Legend has it that some people have unlimited time with their horses. They lazily chat up their friends and cool out for an hour. They graze their horses until they’re bone dry. They linger for hours playing with the dogs and watching the goings-on ringside. They don’t have to even think about a work-life-horse balance.
But through no fault of our own, we mere mortals occasionally fall into the tack-neglecting, last-minute-canceling category. During particularly brutal cycles of this behavior, I often end up in meltdown mode: sick of late nights, sick of rearranging lessons, and terminally sick of paying other people to enjoy my horse.
I work hard to keep my work/life/horse balance in check, and I can usually get the job done. But sometimes it starts to look more like work/life/and-if-there’s-time-maybe-horse.
Sometimes work is the problem. Sometimes life gets in the way. But what suffers first and most is the horse time. For me, the horse time is the entire point of the work time. Here are some rules that help me keep things in check, which you may find helpful, too.
Get In Where You Fit In
After patiently hearing another round of blubbering about paying all this money for a horse I barely get to see, my husband logically suggested, “Could you ride weekday mornings?”
And it turns out, if I got up early enough, I could. That simple change added a few barn days each month. Even better, it prevents a harried, end-of-day text to ask someone to longe the horse I pay a bajillion dollars to ride. Even better than that, for 12 hours, it makes me the nicest lawyer you’ve ever met.
Can you swap weekdays to weekends? Weekends to weekday evenings? Go earlier. Go later. Stop by mid-day! Quit your job! OK, don’t do that. But you get the picture.
Set a Timer
When my work/life/horse balance craters, it feels like everything is suffering. My work quality suffers if I skip out early to fit in a ride. My riding suffers if I’m rushed at the barn. My personal life suffers if I bring too much work home. And all this misery starts with a lack of time.
Now I set a phone alert to remind me when to leave the office. Before I warm up, I set an alarm to tell me when to stop in time to make it home at a reasonable hour. Sometimes it’s a 45-minute schooling ride. Sometimes it’s a 15-minute hack in the grass.
No gossiping in the aisle. No elective tack trunk-cleaning procedures. It avoids apologies and anxiety, and I get to ride without feeling like I’m racing around the city, disappointing people and animals at every stop.
Use Those Spare Minutes
Nobody’s happy when I finally make it to the barn and my arms and legs are wet noodles. If I can’t ride, I’ll squeeze in some cardio or core work. The benevolent internet has gifted us with unlimited riding fitness blogs and videos. Go nuts.
Read some articles about equitation, impulsion, or how to nail a collected canter—they’re perfect for desk lunches, airport trams and waiting rooms. And amazingly, that stuff eventually sinks in and can improve your limited saddle time.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
I once walked into the barn and was immediately deflated when a preteen with no responsibilities, who has never changed into her breeches in the car, stroked my horse’s nose and said, “I feel like you haven’t been here in forever!” Oh, hello, guilt.
Let go of that stuff. If you need to spend time with your family, finish a project that’s dragging, or get home to see your spouse, your horse can handle a day off. And if you can stomach paying for an extra training ride that’s going to save your week, it’s worth it.
Work and life are always going to try to buck you well clear of your work/life/horse balance. But if you get creative and practical, you can do what we horse people do best: dust off your horse, get in that saddle, and forget about the rest.
This article about maintaining a work-life-horse balance originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!