As we come to the end of Stress Awareness Month in April 2023, it is important to recognise the potential stresses that come with running an equine yard. The equine industry can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be a demanding and challenging career path. From long hours and physical labor to financial pressures and emotional strain, equine professionals face a variety of stressors. It is always good practice to be conscious and aware of potential stressors in the workplace, and have plans for managing them. Let's explore some of the common stresses in the equine industry, and look at the good advice and resources that are out there!
Long Hours and Physical Demands
One of the biggest sources of stress for equine professionals is the demanding physical nature of the job. Whether it's mucking out stalls, grooming horses, or mending fences, there is always something to be done on a busy yard. Additionally, many equine professionals work long hours, often starting before dawn and finishing after sunset. This can mean that self-care gets put on the back-burner a lot, and potentially opportunities for relaxation or socialising can suffer.
Advice: It is important to prioritize rest and self-care to prevent burnout. Make sure to schedule regular breaks throughout the day, and take time to stretch and move your body to prevent physical strain. Try to set aside time for hobbies or socialising away from the yard, even if it's just something quick. Finally, consider delegating tasks or hiring additional help if your workload becomes overwhelming.
Running an equine yard can be an expensive endeavor. Between feed, veterinary care, equipment, and facilities maintenance, there are always bills to be paid, and invoices to owners to attend to. Additionally, the equine industry can be unpredictable, with changes in the economy, weather, or client demand that can immediately impact on plans.
Advice: It is important to have a solid financial plan in place that is planned out to a reasonable horizon with goals and risks incorporated within it. Ensure that you have a budget and contingency plan for unexpected expenses. Consider setting up an emergency fund or seeking out financial advice from a professional. Finally, try to find ways to diversify your income streams or reduce expenses where possible.
Also, managing competitions or races as any trainer can be a highly stressful experience. Trainers often face significant pressure from owners to produce results, whether that means winning races or achieving specific performance goals. Additionally, financial pressures around competition can be a significant source of stress, as equine training can be a highly competitive and expensive industry.
Dealing with expectant owners can be particularly challenging, as some may have unrealistic expectations or may be difficult to communicate with. However, there are some strategies that can help equine trainers manage these pressures and maintain a positive working relationship with owners.
Set Realistic Expectations: It is important to be honest with owners about the capabilities of their horses and the likelihood of achieving specific goals. This can help manage expectations and prevent disappointment down the line. Setting realistic expectations from the beginning can also help avoid conflicts and misunderstandings. Admittedly this may not always be easy as other trainers may exaggerate the potential of an owner's horse and potentially win their business, however if you don't set realistic expectations from the start you will suffer the stress of trying to live up to them.
Communication: Clear and regular communication with owners is key to managing expectations and maintaining a positive relationship. Providing regular updates on training progress and race performance can help keep owners informed and engaged. Additionally, being transparent about any challenges or setbacks can help build trust and prevent misunderstandings. Good equine management tools that show progress of their horse and can measure progress using records and tools are worthwhile investments for owners, while keeping owners updated in real-time and well-informed.
Focus on the Process: While winning races or achieving specific performance goals is important, it is also important to focus on the process of training and development. Emphasizing the importance of consistent training and focusing on the horse's long-term development can help manage expectations and prevent short-term thinking.
Seek Support: Racehorse trainers may benefit from seeking support from other professionals in the industry, such as veterinarians, farriers, or other trainers. These individuals can provide additional insights and support, which can help alleviate some of the pressures of managing a racing stable.
Working with animals can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be emotionally challenging. Whether it's coping with the loss of a beloved horse, dealing with difficult clients or staff, or managing the stress of competition, there are many potential sources of emotional strain in the equine industry. A good example is the recent protests at racing events, it cannot be ruled out that the protestors' actions were a factor in the death of a horse at the 2023 Grand National. Trainers who have worked hard to ensure their horse is passed fit for the race and have ensured their horse wants for nothing (As well as their owners), not only have to process the grief of losing their horse and return home with an empty trailer, but they then have to get up early the next morning to ensure the other many horses are well taken care of.
Advice: It is important to prioritize your mental health and well-being. Consider seeking out support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if you are struggling with stress or emotional strain. Additionally, try to find ways to build resilience and coping skills, such as mindfulness meditation or exercise.
The British Horse Racing Authority have a Mental Health Page, which sets out support available for trainers and jockeys. British Equestrian have the Perform Well initiative that aims to support those in the eventing world suffering with poor mental health. Also the UK Pony Club has safeguarding guidance for those who may need assistance in tackling mental health related issues.
One of the equally important areas is the mental health of the horses themselves. Mental health of horses is an important consideration for equine professionals, as horses can experience a range of emotions and behavioral changes in response to various life circumstances, whether that is change of ownership, temporary change of location, or routine, it is important to be aware of and work to alleviate potential stressors before they have a significant impact on physical health. There are several strategies that can help support the mental health and well-being of horses in everyday life.
Enrichment Activities: Providing horses with opportunities for mental and physical stimulation can help reduce boredom and prevent the development of negative behaviors. This can include access to pasture, toys, and regular exercise.
Positive Reinforcement: Training horses using positive reinforcement methods, such as rewards for good behaviour, can help build a positive relationship between the horse and the handler, reducing stress and anxiety for both parties.
Consistent Routines: Horses thrive on consistency and predictability, so maintaining a regular schedule for feeding, grooming, and exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Social Interaction: Horses are social animals and benefit from social interaction with other horses. Providing opportunities for social interaction can help reduce stress and prevent negative behaviors.
In the case of significant life events, such as losing an owner, horses may experience grief and a range of emotional responses. It is important to provide support and care for these horses, which may include:
Consistent Care: Maintaining a consistent care routine for the horse can help provide a sense of stability and predictability during a time of change.
Social Support: Providing opportunities for social interaction with other horses can help reduce stress and provide a sense of community for the horse.
Professional Support: In some cases, horses may benefit from professional support, such as counseling or veterinary care, to help manage the emotional impact of significant life events.
Time and Patience: Grief is a natural and necessary process, and it may take time for horses to adjust to significant life changes. Providing patience and support during this time can help facilitate the healing process.
World Horse Welfare has a number of resources to tackle equine mental health, as well as a contactable number for those who need to seek advice about equine well-being. Pro Earth Animal Health also provides a good rundown of the courses and effects of stressors in horses.
The equine industry can be a highly rewarding but also challenging career path. By prioritizing rest, self-care, financial planning, and emotional well-being, equine professionals can reduce their stress and build a sustainable and fulfilling career. In addition, taking steps to plan for circumstances that may have a mental well-being impact on your horses can also reduce stress for the horse, owner, and trainer.