When is ‘working hard’ too much?  Doesn’t working hard produce results? And if I work hard for something, doesn’t it mean that I have earned it? Good things come to those who have blood, sweat and tears invested in it?

I don’t think I can answer any but the first of those questions. And I can strongly say, without reservations, that there is such a thing as working too hard.  I know this because I am currently doing just that. 

Personally, I am struggling with that life-work balance, my body hurts, and I am a little sad. Thank goodness, I can say that I am terribly pleased with how my own training horses are going, I have managed to successfully rise above my personal issues and keep my love of the horse strong. I think we all can vouch that the black hole of personal issues sucks the rest of our life down, past the event horizon, resulting in negativity everywhere. I feel very lucky to have escaped that. Maybe it’s my new found wisdom as a 50 year old person, but I feel quite centered about how I am riding and training my horses!

But I have a larger question about how there is a culture in eventing, or maybe horse trainers in general, that keeps us working too hard. For sure, in eventing, the working student culture baptizes us at an early age to work hard for your education. Getting up at 3 am to get to a competition is a rite of passage that all event riders do. It was asked of me, when I was a working student, to get up at 2 am to get ready for said 3 am departure.  And I thought nothing of it. In fact, I think that a Quaker work ethic is seared into every cell in my body, which is a good thing. And I come from solid Quaker stock, so Im highly susceptible to the harder-faster-stronger type of approach to life.

However, I am feeling like I need a break from my own exhausting ways.  For the first time in 16 years, I have found myself without a working student for a few months, and it is crystalizing a thought in me that perhaps I need a major course correction, or suffer the consequences.

I started wondering if other sports have a different culture than eventers, and don’t suffer this same problem of work fatigue? I actually don’t have to think very hard on the answer to this…. It’s YES. Other sports, like hunter/jumper, definitely have a dramatically different work culture. A friend of mine has a barn about the same size as mine (~28 horses) and she employs 6 full time workers. SIX!!!!!! Holy hell, I would get fat and be bored if I had that many people buzzing around the barn, disinfecting the lead ropes.  Then again….I might also have a hobby in conjunction to riding that brought balance to my life. 

Regardless, I think that the overworked professional horse trainer, is ubiquitous to all disciplines. Burnout from the needs of the barn is real. Being requested every 10 minutes to address some important issue, day in and day out, takes it toll on you. What I’m being forced to figure out is how to emerge from this potential burnout unscathed and thriving. 

I just wrote “potential burnout” because privately I know I am strong enough to emerge through this winter just fine. I have a constitution that is fundamentally positive. I will be sore and tired for a little bit more, but in the end, I actually wouldn’t trade it for a beehive of workers rearranging the rocks in the driveway.  

Now, onto dreaming about life-work balance……

One Response to “Burnout”

  1. Deborah

    Negative stressors plague all those who have pursuits they take seriously (author unknown).

    I believe very good horsemen and women are sensitive souls…there’s a desire to be all that we can be and a desire to make deep connections. This is not the desire for perfection driven by insecurity or arrogance, it’s not the same at all. It takes a great deal of effort, a true investment of your whole self. There’s just no other way to put it.

    Secondly, horsemen and horsewomen speak horse. Your feelings, reactions, and movements around your equine partners are often intuitive. Those who admire are looking to you for a linear explanation with step by step instructions on how to speak horse…as rewarding as it can be it is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing to be a continual problem solver, role model, mentor, teacher, and facilitator to others. I think riding instructors might benefit from some of the professional training a psychologist would receive. Strategies that allow the clinition to invest in others without giving over too much of themselves to the point of compromising their own wellbeing. There’s a vulnerability and an intimacy to horsemanship that can take too much if we let it.

    Finally, animals need care 24/7. It may be difficult to take time for yourself. Keping horses in the Pacific Northwest has its own challenges, rain, mud, bone chilling gray dark days…then there’s the expenses. Expensive area, expensive animals, expensive sport, etc. We also have to travel far and wide if we want to learn from the best, and compete. The investment of time, money, and other resources verges on insanity.

    The list is just getting started really.

    One of the best things about event riders is that we come from all walks of life. More often than not we come from modest means, and have had to work very hard from the beginning to chase our dreams. We picked the best sport, but it is 3 seperate and unique disciplines after all. Hell yes it’s easier or more straightforward to learn one, with a purpose bred horse to do one job. Just the conditioning requirements alone for the average event horse is dramatically different. Not picking on anyone in particular here, but there are “trainers”, high paid in some cases, who spend 20 minutes on a horse start to finish. I don’t know about you, but 20 min might get me far enough into my warmup routine to actually do some real work. I guess you can ride 10 – 20 minutes a day if fitness isn’t critical to the safety and performance of the rider and the horse.

    One thing I have learned is that when you are passionate about a pursuit it will take as much from you as you are willing to give. Let me repeat that, whatever “it” is, will take as much from you as YOU are willing to give.

    I am learning to feed my passion a little differently as I age…just because I can do something (achieve something) doesn’t mean I should. I ask myself continually, what matters most to me right now, what is the lifestyle I want to live day to day, what do i want to do or see before i pass. That is my compass. Just because I can…doesn’t mean I should. Just because anyone can become president doesn’t mean they should.

    Now to leave with my favorite quote, “With the choices we make we relinquish all of the other lives we could have lived”. Taken from a book called Live, Learn, and Pass it on.

    Let that one ruminate a little

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