I see you. Yes, you, the one reading this in the bathroom because it’s literally the only way to get a break from the never-ending grind of horses and people. If I’m right, and that’s where you are, then please take a moment to read this, preferably not in the bathroom.
*Ahem* -clears throat-
Equine professionals, please take note that running yourself into the ground, surviving on five hours or less of sleep, and eating a diet consistent with “What emotion will this cure?” is not good for you. It is not good for your business, and it is not good for your horses.
Humans are emotional creatures, and horses are emotional siphons. In order to work with these large, gassy creatures who are afraid of their own farts, your emotional state needs to remain at neutral. You must be the Zen master for their sake.
Here is where self care comes in. It is only by taking care of yourself that you can be the best horse professional you can be. Maintaining the happiness homeostasis will ensure your success. There are so many layers to this topic I could talk for hours, but no one wants that. So here are the most baseline requirements for self care:
Food is fuel. How many hours do you go without eating in a day? Skip breakfast to feed horses? Forget lunch because you booked your fall shot appointments without a break? Suddenly you have six more horses left to put winter shoes on, and it has been Doritos and Red Bull for eight hours. You wouldn’t deprive your horse of adequate nutrition, so don’t treat your own body with any less respect. And while I’m on my soapbox: Caffeine is not food. So put down the Starbucks and eat a damn sandwich.
With water. Yes, water. No, not iced coffee. I said water. Lots of it. More. More. More. There you go!
I bet it’s been ages since you can say you slept well. Do you remember what it’s like to wake up so well rested you find yourself singing Disney songs to the horses while the barn sparrows chirp along in unison? Yeah no, me either. There are a million reasons you aren’t sleeping. Quality and quantity or both are an issue. Time to break the cycle. So what is keeping you awake? Financial concerns, physical pain, the eight double caramel macchiatos you consumed instead of lunch, the hearty and well-deserved glass(es) of wine at the end of the day? Sort it out.
Begin the process of elimination of your daily habits to ensure restful sleep. Try journaling your stress away instead of chardonnay-ing it away. Find a yoga video to replace the 15,000 mg of Ibuprofen you take every day. Swap out some tap water for your million-dollar Starbucks addiction. Get extreme and download a sleeping app. Whatever it takes. Just remember when you are tempted to sink into your old habits that good sleep hygiene is your best investment in the next day.
In this day and age we are accessible at all times via a tiny, handheld dictator called a phone. Text, email, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook are all highly effective bait traps set for us to be burdened by constant communication. It is a blessing and a curse. How wonderful to be able to get a simple text about changing a lesson time, but what a curse to get that at 3:00 in the morning.
Set some boundaries for yourself and your phone use. I recognize how absurd the concept is, and I am not suggesting you ghost your clients, but there are small changes you can make to avoid being held hostage by Apple. Turn your text tone off. Do not check emails after 8 p.m. Do not respond to client texts after 9 p.m. On your day off go into full blackout mode. You need to let your day end at a reasonable time and maintain a no-work zone for you and your family on a regular basis. Our horses work about one hour out of 24 to perform their job. We often find ourselves working 23 hours of the day to care for them.
Not the horse, you. Do something nice for your appearance. This one is more gender neutral than it sounds. Everyone likes to look and feel good. So dig out that mascara, get a pedicure, buy some new mustache wax, and for heck’s sake get a haircut; you look like a yeti. You would be surprised how confidence inspiring it is to get a glance in the mirror once in a while and not see a three-day demon conjuring in progress.
Nourish Your Social Life
What’s the point of all of this hard work if you are too tired to see your friends? Too tired to go on a date? All work and no play makes an equine professional a grouchy, lonely person. Life is too short to turn away from social interactions on the basis of physical/mental/emotional exhaustion. The reality is if you continue to neglect your friendships, your friends will begin to neglect you. Say yes when your friends invite you out. Take yourself out to the movies. Have some fun and remember to hydrate!
As professionals we care for our horses with the best of the best. Carefully designed nutritional plans, orthopedic shoes, the best veterinary care, chiropractics, massage, magnetically charged energetic crystal ear extensions. We even hire psychics to communicate with our regal beasts to give them an opportunity to fill out a complaint form; i.e. “Please tell Brenda I bucked her off because I am embarrassed when she says, “Who da pookiest pookie pumpkin?’ while kissing my nose in front of the other horses.”
In our servitude of these majestic creatures we often neglect our own basic needs. We spend $450 on bar shoes with the expensive pads because Magenta needs them. Yet you are wearing sneakers with duct tape over the corners because that’s how you wear through them ever since that fall where you couldn’t justify the $50 co-pay when you knew your hip wasn’t broken because you could still walk, and you didn’t want the ER doctor to tell you the cure was the dreaded two weeks off riding. What madness is this? So get extremely good about taking care of your self, and see what magic happens. I guarantee whatever positive changes you choose will make you feel happier and healthier. Lucky for us our horses are wondrously empathetic, so they too will feel happier and healthier in your presence.
Ali Ingellis is the owner of Amherst Equestrian Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. She is an FEI competitor and a USDF bronze and silver medalist. Ali is a native of Martha’s Vineyard and resides in Amherst with her husband and children. Be sure to check out her popular “Nine Tips To Avoid Becoming A PIA Boarder” article as well.