Equestrians are easily identifiable: helmet hair, tall boots, breeches, shedding season hair, and the smell. Our commitment level within our sport is also easily identified, just think about your trainer at the end of a busy and long show day, It is almost like there is an earned merit badge for each level of commitment:
Adult amateur- the stylish, mostly clean rider coming to the barn 4-5 days a week either before or after work. Has dinner parties, goes to the gym regularly, Drive a sensible vehicle that gets decent fuel mileage, one high quality saddle, usually characterized by a smile on their made up face.
The serious adult amateur: still stylish but practical, dirty tall boots from her second ride of the day, slight hobble from being bucked off last week, owns two to three saddles based on what horse gets pulled out and how bad their attitude is, drives a truck or a large SUV capable of pulling the trailer at a moments notice, helmet hair, and enters every local show.
The self trainer- clothes that don’t have major stains, drives a large dually truck and has a small car in case the truck breaks down, buys saddles and determines they are not a good fit then sells, tall boots are dirty from doing ground work before mounting their youngster, has helmet hair and horse slobber all over their clothes. Committed to the process and maybe never shows, but the horses can do ALL the show things. Probably does not wear much makeup, because they will get dirty anyway. DOES NOT OWN WHITE CLOTHES, outside of show breeches of course.
The pro- rides 6+ horses a day, and hobbles to the next stall for the next ride. Lives on coffee, and warships their croc-pot. Weathered skin and weird tan lines from coaching all day. Tall boots have holes, but there is no time to buy ones that actually fit to replace the holey ones. Owns as many saddles as horses, maybe a couple of more. Fashion is not a concern unless in the show ring. Drives a truck, and has a back up in case the truck breaks down (which is often because there's never time to get the truck into the shop). Make-up, what’s that?- unless it is for an awards ceremony.
Any of this sound familiar?
Our athletic identity grows as the progression of seriousness goes up, our social life and outside- of-equestrian identity begins to shrink. The adult amateur seems to find time to go to the gym, socialize with friends, work, etc. There is a balance between the sport and the other values that make up the individual. The professional wakes up and the work day starts, riding many horses, coaching, invoicing, feeding, doctoring wounds, answering texts and calls regarding lesson schedules, holding horses for the farrier, and the list goes on and on.
Have you ever asked a trainer what they do for fun outside of horses?
Try it sometime, I’m betting they don’t understand the question.
Trainers, the ones that are really good at their jobs, end up stripping away any identity other than being an equestrian.
-The clothes in the closet of a trainer are a colorful array of breeches, and sun shirts. Footwear options are boots and some sort of athletic casual shoe for those long days.
Their cars; I’m betting you’ll find the fast food they had time to grab on the way home from the feed store, a bit, dirty saddle pads, some draw reins, an extra stirrup leather, maybe even an old helmet.
-When creating a social event, the trainer invites all of their clients, fellow trainers and maybe even a couple of judges for a barn party. The social life of a trainer is much more engulfed in the equestrian world then the adult amateur, and the identity of the trainer outside of horses becomes smaller and smaller each year they are a professional.
-When a trainer gets hurt…. how many of them ride with broken arms, legs, feet, noses, etc? Competing in pain is NOT normal outside of athletics!
On a serious note, I often find trainers are feeling out of touch with themselves, they lose a part of who they are. Sometimes feeling alone, isolated, depressed, disconnected, in emotional or physical pain. There are high instances with substance abuse in equine professionals, the pressure professionals put on themselves is often more than the client places on the professional to perform Knowing there is more to the equestrian world then just the client, there is an additional level of stress training the horses. Some trainers have great success in training, fixing issues, performance or showing; all seeding back to the client and the horse. Equine professionals' value often comes from the success of their clients or trained horses. Having self worth based on the performance of others, will begin to erode at the professional in one way or another. Alcoholism, drug abuse, over scheduling, disassociating…. All can show as side affects of Athletic identity issues. As well as relinquishing personal horses, goals and personal accomplishments favoring client horses instead. Trainers can love their lives, and enrich themselves by feeding their authentic self more often.
Why is it, as an athlete, we must become so wrapped up in the sport to reach the highest levels of competition? Who do equine professionals identify as outside of horses?
Looking around my house, as a facility owner and lifelong equestrian, I will create a short list of to describe my house:
Horse related books ranging from dressage basics to equine gestalt coaching books.
Four saddles piled up waiting to go down to the tackroom after a thorough cleaning.
Leather conditioner, cleaner, balms, oils etc.
Boots, for all occasions.
Horse toys and barns from my young son.
We do have a couch that does not have horses on it!
I have mostly breeches, jeans and sunshirts… with one dress hanging in for the rare occasion… to wear with boots.
My car has ropes, halters, sports medicine boots, breeches and a helmet. My truck currently has 25 jump poles and 4 sets of standards in the bed. Our other truck is hooked up to the manure trailer….. Need I continue?
Mitigating the ever so common burn out I see so often, trainers and equine professionals (vets, facility owners, grooms, stable cleaners, farriers etc.) can begin to find what they value outside of their career….
Ill start, my own questions:
Who am I outside of horses?
I do not have an identity outside of horses. I live on a horse farm. I have several horses. I show, my husband ropes, and my son is very into horses. I am in a coaching program that uses horses as a coach. My feet are even boot shaped. My only identity outside of horses was all the way back in high school when I was an athlete! There it is again, athlete. ATHLETE. Performance based, winning geared, sportsman relations both in my professional life and my social life! I LOVE my life, but I can enrich other sides of my authentic self by feeding my soul in other ways.
Lets begin to develop oneself outside of that Athletic Identity, shall we? Ill continue:
What do you enjoy?
Outside of horses: I use to enjoy music. I enjoy restoration projects. Murder podcasts. Metaphysical connections. I am drawn to innovation. Cooking. Exercising. Reading. Hiking. Camping.
How can I become a more balanced version of my truest self and evade burnout?
Cook creatively more often. Go to the gym 2-3 times per week. Read one book every 2 months. Hike once a month. Listen to podcasts more often.
Boundaries on the Equestrian self?
Ride for me! Ride during the quiet times at the barn. Clean my vehicle out more often. Take one hour every week to develop something outside of horses (exercise, read, dance to music). Meet a friend that doesn’t have horses, and find a way to connect.
Things to realize:
There is a place for everyone outside of the athletic identity.
Value is not based solely on winnings and earnings.
Being in pain and competing anyway is not the way to honor yourself.
Validation does not come from external accomplishments alone.
Let me ask: Who are you, outside of your sport?