Addressing Riding Apathy

BY ELYSE SCHENK

The origin of our love for horses is a mystery for many. The obsession seems to affect most of us randomly, striking out of thin air. Urban-raised children will relentlessly beg their parents for riding lessons, while others grow up on a family farm and somehow remain immune to the “horse bug.” There’s no rhyme or reason to being horse crazy.

Sure, we can write a bottomless list describing the amazing attributes of horses, but nothing on the list can adequately explain this strange addiction our community has in common. All we know is that riding is beyond a lukewarm interest. It’s a lifelong thrill inspired by an unknown force. Call it a miracle—or a curse—but the passion for horses seems to occur spontaneously. And after years of struggles and heartbreak, it can spit us back out. 

Where do we go when our horse passion wanes? Who are we without this sport? We grow our identity upon firm equestrian roots, but when we need a break we wilt into someone unrecognizable. 

Waking up and finding yourself apathetic to riding is an unwelcome feeling. Some know it as being “burnt out” through overwork, stress overload, or repetitive days. Likewise, a traumatic fall induces apathy, along with resentment for the sport’s elitism, mental health deterioration, or other heavy forms of anxiety and hopelessness. For other equestrians, their once anchored love for riding drifts away by the gradual but powerful current of a career and family. Most of us experience at least some days, perhaps even months, or (tragically) years of quiet disinterest. 

We’re too ashamed to talk about it.

Understandably so, we fear rejection from our fellow equestrians for being “undedicated” or “fraudulent.” Is there any room in a community united by a love for horses for someone who, albeit temporarily, has fallen out of love? Our livelihoods and relationships rely on this love. Professional careers are built by proving a whole-hearted commitment to caring for horses and riding. Equestrian friendships are bonded by horse talk and horse show memories. If we admit our apathetic feelings, we might risk those relationships and this entire lifestyle. 

So how can we navigate this uncomfortable feeling? Here are some leading tips based on sports psychology:

1. Embrace a break.

Let’s admit it; passion is intoxicating. We’re fortunate to enjoy something so fiercely, but this enthusiasm burns through our limited emotional energy. Apathy could be a signal you need to recharge. Time spent away from the horse world may rejuvenate your desire to ride.

2. Revisit your roots.

Remember that childhood infatuation with horses of every size, shape and color? Can you still recall the euphoria of finally achieving a perfect moment of leg-to-hand connection? Of the first victory you shared with your beloved partner? Dig deep into your memories to resurface your passion. You fell in love once, you can do it again.

3. Expand your identity.

Explore life outside of the equine industry bubble. A hyper-focus on horse riding might be causing you to neglect other important parts of your identity. Once you tend to these aspects (i.e. school, family, church, etc.), you might reposition horses into a more appropriate place in your life—a place that maximizes joy and meaning. A well-rounded lifestyle is a harmonious and happy one.

4. Change it up.

“Change is as good as rest,” as they say. Approach barn life creatively, with an open mind and willingness to let go of your usual way of doing things. Maybe this looks like changing disciplines, switching from professional riding to recreational riding (or vice versa), a new barn, or different goals. A fresh perspective on the sport could rekindle the spark you’re missing.

5. Ride out the wave.

Persevere without passion. Don’t wait to participate until the joy returns. Too often we emphasize doing only what we love, forgetting that it’s normal and common to not constantly love what we do. Sometimes it isn’t fun, and that’s life. Keep at riding even when the drive is gone. We’ll become stronger through push, and the joy may return on the other side.

6. Know when to say no. 

There may simply come a time to let go of riding altogether. It’s a heartbreaking outcome, like a divorce from the sport—tragic, but sometimes necessary. You’re not giving up, you’re growing up. And if there ever comes a time you wish to return, horses will always welcome you ready to give you their all as the spectacular, gracious animals that we fell in love with long ago. 

Ultimately, don’t be ashamed if you feel apathetic at times. And don’t shame others for losing the drive. Once we acknowledge the normal ups and downs of passion, we can stop stigmatizing burnout as a plague, and instead help each other through it. A community exists for the common good. Our horse community can and should support each other unconditionally.