go, spending entire days at show grounds, or traveling to and from show grounds can be challenging. Healthy food options don’t exactly abound. Brianne says that she naturally chooses healthy options but acknowledges that is it really tricky for people who require a structured meal plan. It is much easier and quicker to go for junk food. Caitlyn is not much different. Without hesitation she proclaims that her favorite meal is salad with chicken. But although they both prefer healthy choices over junk food they struggle with the challenges of making this happen while at a show all day.
To stay ahead of the junk food they tend to stay in places that have a kitchen so that they can go to the grocery store and make their own food and snacks to take to the show grounds. Caitlyn is very disciplined about packing a cooler with food and healthy snacks every day… and always makes an effort to stay well hydrated!
Example of some healthy snacks Caitlyn may pack for the day: water, yogurt, some fruit and maybe pretzels.
Photo by Sportfot
With all that said – Brianne emphasizes that riding is very mental, as is most every sport. “I love the idea of the mind as a muscle. And when you eat well and are well rested, your mind is clearer. I believe that the horse is the main athlete but we have to be athletic enough to mimic the horse. When they take off you have to be with them. Of course there is a physical component to that but there is a mental component as well. If you are not clear and you don’t feel good physically I don’t think it works as well.”
But, as Brianne points out, everyone is slightly different and it is important to keep a balanced lifestyle in mind. This approach of balancing all components of being an equestrian athlete is perhaps one of the reasons Caitlyn and Brianne have worked so well together. According to her mother Andrea, Caitlyn is an extremely focused young lady. She needs little encouragement to maintain her fitness and healthy eating regime. Brianne is a more laid back person and that is a good complement to Caitlyn’s intensity. “I get a bit nervous before going into the ring,” Caitlyn admits. “Having Brianne there helps calm me down. She knows how to get me focused without letting me get too worked up.” This applies to Caitlyn’s riding and showing as well as to her healthy eating habits: after a regimented day at the show grounds they often go for frozen yogurt as an evening treat!
Photo by Sportfot