Mid-South Eventing & Dressage Association

Beating Burnout

07/10/2016 5:08 PM | Anonymous

As the heat keeps coming and the grind of the show season wears on, it can be hard to keep your heart in the show ring game. While many riders can’t afford the luxury of weeks of downtime for either themselves or their mount this time of year to get their heads back in the game, there are some easy tricks to try to keep you from getting burnout on horses and showing. Here are just a few tips to keep things interesting and lively for you and your horse. 

By Sarah E Coleman

Every rider knew that one lesson pony when they were younger: The sour steed would pin its ears every time it was saddled, try to scrape an inattentive rider off on the rail or turn and bolt for home while out on a trail ride. While now you can probably assess each of these actions as a sign of burnout and stress for that lesson pony, sometimes determining that your show horse is burned out is a bit harder to do. 

Signs of Stress

While your steed may not try to bite you every time you tack him up, more subtle signs like shifting weight away from the saddle or refusing to be bridled may indicate that there is more going on than simply a bad day. Barring health issues (which should be investigated by your vet), your mount might be trying to tell you he is simply done for a bit.

If you mount outside the arena, does it take more encouragement than normal to get your beast to the arena? Does he have a harder time paying attention while in the ring? Is he sticky to go forward or has he lost his crisp changes? Conversely, has he turned into a fire breathing dragon that anticipates everything and adds drama to every request? Any of these could indicate that your horse needs a break from the ring. 

Combatting Equine Burnout

While it can be easy to mount up, walk for a few minutes and want to get down to business, to keep your horse from getting tired of his work week, you might want to consider a long, leisurely warmup, maybe even outside of the ring, before asking for more-intense work. Additionally, adding in frequent walk breaks on a loose rein, especially as the heat of summer intensifies, can keep him happy and more eager to work.

Though it’s most likely difficult to work in extended vacations with show season at its height, consider stringing together three or four days where your horse can be just that: a horse. Letting him play outside, roll in dirt and hang out with his friends can do loads for his state of mind. Asking nothing of him but to be groomed and maybe hand graze will hopefully let him return to the ring refreshed and ready to work.

If you’re worried about maintaining fitness, try hacking on trails or even taking him off the farm to new environments to trail ride or play. Knowing that every time he gets in a trailer he won’t be asked to show will also help him maintain an eager attitude. Though long lining and lunging is really “work,” if it’s not part of your horse’s routine, alternating these in with mounted work may be a way to keep him from feeling overworked. 

If you really are feeling that the show ring is no longer calling your name, in theory there should be no issue with simply walking away for a while, or in stepping down your competition level to give both you and your horse a mental break. But we all know riders are competitive—that’s why we horse show. It can be hard, but important, to remember that you are not in competition with anyone but yourself. Taking time off, or even stepping down a level, does not mean in any way that you have failed. Actually, it means the exact opposite: you’re acutely in tune with both your horse and yourself.

So what can you do to make riding seem like less of a chore? Consider a lower-key horse show or event, or even taking time to do events like Summer Bird Dressage or some cross-country schooling at Masterson with less pressure.

Instead of going hot-and-heavy with 5 to 6 rides a week, contemplate sitting on your horse three times a week or so, dimply to keep him fit. Riding should not feel like a job (unless it is!) – and it certainly should not be one more thing on an ever-growing to-do list.

Consider finding an additional passion, if you don’t have one already. Kayaking or hiking may be just as fun for you as riding, especially if you can share the time with friends. It’s easy to get trapped in the workworkworkriderideride mentality and not leave room for other fun activities like dinner or drinks with friends or a leisurely walk through the park.

Reassess your goals. While most of us make yearly riding goals in the winter before the show season starts, now is not a bad time to take a step back and reassess if your original goals were on-target or so lofty that you’re pushing yourself and your horse. Though it might be hard to conclude that you may not be making a move up this year, making the determination now may save you months of stress through the remainder of the show season.

Burnout isn't Permanent

That being said, if you’re overwhelmed in additional areas of your life, your horse is being a stinker and you just aren’t feeling the show ring—don’t fret. Your riding mojo will return—it just make take a bit. Don’t make any rash decisions when you’re in a state of unhappiness, like putting your horse for sale or giving away all your show clothes.

Sometimes a few days away from the stresses of the showing ring, as well as some distance from a bad ride, can lend a perspective that’s hard to find when you’re in the throes of show season. 

Midsouth Eventing & Dressage Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

MSEDA’s mission is to promote and preserve the sports of Eventing and Dressage in the Mid-South area, by providing leadership and education to its members and the community at large. To further these goals, MSEDA will provide educational opportunities, fair and safe competitions, promote the welfare of the horse and rider and reward the pursuit of excellence from the grass roots to the FEI level.

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