Ellen Doughty-Hume had always been athletic, but to stay competitive at eventing’s highest level, she wanted to get fitter and stronger. So, in December of 2015, she decided to kick it up a notch and started doing CrossFit at a the local “box” in Rockwall, TX.
“Every day is different and it’s all pre-programmed, with a trainer for every class,” explained Doughty-Hume, who lives in Forney, TX, on the outskirts of Dallas. “Some days are more [weight] lifting days, some days are more cardio; you do a 10 minute warmup which consists of sit-ups, squats, pull-ups, jumping ropes, rowing on the rowing machine or going for a run. And then you do the main workout.”
She went from swimming at her local YMCA and “running now and then” to a daily, high-intensity workout schedule. Designed to deliver strength building and aerobic exercise in a short amount of time, CrossFit has become quite popular among time-strapped professionals, including equestrians.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually heavy lifting days,” she continued. “There are different types of squats, clean and jerks, all kinds of Olympic lifts, but everyone can do them. There are 80-year-old ladies, people who weigh 300 pounds, and people trying to get to the CrossFit championships. There’s something for everyone.”
The Workout of the Day, or “WOD” as it’s commonly known, varies. It might consist of lifting, or on a cardio day sprint intervals. There are also “Benchmark Workouts”, which are nationally recognized workout plans that CrossFit devotees can do at any gym.
“The “Murph” is one such WOD that is collectively done among the CrossFit community on the 4th of July.
“It’s a ‘Hero WOD’ in memory of Mike Murphy, a Navy Seal who was killed in Afghanistan,” Doughty-Hume explained. “It was his favorite workout: a one-mile run, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, 100 pull ups, 100 pushups, and another one-mile run. Elite athletes take about 35 minutes, and the first time I did it it took me about 70 minutes. There are different levels, and you can scale things—you can do assisted pull-ups or push-ups on your knees. People cheer you on and it’s a fun environment and a way to test your fitness.”
At the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, Doughty-Hume had a moment in the social media spotlight when she stuck a difficult landing over a massive fence on her horse Sir Oberon. She credited the core strength developed in CrossFit with being able to stay in the saddle and help her horse land on his feet that day.
Before she jumped into the world of CrossFit, Doughty-Hume considered herself a strong rider. She was a varsity athlete and high school and has ridden about 12-15 horses a day for many years. But she’s never had more core strength or stamina at the sitting trot and on gallops then she does now.
“In the sitting trot now I can feel how I use my seat better. I’ve never been tired after riding cross country but now I feel like I could do it all day! I can do trot sets for an hour and a half in jumping position and I don’t even feel tired. I’ve lost about 15 pounds and gained a ton of muscle, and it’s easier to ride the horses.”
While she hasn’t necessarily changed her horses’ fitness training based on her own experience, she says that it has given her more insight into how the horses might feel after a conditioning day.
“Just being in the gym and knowing there are days after I have a hard workout when I might be sore and take it a little easy…I keep that in my mind with the horses—they might not feel great the day after hill work, they might be a little body sore. I don’t know that it’s changed the way I condition them, but it’s made me more aware of how they might be feeling.”
In that same vein, she has started getting regular massages and chiropractic treatment, and has incorporated the same into her horses’ routines.
“Since it’s helped me I’ve started doing the same for the horses. The chiropractor comes out once a month and the massage twice a month. I think it’s helped the horses loosen up and feel better in their daily work.”
Since she got bored of her workout routine before starting CrossFit, Doughty-Hume is conscientious about keeping things interesting for her horses.
“Obie rarely has a jump school. He had one jump school before Rebecca Farm last year. I work on his flat work and do conditioning. We have a big hill and I’ll do flat work there too to keep it different and fun. So I vary what they do on a daily basis. I guess I got bored doing the same workout every day, and now I’m doing different things every day, and I try to incorporate that into my horses’ training to keep them happy and interested. I get a lot of horses off the track and the varied program seems to really suit them, too.”
Along with changing her workout routine she also started a Paleo diet when she started CrossFit, and over time has modified her diet to suit her lifestyle. Her parents suggested she watch a documentary about sugar consumption, which influenced her eating habits as well, and they have switched to eating more vegetarian foods.
“I grew up eating meat and potatoes at every meal, but most of our meals now are salad and vegetables, and we eat fish a couple times a week. I don’t drink soda anymore and I’ve really cut the sugar out of my diet. After watching some of these documentaries, it’s amazing how bad sugar is for you. I lost more weight too, just cutting out the sugar, and my energy level has improved. I ate just one Oreo the other day and really didn’t feel well. I’m not strictly paleo, but I’ve taken some of the ideas and made it work for me.”
Daily workouts take planning and effort, but Doughty-Hume has managed to find time even with a busy schedule that sees her arriving home at 10pm many days after long hours spent riding and teaching.
“I make it a priority,” she said.
Watch Ellen Doughty-Hume and Sir Oberon put their fitness to the test in the 2017 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, April 27-30.