Or at least how to try…
Let’s face it: for most of us, having our whole life be 100% horses 100% of the time isn’t exactly a realistic expectation. Many of us have to balance school, work, relationships, family and a wide variety of other commitments that eats into our horsey time. Finding a balance can be difficult, but there is a way to make it all work, no matter how difficult it might seem. It might require being a tad creative, but if there is a will there is a way. Take it from one highly stressed out equestrian to another — there is always time for horsey time.
Step one: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
And no — horses, unfortunately, don’t always come first. It may sound cheesy, but I put all of my commitments on a list and rank them in order of priority. Obviously, my marriage came first and while my husband is very supportive of my equine obsession, he also deserves some dedicated time away from the barn for a normal date night. Other priorities you will want to consider are your job, other pets, school, other responsibilities such as club involvement or community service, family, friends, etc.
Ranking all of these items in order gave me an idea of where I needed to split my time — next, I had to figure out where things were out of balance. A friend of mine who is currently studying to be a life coach had me fill out a pie chart and each portion of the pie had all of my life commitments listed out: faith, family, relationships, finances, other activities (I scratched that out and put horses above it…), etc. I had to go through each section with a colored marker and fill that portion of the pie up to the percentage I felt that I was fulfilled in that area. Upon completion of my pie chart I found that I felt a little less secure in my financial and spiritual areas of life than I did in other categories and that gave me a good idea of where to start in the great balancing act.
Step two: Have designated time… for everything
It is impossible to plan everything, but having a schedule definitely helps lead you in the right direction. For example, I know that I work every Monday through Friday and what times I should be at work and what time I expect to be off of work. I also know that Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are dedicated to pony time, so I never schedule other activities on those days so I don’t have to be brief while at the barn.
For most of us, our barn time is our time to unwind — you don’t want to feel rushed while enjoying time with your horse because of other commitments.
That being said, those aren’t the only two items on my weekly docket. There are other things I need to accomplish each week such as writing articles or taking one of our dogs to doggy school or getting my hair done even though it spends way too much time under a helmet. I try to schedule my writing for evenings or weekends if we aren’t traveling, and other after-work activities get 5:00 PM priority. So the dog goes to class on Wednesdays and I try to schedule other commitments on Mondays if possible.
With all of that in mind, you CANNOT exhaust yourself — take it from me. At the beginning of my balancing act I had everything scheduled to a T but I found myself overwhelmed with work and underwhelmed with the reward. Try to keep it as simple as possible. We put off taking the dog to doggy school because we were participating in other activities throughout the week that would have left us stretched pretty thin had we factored in another item to the mix. Know your limits and don’t try to test them. There is a difference between establishing yourself in your career and killing yourself emotionally. The minute you find it difficult to get a good night’s rest, you are probably overdoing it and need to take a step back to assess what makes you happiest and prioritize those items.
Step three: Don’t let the fun get sucked out of what you love!
I am so guilty of this! Knowing that I only have two or three actual riding days a week, almost every time I throw my leg over I already have a plan and feel like I NEED to get X, Y, and Z accomplished to have today be a success. This is the perfect way to set yourself up for disappointment. After several frustrating rides in a row on Joey, I realized that I was putting way too much pressure on myself and on him.
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. Take a relaxing trail ride around your property, enjoy a nice afternoon working on leg cues at the walk. Try to take a step back and find the joy in riding again. We do this because we love it. It is our escape from the real world. When we apply the pressure to our riding like our jobs often do, we lose that joy.
Cherish every minute you have in the saddle and save some time for yourself as well. I got to the point where I was using my driving time to and from the barn to get interviews done and thought I was using my time efficiently, when in reality I was using every free second I had to work. I wasn’t even taking a one hour car ride to sing and dance along to the radio like I should. Now, I try to call a different family member or friend each day as I make that hour commute home from the barn to catch up and just chat. I have designated days and times that I will schedule my interviews for and I try not to stray from it.
No one knows your limits better than you do. Find your happy place in your life and stick to it. Just make sure you are in control of the balance and the balance is not in control of you. Only you can create your own happiness, so be a bit “selfish” and set aside time for horses. Everything else can pause for just a few hours while you soak up the smell of hay and the feeling of joy you get when that horse you love trots up to you in the paddock.
I wouldn’t know that feeling, though, because Joey runs from me like the plague…