Burnout and the Equine Professional

What Is Burnout? 

Burnout is defined as the feeling of exhaustion and lack of interest in work, resulting in poor performance. Business owners who are burned out usually feel like they’re on their own and have to do everything themselves because they don’t trust their people to be accountable for their work. 

Well, that describes just about every horse trainer and small business owner I know. Most of us are just going through the motions trying to get to “someday”. What started out as our passion has now consumed everything we have.  And for some it has cost their marriage, friendships, and their health. 

The World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon.   “A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”  I don’t know about you, but when I read this I felt like I was looking in the mirror. There are days when I feel like I am teaching the same lesson over and over again.  I got into the horse business because I loved working with horses and children. Then after almost 30 years of 10 and 12 hours days I feel like I could walk away and never look back.  

Our business can be so rewarding, but it can also get emotionally draining. We all want to give our horses and students our best. But this contributes to our burnout.  Every decision we make has financial implications, as well as health implications for our horses and our students.   For many of us, we are sole proprietor and therefore, bear the brunt of every bad decision. As a barn manager, everything falls to you. Are you making money?  Are you making the right decisions for your horses? are you making the right decisions for your clients?  Do you feel like everyone is watching you?  If you make a bad decision you feel like everyone will know?

Have you ever noticed how many of us horse trainers and barn managers over stimulate with caffeine and then counter act the caffeine with alcohol? We are trying to speed up but in reality, we are just slowing down. Instead of achievements, we start experiencing illness, accidents and memory loss. We are exhausted, but we can’t sleep. 

One of my best friends and I use to joke about texting each other at 3:00 in the morning because we knew we would both be awake.  But the sad thing is, is it is really not funny. Like most of us, we both got into this business because of our passion for horses.  We both worked long days and were physically exhausted but mentally we could not turn it off to get the rest we need.

A survey by Harvard Business Review found there is a significant a collation between passion and burnout. Business owners who are passionate about their business are more likely to experience burnout than those who are not.  Once again this sounds like every horse trainer I know.  No one can last in this business if you aren’t passionate about it.  This same study found that: 86% of small business owners work on weekends. 56% work on major holidays, 60% of small business owners take 1 vacation per year, but 75% of those spend that time tied to their laptops.  This study did not take into account those of us who are responsible for other lives. It is hard to turn it all off when you know someone carelessness could result in major vet bills or the loss of your favorite horse.

But we as managers and business owners have to learn to walk away.  As hard as it is, we are not doing ourselves, our horses or our businesses any favors when we are burned out.  I know first-hand what burnout can do. Just last week at the end of our summer camp program, I was getting ready for vacation.  But first, I had to make sure there was hay and feed for the 20 plus horses at my facility.  So, I placed an order for feed and hay. I text in my feed order every two weeks.  And for the most part my order does not change.  For some reason, I only ordered half of my usual feed.  Of course, I didn’t know this because my brain was shut down (that is what happens when you are burned out.  I will explain that in my blog about the health effects of burnout.)  When I got home a week later, I was angry because all of our feed was gone. My first response was to look for someone to blame.  Well, I found that person.  When I looked back at the text ordering feed, the supplier delivered just what I ordered.  Why did I even change the order from my usual order?  Who knows. When I try to rationalize looking back it doesn’t make since.  But that is what happens when you are burned out.

On the night before I left for vacation, some of my clients and I were sitting in the gazebo enjoying our usual Friday night happy hour. And one of my clients, made a couple of suggestions to help the farm function better. I got angry.  Like really angry, for no reason.  My client was only trying to help me. And this client has a lot of business knowledge.  But I just couldn’t hear it.  

And so, the next morning, I left for vacation. With a list of things that I needed to do “while I had some quiet time”.   Vacation is not quiet time to catch up on work!  It is time to turn it all off.  Thankfully, right before I left on vacation, I listened to a pod case for entrepreneurs about burnout.  They suggested a book to read. You know I am always ready to read a book. So, I ordered it. And I read it on the first day of my vacation.   The book is Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle written by Emily and Amelia Nagoski.https://amzn.to/3uGL6TS

The rest of my vacation was spent resting, playing, and catching up with friends.

If you need help dealing with burnout, managing your business from the financial side in order to grow please email me at molly@ordinarydressagerider.com. or click the link below for an initial consultation.

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