Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Balancing riding and school

This post was inspired by a high school student's cry for help on the COTH forums :

"I'm homeschooled, which is both a blessing and a curse in this matter. I only began homeschooling very recently, a couple of months ago. I'd gone to three different high schools, had to repeat my freshman year and still none of them were working. I'm way behind the schedule for graduating - I'm sixteen and only have my freshman credits! My hope is to graduate when I'm 19 and to work through the summers to achieve that. The only courses I'm taking at the moment are AP World History and Nutrition and Wellness, but the AP is terribly time consuming and I'm not sure how to fit more riding into my schedule because of that.

I'm going to take a break from my weekly art lessons for a while, so that should free up some time.

This all just seems kind of impossible! I have no idea how other juniors manage to ride and show while maintaining a full course schedule and get good grades" -baudelist

I was somewhat shocked that her parents didn't punish her for choosing to ride over going to school and I wonder if homeschool is really the best option for her. I think that is what allows other young riders to balance it all--school isn't optional. However, I'm not privy to whatever her life circumstances are so even though my first instinct is to blame, it's certainly possible that she has had some challenges out of her control, what with switching between 3 high schools.

Balancing riding and school, or riding and work, or riding and school and part-time work (That's me! So glad I quit my second job.) is not easy, and riding is usually the weak link in the chain. There have been some semesters where I rode once a month or less--school was just too time consuming, and I didn't have a car on campus until this year so I'd have to go home on the weekends to ride. And I think that's OK. I've never wanted a career with horses because I don't want the thing I do for fun to become work, so my top priority has always been school. Well, okay, my parents had some influence on that priority too, especially when I couldn't drive myself to the barn. Horses have always been the reward, not the end goal.

Of course I'm not saying that I am the queen of the horse-job-work balancing act. I don't have my own horse, so I don't have the responsibility to keep him exercised. When I did have my own horse in high school via a free lease, I was lucky that he was old and quiet--I got the same ride out of him every time, whether he had worked five days or zero that week. Also (to further list my disqualifications) I often end up not juggling everything so well, and I spend a lot more time at the barn than I mean to...my boyfriend knows that if I say I'll be back by six, it means seven, and that I'll be prattling on about horsey stuff for another hour. Thankfully he just scolds me with a "Bad baby!," keeps on being loving, and then we make fish tacos with pink pickled onions. Yum!! I smell a food post coming up because there are definitely some dishes that really hit the spot after I ride.

Regardless of tangents... here are some tips to balance life responsibilities and riding:
  • Sacrifice riding time: That's right, #1 on the list. School (or work) is what will give you the cash to continue riding in the long run, so that has to be the priority. It might feel like it, but you won't die from not riding every day or even every week. Personally, not being able to ride as much as I want just makes me value the time I have at the barn even more.
  • Time management: Know how long you'll be at the barn and how long your homework will take you. This, of course, is easier said than done. There have been so many times when I intended to finish my ride by a certain time and then my horse decided to act up...or times when I thought it would take me ten minutes to read for my Spanish lit class and it ended up taking forty...These things happen, but they shouldn't happen every day.
  • Plan, plan, plan: I am completely obsessive about my to-do lists, reminders on my phone, and Google Calendar so that there are not so many balls in the air--they're all on paper. I like to put homework assignments from my syllabus on my calendar right at the beginning of the semester, and then I plan out when I need to start working on big projects. I print out my Google Calendar each week and write extra notes on it as I'm working on stuff.
  • Choosing a horse: Do you really have time for a youngster who needs consistent training every day? Even if you have the funds and the riding ability for a horse that requires a lot, it might not be a good idea if you already have the full-time responsibility of school or a job. If you already have such a horse, half-leasing him so he has some consistency is a a good idea.
  • IHSA: I have zero experience with IHSA. The idea of showing a horse I don't know just goes against what I like most about showing--it's a test of how far you and your horse have come in your training together. However, IHSA does seem like a good way to keep riding without a time commitment every day  if you can handle the significant time commitment (thanks commenters). If anyone has ever done IHSA I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
  • Combine horses and school: I have an internship at a horse publication, and this blog  was actually started for a blogging class. That means my time at the barn is research, right? If you can find some way to combine your interest in horses with school assignments, you might be able to sneak in some extra barn time as part of your project. If not, it's still fun to write essays about things like the steeplechase scene in Anna Karenina... well, if not fun, at least not horrible.
  • Look ahead: One day I will have my own horse and no homework. One day I will have my own horse and no homework. That's what gets me through the readings in Spanish that take a zillion years to read and the essays on differences in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the quartos and folio of Hamlet...ugh, who cares??? Not me! Why did I ever pick that topic?
I'm opening it up to you guys--any other tips on the balancing act of horses, school, and work?


  1. IHSA absolutely has time commitments if you're on a competitive team. Between practices, volunteer hours, and showing, there is a LOT of time that goes into it. It is an awesome way to test your ability to get on a new horse and figure it out as you go. I love IHSA and I would highly encourage college equestrians to participate in it.

    1. About how many hours a week would you say?

    2. Former IHSA'er here too. I had one hour of practice per team per week (so if you were on Jump, Western and Hunt flat that's three), plus tacking up time and chores after each practice (sweeping, feeding, etc), plus four hours of show prep the night before every home show, plus working the entire home show from 6:30am-5pm or so, sometimes two days in a weekend, plus traveling to away shows and being there the whole time. So...it's a big time commitment, but if you were an equine major like I was and lived at the barn anyway, you didn't even notice it. I could see where a non-major would feel a little overwhelmed between non-barn commitments and IHSA, though.

    3. My IHSA experience was very different. Unless you were on the Executive Board, the time commitment was only for your lesson (which was a one-hour lesson plus tacking, untacking, cooling out) once a week, which had you at the barn for usually no more than three hours tops. Many schools in my Region co-hosted shows, so the time commitment for show prep was minimal, and the commitment on part of the members was almost entirely on the day of the show (which they would be at anyway to compete).
      There were opportunities for the team to host schooling shows on the local Hunter circuit, and those were the only times members actually had to prep their own horses (usually borrowed from the trainer's lesson barn).
      So I guess the thing to take away is that different programs require varying degrees of involvement at the barn.
      Out of curiosity (to the other IHSAers), were your barns run by your school or were your programs run out of a private trainer? My school had the authority to choose a barn for us to take lessons at (and therefore which trainer would be responsible for us in IHSA), and our dues went expressly towards lessons. The school provided the team with a budget to put on shows, covered show fees and transportation, and would get us new tack every once in a while (we asked for used, but somehow they thought new stuff was better [our butts didn't appreciate rock-hard un-broken-in saddles]).
      I'd never thought about how much time people at other schools had to commit to their teams!

  2. I choose to be a commuter student to a near by college so that I could keep my riding schedule with my horse. My mom always told me I had to ride at least 3x a week to even think about going to a show, so I made it work between school and working. I also took riding for physical education credits through the college, which meant I rode twice a week. I did not "look" enough like a hunter rider to make the riding team, so I can not comment on IHSA. Education came first, but responsibility to my horse was a very close second.