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Burnout in the Horse Industry: How to Recognize & Respond without Giving up your Equine Job

For many horse crazy kids and teens, working with horses as an adult job seems like a dream. However, expectation vs. reality can come crashing down when our actual experience falls short of our fantasy-based expectations. Some researchers believe that this expectation vs reality letdown is at the root of many cases of burnout.

In today’s article,

Why we burnout in horse jobs

Employers have blamed burnout (in horse jobs and other fields) on an employee’s poor work ethic or weakness, while the bulk of research has placed the cause of burnout on lack of support, little time for recovery, and cultural influences on how we think about work. Recently, however, I’ve been reading more about the existential roots of burnout.

Existential psychology studies what gives lives meaning, and how having the sense of a meaningful, temporary life impacts how we relate to the world and ourselves. From the existential perspective, job burnout occurs when the expectations we had that a job would provide satisfaction and a sense of a meaningful life falls short of what we experience in our day-to-day jobs.

From the existential perspective on burnout in the horse industry, then. Burnout can be avoided by making sure that we don’t pin all our hopes and expectations for a meaningful life on our work with horses, horse show results, or the success of a breeding season. Instead, cultivating meaning inside and outside the barn, through community or cultural traditions, faith practices, volunteering, and through investment in meaningful relationships.

What burnout looks like in the horse industry

Even though, only earlier this week, our team published an article on horse jobs and how to get them, many people who’ve landed horse jobs may burn out or realize after weeks, months, or years on the job that it’s is no longer what they want. As horses have taught us, the grass is always greener on the other side, and it’s important to be aware that there are some downsides to working in the horse industry as well.

Horse Trainer with Job Burnout

Riding a horse at work, I felt a tweak in my knee while dismounting. Turns out, I suffered an ACL tear, making it difficult for me to work until it healed. Within 30 days, I had lost every single customer. After this experience, I knew it was time to retire when I realized how little loyalty my customers had. I wasn’t excited about starting over and I dreaded getting back on another client’s horse. I knew, then, I was done working in the horse industry.

The Barn Manager with Job Burnout

“I ran a 40 stall horse boarding barn for four years. Over time the constant complaints from the boarders and employees wore on me to the point where I didn’t just dread work, I dreaded spending time with my own horses as well. The job had become unbearable, at it had also created a negative association with the entire horse industry.

The Professional Rider with Job Burnout

“I slowly began hating my work. One day, as I was grooming a horse with my boss and a fellow exercise rider, I realized that I didn’t want to ride anymore- and I didn’t have to. I realized that I’d completely lost interest in everything surrounding the horse world. Although horseback riding started out as a passion, it became a chore.

person on horse performing a lateral dressage movement.

How To Recover From Equine Career Burnout

While clinical burnout usually requires a break, intentional rest, and support from health care professionals, many of us are able to recognize and respond when we become aware we’re on the edges of burnout. If you’re a horse professional concerned that you might be inching towards burnout, here are some steps you can take:

Move Barns 

If you still love working with horses but horse people are the problem, as was the case with the trainer and the barn manager mentioned above, try relocating. If the local horse culture or just a particular riding stable is the issue, you have the power to change that. Mean girls, bullies, and horse show snobs are a reality in our industry- and that behavior doesn’t stop when riders turn old enough to vote. Don’t allow feeling like you’re stuck in one place to rob the love that you had for horseback riding when you started.

Take A Break

The single most helpful that you can do when you’re feeling the signs of burnout is to take a break. It may not be possible to take extended time off or a vacation if you don’t have the savings or if your equine career is your only income stream, but if it’s in your power, then do it.

Know your rights. Burnout is a health diagnosis, which means that in some locations it may mean you qualify for medical leave. Research your state’s benefits, in Washington state, even some self-employed professionals qualify for medical leave.

By taking a break, you’ll be able to rest your body and take time to reflect on what it is that is making you feel so burned out. Time away from horses can also allow you to remember what you loved about working with horses in the first place.

Then, when it’s time to go back, you can make a decision about whether to return or seek another job with a clearer head.

Switch Things Up

Job crafting is something career counselors talk about more and more about work in the 2020’s. Workers have the power to create the jobs we want. Take a look at what you’re doing and do whatever you can to switch it up and make it enjoyable again. 

If you usually compete in jumping events and feel totally burnt out, switch to exercising dressage horses for a month, or just take a couple of weeks where you only go on trail rides. If you typically compete in rodeos, then take a couple of dressage lessons to switch things up completely. Take lessons with a new horse trainer or riding instructor, and maybe try riding a different horse for a few weeks. These things can help alleviate boredom and make things new and exciting again.

If you’re in the role of barn manager and can’t simply switch horses, there are still some things that you can do. Maybe try and change up your schedule, so you’re teaching riding lessons in the mornings instead of the evenings. Reassign the horse chores that you’re responsible for that you hate. Maybe even try taking on some new clients that are outside of your comfort zone.

Boredom or Burnout?

A lot of the time, people who think they are experiencing burnout may just be bored with their routine. If that’s the case, then switching things up should fix the problem. If it doesn’t, then at least you’ll know that you’re actually burnt out, and you need to take a break.

Riding Isn’t Everything

Realizing that you’re experiencing burnout can be devastating, especially if your career in the horse industry is something that you’ve worked your whole life to build. However, it’s important to remember that riding isn’t everything. Your job isn’t everything, and there’s more to life. A satisfying life comes when we find meaning and purpose through varied and diverse aspects of life – feeling burnout around horses may be a sign that it’s time to put time and effort into growing other areas of your life.

If riding has made you miserable, try picking up tennis or a different hobby. Find something new that gets you excited and ready to hop out of bed in the mornings. It doesn’t always have to be horses.

Almost everyone goes through a period of burnout at some point in their career. It’s normal, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you’ve been working for 20 years, you’re not the same person that you were at the start of your career, and that’s okay.

People change, lives change, and riding isn’t everything

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