I saw a meme recently that read: “My horse has a chiropractor, nutritionist, acupuncturist, farrier, vet and psychic reader. I have a bottle of aspirin…and a slight limp when jogged on hard ground.”
My horses currently lack the psychic reader, but otherwise, that meme is entirely accurate and relatable—and I know I’m far from alone in feeling that way!
Within our industry, greater importance will likely always be placed on horse care above “self-care,” even as the term has become a buzzword referenced everywhere—and I largely believe that is how it should be.
As horsemen and women, we’re taught that the horse comes first, and that’s something in which we take pride. I have devoted my life to riding and caring for horses, largely prioritizing their care ahead of my own.
However, I’ve come to realize there’s a reason self-care has become a catchphrase that isn’t going away. In fact, I believe that if we don’t all take some time for ourselves now and again, or if we make too many personal sacrifices “for the sake of our horses,” we just may end up doing those horses more harm than good.
Bring Your Horse Your Best
Making it as a professional in this industry takes hard work. It takes ability, commitment and, often, sacrifice.
It’s easy to get caught up in making a name for yourself in the sport, gaining clients, ensuring your bills are paid, chasing points, and proving that you have a place in this industry. Becoming a reputable rider or trainer means putting in a great deal of work, many traveling a similar path as me—graduating from working student to assistant trainer to head trainer.
Many fellow professionals I’ve talked to feel like they can’t pause for a break or take too much time for themselves for fear of losing opportunities or being viewed as less than 100 percent committed and hard working. They ride a dozen horses a day no matter how sore or tired they may be and don’t take a day off even when they are running on empty.
However, doing so is draining. It can create more pain, fatigue and stress, and it can reduce patience, gentleness, empathy and appreciation for the incredible opportunity we have to ride and work with these animals every day.
How can we expect our horses to give 100 percent when we can only give 50 percent of our best? How can we give our horses the most effective, engaged ride with the focus, softness or sensitivity often required when our minds are drained, our stress levels are high, and our tempers are shortened?
We owe it to our horses to take some time to meet our own physical and mental needs so that we can bring them our best when asking for their best.
How To Make Time For Self-Care
Self-care can build up our resilience. It can help put our minds at ease and reduce stress. It can heal our bodies. It can remind us of how fortunate we are to build our lives around horses, and it can allow us to be the best horsewomen and men we can be.
Taking a little bit of time for yourself can be simple. Carve out tiny pockets of time, when and where you can, even if that is just 10 minutes of quiet meditation alone in a back pasture or a solo walk around the property.
Pay attention to your body the same way that you would your horses’, and take a proactive approach to your physical and mental health. Are you eating foods that make you feel energized or snacks that leave you with a blood sugar crash halfway through your workday? Are you prioritizing your own fitness and paying attention to your aches and pains?
Prioritize reflection and relaxation when you can. Whether that’s a weekend away or a quiet night at home, find space in your calendar for alone time that allows you to clear your mind or to think about what you’ve accomplished or the goals you want to achieve next.
If you work for yourself, do your best to establish—in your own mind and for others around you—that time for yourself is something you need. By setting that expectation from the get-go, it will be easier to take a little bit of time when you do need it, and if you have the right team around you, they’ll understand. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have clients that acknowledge how hard this business can be and the hours that we put in, and they want me to do what is best for me as well as for their horses!
If you work for someone else, do your best to express how you’re feeling and speak up if your own mental or physical health or well-being is at risk. It may seem like something that’s easier said than done, but if you find yourself working for someone who does not respect the need to make time to recharge every once in a while, it may be time to find a new direction. No riding, training or managing opportunity is worth your health and wellness.
All of these simple steps for self-care can be achieved without a great deal of time or money; they just require some forethought and the decision to make yourself and your health a priority.
In doing so, you can bring your best attitude, your best ability, and your greatest capacity to caring for your horses. So, I encourage you to take a little time for yourself, for the good of your horse.
Caitlyn Shiels is a hunter/jumper professional currently operating her own True North Stables, with bases in Illinois and Florida. Shiels is dedicated to providing individualized training that allows both horses and riders of all levels to achieve their goals.