What does horse burnout look like to you?

In a lifetime involvement with an intensive sport, it would be the rare person who has never hit a bit of a wall with horses.

I’m not really there right now, though I have been in the past. I am, however, at some kind of overall life burnout. Taking two weeks off only served to highlight that there is a deep imbalance in my life right now. I’m not entirely certain of the solution, especially given my core workaholic / productivity guilt values system, but – something’s got to shift.

Central to this, of course, is the understanding that many (all?) of the balls I have in the air cannot be dropped. The day job is one I’m passionate about, and it pays the bills. The horse is obviously a non-negotiable. My city volunteer work is a source of deep pride and intellectual engagement for me. My political work is energizing, fascinating, and feels vital in a way that lots of other things don’t. My house is 100 years old and needs regular upkeep, and my brain actively fizzles out if it’s filthy. (I am sensitive to the argument that many of these weights could or should be shared, but that is simply not my life situation – it’s all on my plate. Wishing it otherwise changes nothing.)

Some things in my horse life have dropped off the radar in a good way, though. I’ve usually burned out on riding (and to be clear – I’ve only ever burned out on riding – not on owning a horse) when I’ve been focusing too hard on some goal. A show. A stumbling block in our flatwork. Some kind of ugliness Tristan is tossing at me in specific situations. A lot of those things are better right now – moving Tris to the mental state of “semi-retired” has taken away a lot of the pressure.

For me, when I know I’m approaching some kind of line, it feels like wanting to burst into tears at the thought of getting up from the couch to change into breeches. It feels like sitting in my car in the barn parking lot, talking out loud in a pep talk to convince myself to opening the car door, swing my legs out, put one foot in front of the other. It feels like tossing a bareback pad on and calling that a victory. It feels like watching the clock while in the saddle as if every step of the work is molasses, if I just get one good trot, I can call it a day.

Sometimes I try to shove through and it works. Sometimes I try to shove through and it’s a disaster. Sometimes I let myself loaf off and it’s just what I needed. Sometimes I let myself loaf off and every single second until I go to sleep is an agony of self-loathing and recrimination for not bucking up. You’d think after so many years I’d have figured out my brain but wow you’d be wrong.

So here I am, realizing that the deep rest and focused personal time of the last few weeks did nothing but heighten my awareness of some things in my life that are not what they should be. I rode or groomed every single day of those two weeks, and the week following, and it was terrific. Tonight, as I write this, I’ve opted out of barn time, feeling drained by a day at work that was a struggle and some heavy lifting for political organizing work over the last few days. It only took a few days back at work to feel panicky and trapped again.

I’m wondering: what does it look and feel like for you when you’ve hit a point of horse burnout? How do you handle it? Do you have a sense of how to wrestle with it, or like me do you feel a bit powerless?

3 thoughts on “What does horse burnout look like to you?

  1. I don’t have any answers but I can tell you you’re not alone in your struggle. I don’t have volunteer/political work, and my house isn’t 100 years old, but my stupid commute and farm upkeep definitely takes its toll and sometimes I am so paralyzed by the logistics of trying to keep two horses in “work” that I…. Don’t ride or work them at all. I’ve been telling myself “things will calm down and get better soon” for about… The last 3 years? And they have not šŸ™ˆ


  2. I’ve been there before and I had a minute of panic reading this post as it was ringing true and close to home. My house isn’t 100yrs old, but I have gardens, lawns, paddocks and a pool to maintain on top of a busy job and horses.

    I don’t have any tips, but agree with L Williams – taking a step back, taking a breath or two (or six) is a good start.

    Horse burnout is tricky for me, as I start questioning the “why” I have horses when it is heartbreaking, expensive, discouraging and darn hard work most of the time… So, yeah, powerless. šŸ˜‰


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