As conscientious horse owners, barrel racers spend hundreds to thousands of dollars each year on the health of our horses. We formulate an optimal nutrition plan with the best supplements money can buy. We vaccinate for various diseases, inject arthritic or inflamed joints, worm on schedule and insist upon annual equine checkups, including blood work. We make every effort to ensure immaculate care of our horse partners.

But how much time do we devote to our own health and wellness?

We grab fast food so we can have more time to ride, clean stalls, etc. Take a day off for a checkup? Forget it! I am saving my days off to attend barrel racing events.

Healthy eating choices—including portion control and being physically active—can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and even cancer. Wise choices can also help us maintain a healthy weight (my horse will appreciate that one) and promote overall health.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, about one third of the most common types of cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy weight may be the single most important way to protect against cancer. These research developments could be life saving at a time when two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Here are a few of the specific lifestyle recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research:

1.  Be as lean as possible without being underweight.

2.  Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day.

3.  Limit consumption of high fat foods, foods with added sugar and sugary drinks. Try to avoid processed foods.

4.  Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. At least two-thirds of your plate should be filled with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

5. Limit consumption of red meat and avoid processed meats.

6. Limit alcohol consumption to two drinks a day for men and one for women.

7.  Limit consumption of salty foods.


Don’t try to over supplement with vitamins, instead rely on a healthy eating plan that includes nutrients that prevent cancer. Make smart choices throughout the day to decrease your risk of cancer. Think of food as fuel and nourishment for your body, health and energy level. I don’t think any of us would feed the equivalent of “fast food” to our horses and expect them to perform at an optimal level.

Make exercise a priority every day. As partners with our horses, we need to be in top physical condition to assist them and not hinder them in competition. In addition to these recommendations, the American Cancer Society advises that you don’t smoke or use any type of tobacco.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in adults ages 25-29, but the condition affects all ages. The ACS recommends the application of sunscreen and UV blocking sunglasses to help prevent exposure to harmful UV rays, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I guess cowboys know what they are doing wearing wide brim hats and long sleeve shirts!

Make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your health, have an annual physical (including skin cancer exam) and decide which screening tests are needed specifically for you. The ACS has formulated guidelines to allow for early detection of cancer. All women should have a yearly check up and physical exam. A mammogram is recommended for women over the age of 40. Annual pap smears are recommended, but may be done every two years if normal.

Men and women need to be screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50. A colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five to 10 years. The American Cancer Society recommends men over the age of 50 discuss the pros and cons of testing for prostate cancer with their medical provider.

We would all like there to be an instant cure for cancer and other chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. But, what we can each individually do is make wise choices daily that affect our health. We choose whether or not we eat healthy foods and make time for exercise. We choose whether we take time to apply sunscreen or not. We choose to take time to make an appointment for a wellness exam with our healthcare provider. The cost of prevention is much less than the cost of treatment in the case of most diseases.

We work hard to prevent diseases and injury in our horses. Now, let’s take some time to take care of ourselves.

About Martha Smith

Martha Smith resides in Hazelhurst, Miss., a small community south of Jackson, and has been a member of the NBHA for 15 years, competing actively in Mississippi District 05. In 2006, she earned the Open 3D Mid-South National championship and has qualified for numerous NBHA World Shows.

Smith’s first love (other than her family) is horses and barrel racing, but like most, she must devote most of her time to her profession as a nurse. She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1985 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, then worked for 10 years as an RN before graduating from USM in 1996 with a Master’s degree in Nursing.

For the past 15 years, she has worked as a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner. Smith now serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi School of Nursing in the Family Nurse Practitioner program, teaching RN’s how to become Nurse Practioners.

When not taking care of patients, Smith fulfills her commitment to personal health by exercising daily and adhering to a healthy eating plan. Part of her healthy lifestyle includes riding her horses as much as time will allow.

Smith’s husband, Jeff, a former NBHA competitor and active team roper, is also a registered nurse, now working for Gentiva Home Health. The Smiths have two sons, Jake, 21, who is a former NBHA Mississippi State Youth Champion soon to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Jered, 18, has parlayed his barrel racing background into racing on the crate motor dirt track.



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