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From Briefcases to Breeches


Do you remember the first time you sat on a horse? Regardless of what type of saddle you were in, you quickly learned the key to staying on the horse’s back was balance. The more saddle time you logged equaled a better sense of fluidity between horse and rider.

Fast forward several years or decades, in some cases, and the balancing act shifts. You’ve learned how to be one with your horse, now how do you balance you time in the saddle with the demands of your career? We all know horses need more than just air to survive, so having a job to support the habit is essential.

There is no perfect, one size fits all solution you should be striving for when trying to figure out how to manage both job and horse responsibilities. The balance strategy is different for each one of us as we all have different priorities. In fact, sometimes your best work/horse balance will vary on a daily basis. The right balance for you today may not work tomorrow.

So how do you find time to work, take care of your horse(s), ride and even have a social life? Along with my own experiences, I gathered the thoughts of several riders who have been successful at managing to fit riding in with their career obligations. As varied as everyone’s careers and riding goals are there were six reoccurring themes in all the discussions. You must have a plan, a good barn support team, flexibility, technology, level of understanding with your supervisor and trainer and love of horses.

Have a Plan

When it comes to work, scheduling is second nature, so why not let that carry over into your horse life? Whether it’s a monthly planner you carry around or on your smart phone, blocking out riding/barn time can help you stick to a plan. Scheduling your downtime helps take the guess work out of when am I going to have time to do xyz? You will never find time for anything. If you want the time, you must make it.

In addition to setting aside barn time, it’s also important to set goals. Think of it as a project at work. What are the goals you would like to achieve? Do you want to go on a trail ride three times a week? Qualify for finals at the national, local or association level? Regardless of your goal, having something to strive for will give you the motivation to get out to the barn and take care of business.

For me personally, I show my horse Heritage on the A circuit in the Amateur Owner hunters, a plan has been a key to our success during the seven years I have owned my current horse. The goals started by getting a four year old to learn how to jump a course to qualifying for Indoors and Devon. I know that in order to meet my goals and ride to the best of my ability I have to get out to the barn to ride five or six times a week. For me going to the barn is no different than going to work, it’s all in a day’s work.

Good barn support team

Whether you board your horse at a boarding facility or keep him at home, there needs to be a support team in place to help you either on a daily or as needed basis. Knowing you have others you can count on if you cannot get out to the barn helps eliminate feeling guilty for not going out. It also gives you peace of mind knowing that your horse is being cared for.

Adult Amateur rider Stacey McFadden is an IT consultant who is on the road four days a week approximately 45 weeks a year. She says, “To make the job and the horses work, the biggest thing for me has been to have a great team and be able to trust them completely.” This level of trust allows McFadden to travel weekly without worrying about who is taking care of her horse. “I hire the best people I can find and then let them to their jobs,” she adds.

While McFadden relies on pro rides and grooms to keep her horse fit and healthy during her travels, your horse doesn’t have to be in a professional riding program to make it work. Riders can team up with their fellow boarders to make sure someone is always looking after all the horses. If you are at a boarding facility perhaps you can team up with a fellow boarder and take turns looking after each other’s horses, either by riding or simply giving a carrot and making sure they are okay.

For those that keep their horse at home, it can be trickier to get outside assistance. However there are still options. You could either hire a barn keeping service to take care of your barn on occasion or see if another horse loving friend will exchange helping out at your barn for something they need assistance with.

Flexibility

Flexibility is often easier said than done. However, there are always creative solutions to making everything work. When it comes to work, can you work hours be better suited to your riding schedule? Is there a way you can either go in early so you can ride at night or ride in the morning and come in later? Can you work four 10 hour days instead of a traditional schedule? Is work at home a possibility?

There must also be flexibility when it comes to riding. Do you really need to stress about going out to the barn six times a week? Perhaps you can design a riding program where you horse can have days off during the week based on your work schedule.

Rachel MillerSouthern States employee Rachel Miller says a flexible schedule helps her manage both her riding schedule and workload, "At horse shows I often have a Southern States booth set up and if I'm working a show where I plan to ride, I have friends that help get my horse ready for me so I can stay at the booth as long as possible." Of course, like all of us Miller has had to skip shows and other riding events because her work schedule didn't allow it.

World Champion American Quarter Horse Association exhibitor Ray Coutley juggles working as a senior analyst for the Department of the Navy with caring for his horses at home and showing them up and down the east coast. For Coutley, any horse show that lasts more than a weekend means he may have multiple meetings during the course of the competition. Although Coutley is usually able to participate via conference call there are times he must be in person to participate. Coutley reflects, "I remember a show in Lexington, VA when I got up early in the morning, fed the horses, cleaned the stalls, went back to the trailer to change, drove to the Pentagon, completed a briefing and drove back to Lexington in time to school the horse."

Ray CoutleySometimes you can dovetail work and horses together by scheduling work meetings around major horse events, however sometimes the horse activities must be put on the back burner. "Unfortunately, work usually finishes ahead of horse shows," reveals Coutley. "Horses and horse showing is not for the "faint of pocket book" and we do have to work to pay the bills."

Jumper rider Courtney Cummings has figured out a way to make it all work. She works at home as a corporate travel agent and doesn't have to start her shift until 11:00am. "I'm fortunate to be able to ride in the mornings before I work," says Cummings. Another perk of working at "home" is that Cummings can take her work on the road as she travels to various horse shows. As long as she has the technology to communicate with her customers it doesn't matter where she physically sits.

Technology

When it comes to juggling horses and work, Cummings isn't alone in relying on technology. These days laptops, iPads, smart phones and air cards can be a horse lovers best friend. Being able to be connected to your office from wherever helps give riders and owners the flexibility they need to have more barn time.

Holly BossertHolly Bossert works for a health care consulting company, although she spends the majority of her time on the road visiting clients she still is able to successfully show her horse Ebony in the Amateur Owner hunters. "Because I'm not in a traditional office, everything I do is mobile so I take my laptop with me to the barn each day and always have my smart phone with me," explains Bossert. "I've done many a conference call in the front seat of my car in the barn driveway or parking lot at a horse show."

Southern States employee Suzanne Lyons Carson used technology in a different way to give herself more time for both horses, her Southern States, job and her barn keeping business. Carson had been going to college, working both jobs and caring for her horses when she decided there had to be a better way. "There were not enough hours in the day to get everything done," says Carson. She solved this dilemma by transferring from traditional college classroom courses to online courses. "Taking online courses let's me work school around the rest of my schedule," notes Carson.

Understanding Trainer & Supervisor

Another key to juggling your horse life and your work life is to have an understanding leader on both sides of the fence. Granted your trainer should know that you need to work in order to pay the bills, but it doesn't hurt for them to be accommodating towards your work schedule. Bossert explains, "My trainer knows that I have to work and never gets upset when I say I can't come ride today or that I need to be out of town all week for a business trip." In fact Bossert's trainer makes sure her horse stays in shape and is ready to show when Bossert returns home. A trainer that understands work has to come first sometimes is an essential part of the package.

Likewise, having your supervisor at work know about your passion and understand that sometimes you will need to take off of work or rearrange your schedule to go to horse shows or the barn is extremely valuable. It's all about everyone being flexible from the office to the barn. From my own personal experience I find if you tell your supervisor what your hobby is, since it's not a common past time, they get really interested that you do something that isn't the norm. As long as you can prove that you can get your work done while shifting your schedule around there should be no worries.

Love of horses

At the end of the day if you are a horse crazy person you will find a way to make it all work. Sure sometimes there will be a lot of balls in the air and one may hit the ground every once in a while, but it will be worth it. As Coutley says, "Even though my barn and my office are two miles apart they are worlds away. Doing farm chores and riding refreshes me mentally and provides a physical release."

Sure it can be hard to go to work in the dead of winter and have to venture out to the barn in the dark to ride, but it's so worth it. Regardless of all the effort it takes to juggle everything, there is nothing like quality time spent with your horse. There truly is no activity that can replace barn time.


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