Written for USDF by Area II Rider:
As riders, we are often so concerned with our horses’ wellbeing that we simply forget to take care of ourselves. We ensure our horses have top notch care; they are visited by vets, farriers, chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, you haven’t seen a doctor in a year, and that pain in your right hip from a bad fall last month has become the new norm.
While it’s important to put the horses first, riders must step back and take care of themselves too. This weekend at the Young Rider Graduate Program, thirty young riders listened to several speakers speak about self-care and how important it is to their success.
Ten Tips for Living a Well-Rounded Life
- Mental health must be a priority
During a Q&A session with Ali Brock and David Marcus, it was made very clear to everyone that they believe mental health is extremely important. Seeing a counselor or therapist can be beneficial to everyone, but especially to those with excessive stress in their lives. Therapy can help people manage their emotions, learn how to better deal with fear and anxiety, and reduce stress. As athletes, we often find ourselves in high pressure situations and must learn to cope with the accompanying stress in a productive manner.
- Riding cannot be your entire life
Ali may have surprised all of us when she said that riding cannot be our whole lives. We spend hour after hour at the barn trying to improve our skills and do everything we can to get ahead. None of us like to think about the possibility that there could be something that happens that prevents us from riding. Whether it be an accident, a life event, or maybe it’s just time to retire, you may have to stop riding at some point. What happens if riding is all you have in your life? It is so important to find a balance. Find other things you enjoy doing besides riding and make time for them every week. That way if you do have to take a step back from riding, there won’t be a gaping hole in your life, and you will have other ways to spend your time.
- Take time off
Although we hate to take time away from our horses, riders need to take time off. All athletes have a “rest day” every week because they need time to reboot and relax. David admitted that taking time off is something he struggles with. It is hard to step away when you feel like that time could be spent training or doing something related to your goals. Your body and mind need a break, however. If either becomes too tired, any work you do will be counterproductive. It is best to take a break before you hit that point so that you can be at your best.
- Make time for relationships
Laura King gave us a list of “10 Essentials for Achieving Your Best”, one of which was a suggestion to make time for relationships. Family, friends, and significant others are some of your biggest supporters. No matter what happens, those people will stand by you and are always ready to help when needed. You need to spend time with the people that love you.
- Put things into perspective
Some days are not going to be the best. You may have a bad ride, a frustrating conversation with a client, or a horse may come up lame. Those are the days you need to step back and look closely at your life. What else do you have to be thankful for? There are plenty of other good things going on in the world that have nothing to do with horses. When I get frustrated, I like to list ten good things about my life as a reminder that one bad day can’t override all the other great things that are happening.
- Riding doesn’t define you
One of the most compelling statements I heard from Ali was, “riding doesn’t define you”. There are so many things that make you special! Maybe you have a talent for drawing, or maybe you’re a good runner. Regardless, it is important to recognize how special you are apart from your riding skills.
- Don’t overload your schedule
I’m not proud of it, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am quite good at overloading my schedule. Anytime someone asks me to do something else, my answer is typically “yes”, no matter how busy I am. I want to help people and make sure they have what they need to succeed in their own endeavors. When Rosalind Kinstler spoke, she told us not to overload our schedules. If you try to do too much at once, you can’t perform at your best. It’s much better to do a few things very well, then to try and do everything and end up spread too thin.
- Find a hobby
Who has a hobby besides riding? Is there something you like to do when you’re not at the barn? For me, it’s working out or coding a new website. Laura believes that you need to have something fun to do outside the barn. We don’t drill our horses in the same arena day after day, and you shouldn’t keep your mind in a box either. Find something you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with the barn or with horses. You could volunteer, try a new sport, or take a cooking class; just do something other than riding.
- Enjoy the little things in life
It is important to take a step back and “smell the roses”, if you will. Laura was adamant that you must enjoy the small things in life. Be happy when a stranger smiles at you, or you hear children laughing in the park. These little things can easily bring joy into your life.
- Enjoy the job
Allyn Mann put it best when he said, “Enjoy the job!” That simple statement was a great reminder that even when the going gets tough, you must love what you do or it’s not worth it!
Listening to the different perspectives of the speakers was beneficial to me, and hopefully it was beneficial to everyone else in the program as well. I’m going to do my best to follow their advice and have plans to take a day off soon. I know I need to focus on my mental health more, and I think there’s a lot of others that feel the same way.
Stay focused, keep up the good work, and most importantly, remember to take care of yourself!