Jessica Paquette was never a natural rider. But, what she may lack in natural finess on the horse, she more than makes up for in sheer strength. Her well-honed conditioning has kept her seated when other riders may have fallen. A former body builder, Paquette makes it a point to cross-train, no matter how busy her day gets as the Suffolk Downs’ track handicapper and publicist. Her commitment has paid off with good health, and great stability in the saddle.
In this week’s Reader’s Clubhouse Q&A, Paquette describes her fitness routine, and how she sticks to her workout goals, and her horse, What a Trippi.
Q: You used to be a competitive body builder. How long did you pursue this hobby, if hobby’s the right word, and what did your workout entail?
I competed in my early 20s for a few years. I was extremely strict with my diet and my training was militant. I stopped because I wanted fitness and a healthy lifestyle to be fun, not something I did because I had the threat of standing on stage in a bikini hanging over my head.
Q: How did this early foundation with exercise inform your current workout? Are there any similarities between what you did then, to get fit, and what you do now to stay fit?
It set the tone for a lifestyle of fitness for me. To me, working out is as much of a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth. Back in those days, my focus was mainly on lifting weights and manipulating my diet. Now, I incorporate a lot more functional things into my routine and it has made me a better overall athlete.
Q: You’ve said that one of the benefits to your strength training has been how it helps you with riding. How does your strength help you with your horse, What a Trippi?
I am not a naturally gifted rider. We all know the type – those people who always look great on a horse and have that innate finesse no matter what. I am not that person. But, the kind of body and muscle awareness that comes from taking working out seriously has really helped in the saddle.
While I know that the basic care involved with horses is a workout in and of itself, I think that many riders would benefit from carving out a few hours a week to devote to the gym. The added muscle stability, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility is extremely valuable.
We always tend to focus on the conditioning of our horse, but neglect ourselves. Our wellness and conditioning is equally as important.
Q: Were there any instances riding Trippi that your fitness helped you stay on?
Luckily, I haven’t had any true shenanigans from Trippi (in the saddle, at least) but last winter, I was taking lessons on a little Welsh pony who was a bit more green than I had realized.
We were cantering nicely and then out of nowhere, the switch went off and she had the kind of meltdown that only rotten ponies can have. I was caught completely off guard, lost my stirrups and thought to myself “well, at least it isn’t far to the ground.”
But luckily, I was able to just muscle myself into staying on. Now it wasn’t pretty, but instances like that are where the core strength, balance and strong legs come in.
Q: Have any of the jockeys that you work with ever offered pointers, and are their female equestrians you try to emulate?
I am currently training for my first half marathon (May 27!) and have had the benefit of getting a ton of great advice from a lot of people on the racetrack. Tammi Piermarini, our leading rider at Suffolk Downs, is a tremendous athlete – she is in her 40’s, has three-children and is as fit if not fitter than riders half her age.
Q: What is your routine? What do you do during a typical week?
With my first half marathon looming, I have been running just over 20 miles a week. (One long run, one medium run and one day of sprints) On the days I don’t run, I have been incorporating some elements of CrossFit (www.crossfit.com) into my weight lifting program to maintain strength and keep my workouts fresh. The greatest thing I have found with CrossFit is that the workouts are ever-changing, which is perfect for a creature of habit like me who can easily get sucked into a stagnant routine.