Jeni Pearce

Comparing equestrian riders to F1 drivers

Performance Nutrition

Likening New Zealand’s Olympic equestrian riders to Formula One drivers has struck a chord with the team in their work with HPSNZ Performance Nutrition Technical Lead Jeni Pearce.

Jeni, who formerly worked as a performance nutritionist with the McLaren F1 team, has leaned on her experiences there to help New Zealand’s Tokyo-bound eventing team.

“I see a lot of similarities between motor racing and equestrian in that the car and the horse garner a lot of attention,” she says. “Many people are devoted to looking after these areas and quite rightly so.

“In Formula One the drivers also have their own support team, but in equestrian they didn’t have that same level of support and this is where there was a gap.

“The riders devote a significant amount of time to riding and training the horses but sometimes did not always consider the nutritional requirements to physically manage their workouts and recovery.”

Juggling riding and training horses for up to six hours a day, and for some also managing an equine business, leads to a hectic lifestyle for many riders.

However, Jeni, who works with both the UK-based and New Zealand-based riders, was on hand to provide support.

“I simply filled the gaps to give them the correct fuels and fluids to support and sustain quality training,” she adds. “We do this to ensure the riders are able to fully concentrate and are not so fatigued, as this impacts on their technique and reaction times.”

Jeni says the plan differs from rider to rider. The day starts early so she emphasises the importance of the athletes taking on board a small breakfast before their first training block and post the morning workout she recommends the riders consume “a second breakfast” with more protein and some carbohydrate content.

For riders who go to the gym on the afternoon, she will suggest a fuelling plan to meet their needs followed later by a dinner that incorporates the recovery (refuelling and rehydration) plan.

“Equestrian riders do not need a high-carbohydrate diet like an endurance athlete but they do need enough carbs to allow for physical baseline endurance to keep them going through the day’s workload.”

Jeni is hugely impressed by the work ethic, commitment and passion for their craft shown by all riders and offers a flexible and mature approach to their nutritional needs.

“Some of the riders like a glass of wine and to be social and the nutritional plan was all about making it fit for the riders rather than attaching any guilt. It’s about appropriate timing in the plan.”

“To get them to buy into it for the most part has been a huge win.”

The extra work around nutrition has another benefit according to Jeni – it makes the riders less prone to picking up infections due to a stronger immune system.

“An important part in this story is reducing the chances of the riders picking up sickness,” she explains. “If you become sick you lose training days and the more days you miss the less prepared you will be to deliver your best.”