Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Work-Life-Horse Balance

The stick is in full swing here in the land of OnceUpon and I’m very frustrated about it.

I don’t mean that stick used as an extension of the human arm in some Natural Horsemanship training techniques.

I’m referring to that stick which falls heavily upon us and rocks the equilibrium of our work-life balance.

Work-life balance is the achievement of parity between one’s “work” (job, ambition) and one’s “life” (personal, spiritual, family, leisure).

My work-life balance is really out of whack right now, as exemplified by the following video clip.

Can you relate to that poor little stick figure on the left?

We’ve experienced a long, cold winter in the land of OnceUpon. Mother Nature is teasing us with a few warm, sunny days scattered amongst the impending spring snowstorms. As the temperature warms and the sun shines, I long to be outside working with my horses. (Heck…I even long to be outside scooping manure in the sunshine.) But doggone it! I’m getting beaten up by that mean old stick called “work”!

Keeping horses isn’t cheap. I have horses, therefore I work.

The problem is…my work load is increasing. Like a lot of companies in this current economy, mine has experienced layoffs and reduced benefits, including pay cuts. While staffing and benefits go down, the work load goes up for those of us fortunate to have kept our jobs. I do feel fortunate to still have a good job, but I’ve developed a frequent twitch in my left eye and I’m exhausted. I have less time and energy to spend with horses.

Some may suggest I sell my horses. NOT an option! Then I’d be just another eye-twitching, exhausted, horseless woman with more money in her purse. That doesn’t appeal to me because the intrinsic value of a horse cannot be measured in dollars.

  • Hoof care in April: $80.00
  • Vet care in May: $220.00
  • Hay purchase in June: $1,500.00
  • The sound of a soft nicker greeting you as you walk toward the barn: Priceless!

So, I’m stuck with this work-life dilemma. What is a horsewoman to do?

My first idea is to improve my diet. As I sit here typing this post, I’m very aware that I don’t feel good physically. Sitting at a computer all day; and stress-snacking from the vending machine in mid-afternoon after my microwave entrée (eaten at my desk while I work through lunch) has worn off, does not help the situation. Perhaps a healthier diet would aid in combating the exhaustion I feel, leaving more energy to play with horses in the evening. (Ok…and do household chores too, if you are reading this Mr. OnceUpon).

How can we successfully juggle the demands of work (whether employment or other ambitions) with our personal life and horses?

What suggestions do you have to manage the work-life-horse balance?


  1. I'm right there with you. I have your twitches twin in the right eye, exhausted and burnt out.

    I watched the sunshine today from inside my glass box dreaming of riding instead of typing! Some days it does not pay to have premium seating at work.

  2. Oh, OnceUpon, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I'm afraid I can relate to this video on many levels (and will be sharing it with my colleagues!). This is one of my areas of research but even still the balance can be a struggle. You know the saying the cobbler's kids go barefoot and doctor's wives die young? Yeah.

    I can't speak specifically about horse ownership since I lease at a boarding stable but I still have to try hard to fit in the rides/care. Unfortunately, it is really up to the employer to help their employees achieve work-life balance.

    Things like flex-time can really help alleviate some of the stress, even though the overall number of hours are the same. Could you arrange to do some things outside of "normal" working hours? I can occasionally leave work a bit early in the afternoon (say around 2 or 3pm) to go to the barn, then work in the evening. The key to this (at least for me) is having something necessary but essentially "brainless" to do, this way you don't need a lot of energy. I've edited more reports in my mind while grooming or warming up/cooling down than I could count!

    If you can't change your work hours, you have to develop a firm attitude, I think. I often feel too tired to go to the barn...There is the 30min drive, catching the horse in the dark etc, etc. But I rarely let myself give in to the desire to plunk down on the couch. I eat, get in my barn clothes and leave. Even if it's the last thing I think I want. Sometimes I change into barn clothes really quickly, before dinner, so that I don't wimp out. I've never once regretted going but always feel guilty for staying (unless I get some needed catch-up time with Mr.Ruckus).

    It does take practice, for sure. I think selling the horses would be even worse in terms of balance. They are so therapeutic, I bet sometimes they are the only relaxation you experience (other than with Mr.OnceUpon, of course!). As long as the financial burden is not too much, I'd say you need them now more than ever, even if in limited doses.

    Eating healthier could certainly help, I think. I'm inclined to think it's a combination of everything in one's lifestyle! Like anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes. Good luck.

  3. Having fruit always available as well as other healthy things will help. You also have to create a routine that puts you in a good place-where you are on the to do list at the top, not bottom.

    Can you now, with the longer days, give yourself an evening where you "have" to go to the barn? Or make dates with someone else. I find if I promised someone I would ride with them, I'm more likely to do so...

    It's hard to find time, but giving up horses? That's really out of balance.

  4. It's a hard see-saw to be on. Fortunately, I don't get up and go to a job everyday but I don't seem to have the time to ride or spend as much time with the horses either.
    There's always something to do, between barn,eight horses,housework, grandkids,dogs and yeah a husband who likes a meal once in a while, it's hard to fit it all in. I sympathize with you and hope that now the days are longer you'll find time to enjoy your horses.

    I think one key to feeling better is getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising. I haven't tried this yet but it works for my daughters!

  5. I read your post yesterday and have been thinking about it. Leading a balanced life is very difficult because of our culture. Brian and I made a decision 11 years ago to put sleep and exercise first in our life.
    They come before money or appointments, and even before horses and Maizie. Consequently, we are very poor! I am not joking, but we are mentally and physically able to tackle the other things (work, horses, Maizie) with a healthier frame of mind. It isn't an easy way to live, but it is the only way we know. I have been thinking about it because how could I ever explain it in a comment box?!? All I know to say is to write your priorities and follow them.

  6. I feel like I just read a little story of my life. Except I don't have a Mr. OnceUpon to support me in all the endeavors (there are pros and cons to the single life).

    I am a calendar freak. I often frequently schedule myself to death. I recently completed grad school and when I did I took on a new challenge. Fitness. I have a coming 3 yr old colt who will be shortly going undersaddle and I am determined to consider myself an athlete by the time comes to ride. So I schedule in exercise 5 days a week even if it means getting up well before the sun to accomplish it. I think it helps my mental state as well.

    I also find that sometimes I have to schedule myself in my Google Calendar. Last night I had written "St. Pattys with friends" and refused to let volunteering, work meetings, or anything else take that time from me. I do the same with my horse. I pick the times and dates that I want to go to the barn and try my best to fit them into the agenda before that weeks calendar is through. I'm not saying I have the best work-life-horse balance (I never schedule "bath tub" or "read book" so they rarely happen) but I find that putting it in writing and allocating time in advance makes me make myself (at least exercise)and my horse a priority.

  7. 1. Drop TV
    2. Make strict prioritations about what is necessary, and what is not. I am thinking of house chores.

    I believe it is easier if you decide what days work will have first priority, and what days the horses should have it.

    Even if I am very tired sometimes coming home from work, I find that getting out on my horse makes me feel better and gives me extra energy.
    It might be late.
    It might be bad weather.
    There are lot of excuses not to, when you are tired, lol!
    But stick to the appointment with your horse - you will feel better!

  8. Get rid of horses? No, not an option! When going to college, working with my horses was a delight - a great stress reducer when taking breaks between studying for exams! Eye twitching is horrid - and can be caused by too much caffeine, or stress - for my hubby, it is stress! We sold hubby's horse when I lost my job in '08, but I can't imagine selling Suzy (she's 24 this year!) - I've owned her since she's been 7. My pets are like kids to me, and give laughter and joy to my life!

  9. Oh, I've been on that hamster wheel before and balanced it is not! I remember being in tears many years ago, feeling I just wasn't making it as a wife, a mom or a teacher....and there wasn't a horse in the equation at that time.
    I agree that horses are great stress relievers. They are super listeners and never interrupt while you tell them your woes. I always felt better after a ride, no matter what was on my plate and waiting for me upon my return. Even slinging manure, grooming or feeding horses is cathartic.
    It's crappy what they are doing to you at work. At another time they wouldn't have dared put you (and others) into a pressure cooker situation like that. It makes me angry just hearing about it...I guess because of the helplessness of the situation. I know when I've lost control of a situation it makes me mad, depressed, frustrated, etc.
    Your friends have offered a number of suggestions. I can't offer much more except to say, 'Hang in there and keep your sense of humor'!
    If you ever need barn/yard help, please let me know. I'd gladly come help out - whenever!

  10. My work is my life since what I do for work IS horses. Even though I'm chasing my dream I can get over loaded and even feel burned out sometimes.

    Doing things because I love them can quickly change to because I have to in the current economic climate. Sales of horses are down which of course equals stress. Finding balance under such circumstances is tough for all of us.

  11. I have scheduled lessons on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, the former at a lesson barn close to work and the latter on my own horse. I wasn't finding the time to get to my own horse during the week, especially during the winter, so I made the decision to make a consistent ride happen no matter what. You will find a way.

  12. Thank you for the good ideas and words of encouragement.

    JeniQ, aren't those twitches annoying? Hope they stay in just one eye. Can you imagine if both eyes were twitching?

    RuckusButt, we do have some flex time options. I might be able to work out a schedule where I leave early once a week. Good idea.

    Breath, I stopped at the store on the way to work Monday morning and picked up apples & oranges. Gotta stay away from the vending machine, but ohhhhh chocolate is something I crave when I'm stressed.

    Grey Horse, no matter what our circumstance, we all have priorities to juggle that are challenging. I too have heard exercise works wonders. Ha! Maybe I'll try it.

    juliette, sleep is high on my list. I can't be anywhere else but at the top because I practically collapse in the evening when I've run out of steam. Good idea about writing priorities down. A to-do list would help too.

    Horse, dropping TV is easy. It has been replaced by barn chores. Good idea to make certain days 'horse days'.

    Rachel, I picked up a new planner over the weekend and am going to try more scheduling on paper.

    ClassyChassy, I agree, horses are the therapy we need when life gets hectic. They ground us, and remind us of what is important.

    Dreaming, thanks, you have a great sense of humor. Laughter is a good stress reliever.

    Rainbow, I can only imagine how tough it would be to make a living in the horse business. Yes, lots of stress in this economy. No matter the career field we chose, we have a lot to juggle.

    Donna, I see a common thread here...scheduling. I'm going to try harder to do that.

  13. Oh, those wicked employers - it's even worse when it's your-own-self ;-)!
    But I don't even want to add up a close approximation of what I've spent on hay this past year, w/our drought/overgrazed pasture/etc etc...
    I wish I had the answers to the ubiquitous work/life/horse balance, but unfortunately I do not. Gotta work to pay the bills - but the more time I take off, the more I want!
    [My mother expressed disapproval of my decision to take 3 weekends off this month, but why else have I worked so hard for the past 30+ yrs?!?]

  14. Sadly, I have to schedule my horse time and make sure the people in my office know it. Otherwise, I wouldn't get any. I've developed the same little eye tick; it's annoying, isn't it?

  15. Val, thanks for commenting. I think we will spend a lifetime trying to achieve balance. Oh need to take time off, especially as a vet, you must get called out a lot.

    GunDiva...oh, sorry about your eye tick. Seems to be going around. Hopefully warmer weather and some horse time will help us all rid ourselves of stress twitches.