I think the majority of us can be in agreement that the Equine Industry is one of the hardest to work in, in terms of physical demands. 12+ hour days combined with often weeks with no days off can be ruthless yet ‘glorified’. You are led to believe that the harder and longer you work the better a groom or manager you are. But this is not true, and I only found that out too late. The stigma around mental health in general is one that’s kept hush, but I think in our sport of all sports it needs to be highlighted as it is rampant. Burn-out is real for a lot of people.
I’m an International Groom now based in Austria for the past 4 years. I always thrived off the praise I got for overworking because it is one that is applauded in our industry. From the get-go, fresh out of college where I studied Equine Science, I went into the working world all guns blazing, having a limb in every possible corner. Trying to work relentless hours, trying to have somewhat of a social life and trying to stay healthy. But one of these always gave way and it was usually my health or social life. It was early in my career that I saw that the harder and longer you worked the more you were liked/favoured. Of course, being a young, naïve girl and already struggling with the realities of fitting in with the world, I saw this as a way to make myself feel. Feel important, feel wanted, and feel that I had worth. It began this negative twist which would eventually put me down a dark hole which I struggled to come back out of for a long long time.
Burn out for me was masked with depression and anxiety. Even though I was high functioning and able to get up and go to work and carry on like everything was normal, Inside I was slowly dying.
Although I do suffer with depression and anxiety, burn out was never even taken into consideration. I was running off pure adrenaline from the anxiety and the fear of making mistakes. But the body can only take so much abuse. During this time insomnia kicked in, I was constantly worrying about the horses. I would wake up and have to get out of bed multiple times during the night to check on them before I could relax to go back to sleep.
Of course in a lot of my jobs this pressure was only put on me by myself. I truly believed that I had to work this hard to be at the top of my game and do the job to the best of my ability because from the outside that’s what we are shown. I’m lucky though, as not all employers are as great as mine. Some genuinely have that mind-set themselves. They believe that you should work like a slave for the ‘love’ of the game.
You need to look at our industry and see how many grooms are still going at the age of 40? Many quit and go in search of ‘normal jobs’ because it’s a more manageable lifestyle. Mental health is never discussed or spoken about. And it is a known fact that many of these people have left the industry because of burn out. How many people have died by suicide in the past few years in our industry and it’s always kept quiet, to a certain extent. Mental Health is health. It should be treated the same as every other illness and not just swept under the carpet because it can’t be seen. It is very real. It feels very real and it’s a real issue in our society and our sport. Not enough people speak up about it. You are not weak for feeling this way.
I am still working in the industry at a high level, grooming at 4/5* and GCT tours. But I’m learning to find the balance, take time out when needed, look after myself and assert my needs. That’s something I’ve really struggled to do and I know for a lot of people it can be so hard. But the more you try and push yourself out of that comfort zone the easier it gets. I suppose the point of this article is to create awareness. There might be people out there feeling they are in the same position and need the inspiration/motivation to take a step in the right direction to help themselves. We need to look after ourselves, surround ourselves with supportive people and don’t be afraid to admit when we need a break. We only have one shot at life so there’s no point wasting it away. Work to live, not live to work.
And a friendly reminder that “doing your best” does not mean working yourself to the point of a mental breakdown.