I made a rookie mistake last week and now I’m paying for it. So’s my family.
I judged on Wednesday and did a clinic on Thursday, eight hours outside in a sand arena in 90-degree heat. I thought I made all the needed preparations: Sun block on all exposed surfaces before getting dressed, check. Sun hat, check. Sunglasses, check. Lots and lots of water at hand, check.
By the time I was getting on the plane Thursday evening to come home my lips were turning red and then white with blisters. I had forgotten to put sun block on my lips. I still can’t kiss anyone without yelping, not my husband, my horse or my puppy. I haven’t had a burn this bad in two decades. The last time was when I forgot to put sunblock on the top of one foot before judging out of a horse trailer and I couldn’t retreat from the sun there.
This is just a small hazard, of course, compared to what riders face in the hot weather. Which is why I really don’t understand why more riders don’t take advantage when coats are excused in stinking hot weather. Yes, I know, people think it looks better, and I guess it does. But, ask yourself, do you ride better when you are more comfortable without a coat? Isn’t that more important than what you look like? Even more to the point, what’s the best thing for your health? If you are conditioned to riding in really hot weather, that’s one thing. But there’s conditioning, and then there’s wearing a show coat during exertion, even one with vents and miracle fabrics.
One thing I know for sure is that judges really do not care if you wear a coat once they’ve been excused. In fact, they’d rather you wouldn’t. They don’t want to be peeling you out of the dirt if you faint off your horse. The only thing judges care about is whether you follow the USEF rule for dress (DR 120).
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is the importance of hydration. On a hot day, when you are working hard outside, you have to drink water before you realize that your body needs it. If you start to feel thirsty or even a little fuzzy, it’s too late for you to be able to perform your best. And, if you gulp down a lot of water just before you go into the ring, then it will be sloshing around in there while you ride and can even make you briefly sick enough to throw up.
I judged a couple summers ago up in the Colorado Rockies. As I was walking to my ring Friday morning, I heard an announcement that coats had been waived for the duration of the three-day show. Hmmmm. I stopped to consult the weather app on my phone. It was 65 degrees. I asked my scribe if she knew what was up with that. Well, we both wondered, maybe we are just a lot closer to the sun here. And, she pointed out, we were at least 3,000 feet up from where some of the horses and riders live and more than that for many of them. We were at the point, at 8,000 feet, where altitude sickness can happen. Good decision on the part of show management, I thought.
Over the years, I have seen too many instances where riders (and horses) have gotten sick when they didn’t pay attention to the special needs while competing in heat and humidity. I have even seen injuries a couple times when riders passed out and hit the ground hard. So, take care this summer – and take a LOT of water to the show for both you and your horse.