Work-life balance, or lack thereof, is a tricky subject for anyone involved in the horse industry and scale always seems to be tipping towards the side that ends with potential burnout. Is this fierce work ethic and drive to hustle more prevalent among the eventing community? Meika Decher, an FEI level event rider who owns and operates Polestar Farm in Lake Stevens, Washington alongside her husband Mark Salser, pondered this in a recent blog post that she kindly agreed to share on EN. You can read more from Meika on her blog here.
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 I’m 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 six 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 …