BY CORY HANCOCK
Susan Thomas started the Farm to 5k initiative as a challenge to her equestrian students to promote overall fitness and confidence. Thomas believes a fit lifestyle is imperative to leading a confident, healthy life, and she hopes it leads to enhancing lives of anyone who wants to participate.
MAYSVILLE, Ga. — Think back to a time where you felt the proudest of yourself. Your potential was realized, you found purpose and you overcame obstacles.
Friends surrounded you, cheered you on and celebrated you because you finished as the Valedictorian of your class or finally landed your dream job after trudging through numerous monotonous jobs.
You overcame and achieved.
Those moments are exceptional points on the timeline of your life that help make you into who you are today. If there was a way to share those moments with others to help them experience those same, sweet times, I’m sure any of us would jump at the chance.
Susan Thomas began the Farm to 5k challenge nearly one year ago to do just that. The challenge was designed to work in tandem with her own training, instruction and sales business, Charbonnet Sport Horses, but is open to anyone. She is based at Wyndhaven Farms, owned by Lisa and Anthony Shurtz, in Maysville, Georgia, and she also teaches equestrian athletes in Suwannee, Georgia.
The Farm to 5k challenge consists of different workouts daily and weekly that serve to fulfill a similar structure that the Couch to 5k plans uphold. However, Thomas’ plan is geared more toward cross-training.
“In my opinion, most riders at the lower levels, and even shockingly at the upper levels, do not cross train like they should,” Thomas says. “Your reaction time is only going to be as fast as you are fit, and the strength and balance that it takes when something goes wrong is a lot.”
For Thomas, when riders are more fit, not only does riding quality improve overall but it also better prepares riders for unexpected moments that can quickly turn treacherous. She also feels cross-training is an under-discussed topic in the riding world.
“It is the variation of stresses to the athlete’s muscles while cross-training that tricks both the muscles and brain into believing the body needs to be prepared for all of these sports in the future,” physician Paul Krause says in an article detailing the benefits of cross-training. “As a result, the athlete’s body can grow and strengthen in ways that improve overall health and optimize performance in their favorite sport.”
High fitness levels
The Farm to 5k initiative was initially created for Thomas’ students as a challenge. She hoped the students would begin to understand how maintaining a high fitness level improves a rider’s overall ability to perform well.
“It wasn’t a competition, it was just to get out there and challenge yourself to be fitter,” Thomas says. “It raised the fitness awareness of some of the kids, and they started doing a little bit of their own stuff outside of horses.”
She says many of the students who were committed to getting more fit saw improvement in their riding. Many of them saw an improvement in their stamina because their bodies were better conditioned for the environment.
“It is a partnership sport. You’ve got the horse, and the horse has to be fit and conditioned to do the job,” Thomas says. “As a rider, I don’t believe that you can be fit enough to do your job just by riding a horse.”
Fitness is vital to a rider’s stamina, strength, balance and posture on a horse, and those three aspects play into each rider’s performance. The more fit the rider, the better the performance will be.
Confidence is key
One of Thomas’ main sticking points is confidence. It is an attribute that stems directly from the Farm to 5k challenge itself.
“When you’re fit, in general, you don’t have to be winning a sport or the best athlete in the world, and you feel physically capable, your confidence is gonna skyrocket,” Thomas says. “My big thing when I teach kids is to keep them confident as people, not just riders.”
Dr. Daniel Niederjohn, an associate professor of psychology at Kennesaw State, says this confidence is crucial to an athlete’s performance. He alluded to Albert Bandura’s theory of self efficacy that discusses an individual’s belief in their capacity to perform.
“Across all performance activities in life, the research, again and again, comes back to suggest that it’s the beliefs about our abilities that ultimately have the most to do with our accomplishments and our performance,” Niederjohn says. “Confidence is very important in predicting performance.”
He also says people with lower levels of confidence experience more stress, more time pressure and see failures as insurmountable obstacles. These can also lead to physiological issues like stress, heart rate increases and sympathetic nervous system response — fight or flight.
“If you can help somebody become more confident in their abilities, then that would likely have a physiological response in the moment, feeling less stressed, feeling more confident and feeling much more calm,” Niederjohn says.
This is precisely what Thomas hopes young athletes and anyone willing to accept the Farm to 5k challenge begins to see — an increased confidence level that permeates the other aspects of life from a fitness standpoint.
Rylie Galbraith, 17, of Clermont has been one of Thomas’ students for nearly four years. Riding has served to be a sort of an escape for her in moments of stress. The stress is torn away, and she is enabled to simply focus on the task at hand. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for her.
“[Susan] is not strict, but she wants you to do well so she pushes you to do your best,” Galbraith says. “A lot of coaches that I’ve had in the past have just wanted [me] to ride for fun and wanted to make sure you’re having fun but won’t push you to the next level.”
Galbraith says the training helped her even as she competed on her swim team at North Hall high school in Gainesville. She says she was able to build the muscle, strength and stamina to be competitive at a level she wasn’t able to compete at before because of the cross-training.
“I had moved up to training, and it was really hard for me. I was having struggles at every show I was going to,” Galbraith says. “I was able to get strong enough where I was able to compete with all of the people in my divisions that I had never been able to do before. I ended up moving up again.”
As Thomas reiterates constantly to her students, confidence is key, and Galbraith has owned it as a result of the training.
“If you have doubts in yourself then your horse is going to doubt you, you’re going to doubt your abilities and it’s just not gonna work out in the end,” Galbraith says.
Thomas hopes participants will run two 5ks this year — one before June and one between July and December — and send her an email about what they learned. She says it doesn’t have to be about running — it could be about the organization the 5k was for.
For those of us who have stepped away from sports or struggle to grapple with the year-to-year resolution of endless workout routines, the Farm to 5k initiative could be the ignition needed to allow the benefits of a more fit lifestyle to enhance the human experience.
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Labels: training, running, fitness, confidence, equestrian, program, farm, feature, Georgia