I Love Horses - So, Why is My Horse Business Stressing me out?
My "AH HA!" Moment
One morning, as I was rushing around trying to get my house in order before I rushed out to work in the barn, I had one of those “AH HA” moments that stopped me in my tracks. It occurred to me that I had been really exhausted and tired for what seemed like years and that there was no end in sight to all the obligations and things that I needed to get done on a daily basis. I thought to myself, “Is this really how I am going to continue to live my life? Until one day I just drop over?” Honestly, I think if I wouldn’t have stopped right at that moment and posed that question to myself, I might still be running on that same hamster wheel.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, I love my family and I love working on my farm and I feel so blessed to be able to be doing something I love to do. But have you ever asked yourself
“If I love horses so much, why does my horse business seem to stress me out? ”
After all, this was my life’s dream. To quit the grind of my corporate job and buy a horse farm where my kids could grow up. Let them experience all the benefits that the outdoors and hard work bring. Teach them about animals and all the ins and outs of running a horse operation.
Seemed like a dream come true when my husband and I made the move. We dumped the country club life for 20 acres in the suburbs adjoining a National Wildlife Area. Then I began the process of bringing in horse boarders to help pay the bills. I worked hard at this every day and managed to have a family and raise three kids at the same time. But there were a lot of moments up until my “AH HA” that I might not want to fess up to. I will admit to a bit of a temper when things didn’t go as scheduled or when my work is done less than perfect because of the rush and pressure I was under.
I was definitely in line for turning my passion for horses into a curse. Something was going to give. So I listened to a friend and I sat down and worked on two lists.
The Two Lists
List Number One: What’s REALLY Important to me?
What are the MOST important things for me to do each week to feel satisfied and fulfilled in my life? I know I can never get the days back for a redo, so maybe it’s important to pinpoint what I need in life to feel some satisfaction like I’m living life well. Here’s my list, yours will be your own.
1. Family Quality time - sit down dinners, time with kids/grandkids, vacations etc.
2. Being creative - learn to paint, write a book something that I can do just the way I like and really enjoy the process of being creative
3. Spiritual time - Church attendance, community support, climb a mountain
4. Time outdoors on my horse
I feel pretty good with this list. These are the things that make me feel good about my life. No big surprises here.
List Number Two: How Do I Spend My Days?
What are the Top 7 things I do every day - Where do I spend most of my time?
1. Horse boarding care & maintenance tasks
2. Driving here and there
3. Facility maintenance & repairs
4. Finding a new supplier or provider
5. Communication to boarders and other emails
6. Kids Homework
7. Meal shopping and preparation for the family
Well, now I’m embarrassed. By the time I finished the second list I realized that there was a total disconnect between the two lists. Apparently, I am not really doing much of what is important to me in life. But I have to say I am feeling very defensive because I feel like EVERYTHING I am doing is very important to get done! So basically I feel like I have no choice in the matter - no control over what I am pulled to doing every day. Well, that bothers me.
Understanding My Stress
At 45, I felt like I had accomplished a lot in my life, set goals and proven that I was very capable of getting the things that I thought were important done. Making them happen if you must know. Yet at the same time, without knowing it I was also living my life under the impression that all my stress was created by outside forces and that the situations thrown at me every day could not be eliminated.
How could I be a capable person who had actually reached my life’s dream goal of owning a farm, and then be sitting in a spot where I was so overstressed and overworked? Maybe it was time for me to take a look at who was in charge of running my life. I needed to find a way to do more of List 1 somehow without just giving up sleep to create more time in my day. It’s worth a try right?.
I came to understand that where stress was coming from for me was the huge divide between my daily activities and all the things that were important to me. Without understanding it, I really had the expectation that my life would “eventually” be filled with List 1 - the fun creative meaningful stuff. But I was stuck in the cycle of List 2, with no plan in place to get out!
But you might argue (like I had) that someone has to make these trips and as the barn manager that would be my job….. so I have no choice! Well really? Actually, I did have options that I had chosen not to consider. I could pay the 20$ to get those barn supplies delivered and save myself an hour of time and hassle while also creating a bit more slack in my day to enjoy something else.
So I made a decision that day - the day I realized that my two lists were totally different. decided that I needed to create more joy in my life and less stress and that it was my primary JOB to do that because if I’m not taking charge of doing that, who is? I wanted to get back to enjoying my kids and my horses - not just rushing through the days trying to keep everything in working order, rushing from one task to the next.
Adjustments That Changed My Life
Here are a few of the changes that I gradually made to my life that made my world, and my barn a much better place!
- Learn to Value a Slower Pace
I’m embarrassed to say that during the era I grew up, in my family, sitting idle meant you were “wasting time”. We were pretty much trained to work from wake up to sleep time. So I did great on the farm in that respect. There is always something to DO or FIX on the farm. But that didn’t necessarily work to my advantage sometimes because I literally never took time to stop and think about what might be fun or enjoyable. After years and years of doing and fixing, I realize that if I didn’t get started on the other meaningful things on the list, life was just going to pass me by in a blur of activity but I wasn’t going to cherish a single moment.
So learning this lesson took quite a while and it’s still hard coded into my self-talk sometimes. I still catch myself thinking things like “I didn’t do anything important today, just painted a picture for my daughter”. I had to really concentrate on learning to value my well being and then admit that to be in a good place I needed some recharge time and activities. Maybe this is what they refer to as growing wiser.
- Planning in some downtime
Right now I have barn chores from sunup till 10 every day (husband drops kids to school on way to work), then shower (hopefully) and move on to running errands, then welcome kids home from school, then homework and prepare for the dinner meal and then back out to evening barn routine, then kids to bed and 2nd shower and FINALLY veg in front of the TV or read a book! Does that sound about right? And that’s on a good day with no emergencies.
All of this routine is satisfying to me, but I was also feeling somewhat like I was on a treadmill. I really LIKED everything that I was doing and loved my kids and horse responsibilities, so I felt like I shouldn’t be STRESSED! And so I was just ignoring it because I felt like I should be grateful for everything I had in my life. And I was.
So this is what I decided to do. I was determined to somehow get more of my list one to stay consistent in my life. I just stole an hour out of my routine somewhere every week and scheduled it in. In my precious stolen hour, I decided to learn to paint. Now you can’t get much done in an hour when you are just learning to paint, but it was a start! And low and behold after a few weeks I had my first painting. (It was titled “Barn Chicken”) With this one minor victory, I was on my way to building a habit that was moving me closer to my A-list every day. Over time, I found I could paint at other times as well as homework time with the kids. Presto, like magic the whole stress of managing my barn and boarders seemed less monumental! And I was on my way to walking a path toward living a meaningful life. Big progress.
- Create An Emergency Help Contact Group
Having a “go to” list of resources - all printed out or in an easy access format on your mobile phone will help reduce the stress of dealing with unplanned situations and accidents. If you manage horses, you probably have a basic list with a good farrier and vet that will give you help over the phone and come to the rescue if needed. Add to that list other resources like a reliable plumber, AC repair guy etc. The point is having all this stuff ready allowed me not to have to go through the panic mode every time something blew up.
- Create a support group of local barn owners (or people that do what you do)
There’s nothing like sharing the load with someone that really understands what you are dealing with! I decided to locate other barns in my area and get to know the owners well enough to know where their expertise was. Then I set up a facebook group so we could use that to share. When any of the group needs help or just needs to share a particularly difficult day this is a great way to get support. This can be an amazing comfort and helped me alleviate my “aloneness” feelings. Sometimes we even manage to take an hour off and get together for a quick snack at the corner store!
- Load Tasks
Sometimes regular tasks can be “loaded” toward one end of the day or the other in such a way that there is little to do for a larger chunk of time. As an example on occasion, I did everything but the actual moving of horses in the morning so that in the afternoon there was little or nothing else to do. Then made it quick for me to run the horses in, or also easier to convince my husband to bring them in and feed the kids so I could take an afternoon off. You get the idea. I hadn’t ever tried this and it made a big difference for me once a week.
- Barn Buddies!
I came up with an idea with my barn ladies, where we all picked a “barn buddy”. We spent a bit of time helping each other out with the chores once a month or so. The idea here was that, in case of emergency, one of us could go and help out on the other’s property until everything got squared away. Sometimes just knowing you have someone to fall back on really makes a difference. In this case, even if I had a reserved person to do most the work, my barn buddy dropped by to make sure all was well.
"I can’t say I am knocking it out of the relaxation park every day, but I’m surely not operating at the levels of stress that I was before I had my moment. Just taking a breath every day and trying to remember to enjoy everything I am doing helps me feel good about my life’s passing. And with all this support behind me, I don’t feel like it’s all on me. It’s a good feeling."