Don't Worry, Be Happy: 5 Ways to Fight Riding Burnout

Don't Worry, Be Happy: 5 Ways to Fight Riding Burnout

I remember getting frustrated so many times with my riding career as I became more focused, and, okay - a little obsessed - with my results. I wanted to prove to myself (and maybe a few others) that I was a good rider, and I needed those baby blues as evidence. I was trapped in a vicious cycle - the more frustrated I got, the more my results went downhill. I remember how unhappy I felt at the time, even asking myself, 'Why do I do this?' after a bad round. It’s tough to reconcile feeling so upset about a sport that we love, and pay a whole lot of money to do. I know I’m not the only one to have felt less than great at the end of a show, or after a series of lessons where nothing seems to go right. So if you see a little bit of yourself in this story, fear not: there’s hope yet.

  • 1. Make a happy list
  • It might sound silly, but if it works, who cares? I recently read the book Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat (which I highly recommend by the way). One way the book highlighted to channel your inner ‘happy’ again is to remind yourself of what makes you love riding, horses, and everything in between in the first place. It may not seem very powerful, but if you take 10 minutes to write down all the things that make you happy, you might notice a trend. You might be surprised to find that many of the things on your good ol’ ‘happy list’ are day-to-day things, like your horse nickering to you when you arrive at the barn, a trail ride on a beautiful day, the smell of good hay, or the sound of your horses eating contentedly. Make your own happy list to remind yourself that your passion for horses doesn’t have to be complicated or depend on your results.

    2. Remember your ‘why’
    When things are going well it’s easy to be happy. Nailing every distance, leaving rails untouched, and walking home with more ribbons that your trunk can hold typically infuses a certain level of ‘hell yes’ into the experience. But when things aren’t going quite as we hoped or planned, it can toss us straight into a vicious cycle of stressing out or falling apart when the pressure is on, which usually means bad rounds, which makes us more stressed. Instead, remember the bigger picture and why you started riding in the first place. Why do you do what you do? When I asked this question to professional riders such as Daniel Deusser, McLain Ward, and Laura Kraut, they replied it was their love for horses, their love for a challenge, or perhaps a combination of the two.

  • 3. Stay grateful
  • This might seem a simple concept, but in reality, it’s not that fancy new horse or winning that big class that is going to make you happy - ok we’ll admit it’s totally cause for a celebratory glass of champagne - but in the long run, it’s not what it’s all about. Achieving your goals might provide a short-term rush but it wears off, and before you know it, you’re on to the next one. That’s what goals are for. Long-lasting happiness is simple and, as woo-woo as it might sound, it comes from within. So get into the habit by starting your day each day thinking of three things you feel deeply grateful for, and really soak up that feeling. Let that delicious grateful feeling expand within your body and stay with it for a few seconds. Like any good habit, the more you practice the more second-nature it will become.

  • 4. Take time off
  • I know from experience how hardworking riders are - professionals and amateurs. We work hard in the ring, in our careers, and with our families. Even though a strong work ethic is important, it’s just as important to know when to rest. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to ride when you’re burnt out? If you want to keep enjoying what you’re doing long-term, then make sure you treat yourself as your most important asset. If you find that hard to do then just ask yourself -what you would do in this situation if it were your best horse, instead of you? Would you push it even further? Would you ask it to do more than it should? Probably not. So treat yourself like you do your horses to stay just as happy and energized. While stall rest might not sound like your cup of tea, I’m pretty sure a Mai Tai on the beach just might be.

  • 5. Let go of expectations
  • In that book I mentioned in number one, Mo explains how expectations can stand in the way of our happiness. In the form of a mathematical equation (I swear math can be related to happiness, just trust me on this) he states that, “Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.” In other words - let go of your expectations. Especially for how you think an upcoming training, lesson, or show should or will go. We can’t predict the future. We can only stay present in the moment, focused on the process, and enjoy the ride - pun intended.