Instructor burnout- what can you do about it?

Every instructor is going to deal with burnout at some time. Whether it be due to teaching the same lesson over and over, feeling unable to really help a horse due to a clients differing opinion, or just too many hours working without enough time off, burnout is very real and can affect the quality of work you put out.

Here are some ideas for mitigating and preventing burnout.

1- don’t neglect your own education!!
Continuing your own education will keep you feeling inspired, give you new ideas and ways of explaining things, and help you understand the bigger picture. Education should be a regular part of any instructors life.

2- find different ways to demonstrate the same concepts.
Sometimes burnout happens from feeling like you explain the same thing without getting anywhere. You can try to touch on more of the senses when you teach for better receptivity- explaining coupled with demonstrating can leave a better impact on a student. Helping their own body find the feeling you’re after with various methods that break their subconscious patterning can be very effective, such as riding with a polo wrap along with their reins to break the habit of pulling, for example. Having the student ride different horses can drive a point home, as can taking the horse away entirely and using just their own body for a session. Direct the student toward beneficial extra curricular activities like yoga or other athletics.

3- become more selective with your client base
Nothing is more rewarding than working with people who truly desire to become better. Throwing good effort after people who aren’t motivated or aren’t really interested in your work is a sure fire path to burnout. If you’re thinking of your work as a top tier, you want to work with people who want top tier work, and willing to put effort into it. You’ll get much better results, have happier clients, and will find much more job satisfaction.

4- a cliche, but nonetheless important, reminder-
Make time for self care
This doesn’t have to be bath salts and cake. Self care should be the regular maintenance of you. Think of how you’d treat a training horse: good diet, rest time, good fitness program, and relaxation as the foundation. Don’t forget to eat well and drink water. Develop a sustainable and beneficial fitness program that will keep the machine of your body in working order to serve the public and their horses. Practice some daily form of breathing or meditation. I didn’t really take this seriously until recently, but I feel significantly better now as a 33 year old than I did at 23, when I was running my body into the ground. You have a long and important career ahead of you- keep air in your tires and change your oil with regularity 😉

To my fellow instructors – you do an important job and should consider yourself a servant of thr public. This is nothing to take lightly, so taking care of your mental and physical well-being goes a long way toward helping more people and with better quality. Keep up the good work.

To My Students

To my students

I want you to feel comfortable and have fun, but I want you to work very hard. I want you to feel free to be yourself, but I want you to feel inspired to push your limits. I want you to feel relaxed around me, but I want you to feel like you have to mind your words, mindset and technique. I want you to be so aware of your habits that you don’t do anything mindlessly, but I want you to be able to laugh off a mistake or brush off when you notice yourself doing something sloppy.

I want you to feel entirely yourself, but push yourself to be better than yourself. I want you to learn, laugh and be the best you can be. I will push you, challenge you, and not accept less than your best- but I understand that your best changes day to day. I might not give you information you like to hear, but I will always give it from a place of caring- because I know your potential, and I believe in you. I know how hard it is to be a student and to stay aware and sharp to this degree- because I am a student myself, and am humbled by my teachers regularly. I know that if you didn’t care about your potential, you wouldn’t be my student in the first place.

How You Do One Thing Is How You Do All Things

You can’t move quickly and erratically while tacking up, and get on and have a soft, smooth ride

Often folks move around their horses as if overly caffeinated around their horses. Their lead ropes are tangled up, they pet (or slap or scruffle) meaninglessly and erratically. They brush roughly, cinch up quickly, bang eyes and teeth and rumple ears in bridling. Their thoughts are racing, they aren’t organized in their approach and they are rushed.

This isn’t to say you should sneak around your horse, but moving thoughtfully and purposefully around them goes a long way. A horse has to deal with all this frantic and meaningless energy- some become nervous and antsy, some tune out. People go to describing their behavior as rude, nervous, evasive, whatever- when this same horse might be completely different with a calmer and more organized person.

Challenge yourself to have your thoughts and equipment organized before you step into the pasture or stall. Have your lead rope prepared and ready, take a few minutes to tune into your breath. Know what you’d like to accomplish, and then approach the horse. You’ll be amazed at the difference in them.


When you ask a question, did you know what the question in mind actually was?

A lot of folks struggle with asking questions.
They worry it will sound stupid, it will be at the wrong time, or a number of other things.

Then, once the question gets out, a lot of folks don’t have a clear idea of what the question was, and what they hoped to gain from it.

I’m in the habit of asking folks to clarify their questions for me when they ask. This isn’t just because I’m not sure what they are looking to learn, but because I want them to be clear to themselves about their needs.

This especially is important to me as it regards women, who often stumble over their needs or feel unable to take up space. I want all people, but especially women, to learn to organize their question, and get their needs met- this will allow them to guide their horse with more clarity.

It is amazing and interesting how connected lack of self confidence and unsureness can lead to relaying muddy messages to a horse. When you make yourself small, you take away from yourself and the horse too.

I want everyone in my arena not just to ask me better questions, but to feel ok to ask them, to be proud to
ask them because it means they’re thinking. And I want them to know what they want from me, from themselves, and from their horse. I want them to succeed. And a small, but important part of that, is training people how to ask more clear questions.


Our thoughts about our horses limit them more than anything else.

I thought about this while riding my mare in a lesson this morning. My little quarter horse was free in her shoulders, swinging over her back and moving like a warmblood.

“You sat there for a long time in her way,” my teacher said. “You were riding her like she was heavy and sluggish, and so she stayed that way until you changed the way you rode.”

I thought about it and realized I was riding that way because that’s how I expected her to move. She always had been tight and forehand heavy, so subconsciously that is the feeling my seat created for her.

My teacher had to convince me to ride her differently and I took the leap of faith offering something I didn’t know she would take me up on.

My thoughts, whether I was aware of them or not, had limited her.

It’s our job as riders to offer the horse the feeling we want them to find- to lead by example, to believe in them, to show them the way. Not to label, box up or diminish their being into pieces easy enough for us to process. They are bigger and better than we could ever comprehend- and it’s up to us to step up to the possibilities with an open mind.

Ornery Horse or Wrong Job?

If you ask my teachers growing up in school, or my former bosses about me and my personality, they’d probably describe me as lazy, stubborn, or disorganized.

As a self employed person, I hear a lot from folks that they don’t know how I get it all done, that I work hard, and probably most folks would describe my personality as pretty pleasant.

What’s the difference? My actual personality never changed. But in the earlier part of my life, I wasn’t engaged, not interested, and was usually being given orders I didn’t respect. I had a tendency to take over and do my own thing if I didn’t find the order given to be worthy of my time- which usually lead the authority figure in question to make labels about my temperament.

When I’m working on my own agenda, I’m extremely motivated. I know just what needs doing and don’t need any outside help to stay interested in getting it done. If I’m riding with a teacher I respect, I am 100% engaged and give up my agenda entirely to do what they suggest. I trust them fully and am willing to try new, hard, or potentially scary things because I know they have the awareness and ability to keep me on track and safe. If I’m riding with a teacher who’s skill I don’t respect, I stay on high alert and don’t give up my own agenda. I’m gonna keep doing my own thing until something better comes along.

How many times have we heard a horse described as pushy, strong willed, stubborn, ornery? What if this horse is just in the wrong job, working for a person who doesn’t have a plan better than their own agenda? What if, instead of labeling this horse and writing them off as having a problem, we admitted, we just don’t have anything to offer this horse better than what they’re already doing?

The Value of Education

Can’t afford it, or don’t prioritize it?

What’s the value in an education? We quantify information into dollars per hour. Once we’ve committed to the hour, we look at it in terms of results per dollar.

But the reality is that education can’t be quantified by dollars or hours. A good education is an experience- time to soak up concepts, study the nature of the person teaching, time to practice, listen, and develop into the horse person you dream of being.

Many people look at an hourly rate to decide if it’s affordable or not. The truth is, if you want the information to be absorbed in your bones, the sticker price is a non issue- the real price is in the effort you give, the hours hauling or driving, the battle toward personal development. The truth is if you live and breathe this, the cost doesn’t matter- you’d pay anything because you know it is golden. You can’t afford NOT to have it.

You can value shop for groceries or insurance, but you wouldn’t dream of cutting corners on your education. Because you know its value.

The Rabbit Hole

So you’ve gone down the rabbit hole and you’re incapacitated with uncertainty….

You know how harmful or unhelpful your old way are
But you have no idea what to do, and you’re scared to death to make a mistake

I hear this from students nearly every day. The climate is changing in the horse world, so many people are gravitating toward trying to get along better with their horses. Some folks are becoming interested in posture and movement and maybe feel overwhelmed.

To make matters worse, the average person’s social media feed is chock full of a thousand different programs, each with their own subscription, and all in disagreement with the next one. You have every book and every subscription, but have no idea what to do. What can be done?

Well to start with, I like to think about some advice I got from a drawing teacher. I was staring at an outline I’d made of the model to be drawn, and I was petrified of ruining it. “When you don’t know what to do, do something,” he said. That has stuck with me ever since. Inaction can sometimes be far worse than a mistake, so-

Step 1- just start. Do something, anything. Pick something small and basic and focus on doing that with quality. Even if you end up doing it wrong, you can’t go wrong with becoming more aware of your habits and your horses habits.

Step 2- accept your imperfection. I have a little secret for you- you’ll never be perfect. I’m not perfect, my teachers aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. The biggest difference between a pro and an uncertain amateur is not the mistake making, but the ability to recover, and the confidence to experiment. So quit worrying about making mistakes, because you’re going to anyway.

Step 3- become a master observer of the horse. Even if you don’t know what to do, you can learn a ton from watching the horse. The most important part is changing your muscle memory from old habits to new ones- so if you become a watchful observer of the horse, rather than an auto pilot handler, you’re bound to learn a tremendous amount.

So there you have it. Three simple steps to get the ball rolling- don’t just stand around avoiding your horse forever just because of a little uncertainty. Learning is messy, but, an object in motion stays in motion- so just take one shaky step forward and give it your best.

Photo by Nicole Churilla

The Right Trainer

How to pick the right trainer and maintain a good relationship with them:

The best advice I got while writing a book was to make sure the description matched the content of the book. “People don’t write bad reviews because they didn’t like the book,” they said, “people write bad reviews when they expected to get something different.”

Expectation and assumption make up a tremendous portion of most dissatisfied customer’s reason for complaint. So as you’re picking your next trainer, here are some ways to assure you get the most out of your experience.

1- have an idea of what you want to achieve in training. Are you looking to show? To trail ride? To rehab your horse? Do you want a firm trainer? A nice trainer? One that pushes or one that is gentle? One who specializes in fearful riders? The success of your results depend greatly on the trainer you select. If you don’t know what you want, you will be unable to be happy with the results, and it would be easy to pick the wrong person for you.

2- watch their work. Don’t just watch their social media, watch them teach and ride horses. See which horses are beginning training and which are finishing, and how they look. Many trainers know all the right words to say, but don’t produce the results to prove it. Or, conversely, they don’t know what to say and aren’t great communicators but get excellent results. Keep a discerning eye and ear out.

3- discuss your wants and needs with the trainer. tell them what you want, and ask what they do. Find out what time frame they can expect, discuss costs and what the training includes. Discuss your role and expectations for you to be involved and to what level. Find out what the horses lifestyle will be while in training – turnout or stall? What will they be eating? How often will they be worked? Don’t ever make assumptions, as assumptions are the mother of resentment.

4- once you’ve found a trainer, maintain an open line of communication. Ask how your horse is doing in specific ways. Ask what’s needed. If you have a concern or issue, voice it. I can’t tell you how many silent resentments drug on into full blown issues that could have been cleared up quite easily with a conversation. Trainers are not mind readers- if something is bothering you, say so. It can either be fixed, or your expectation adjusted. Either way, bring it up and air it out.

5- do your own work. Work on your riding, your communication, and learning. Do everything you can be to be a better person for your horse. My favorite students are not the ones who ride the best, but the ones who aren’t afraid to work at improving themselves. These are the ones I’d bend over backwards for. The ones who are looking for a horse to be perfect for them without changing themselves are less likely to be satisfied with the training.


“I’m teaching my horse to accept contact”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this! Typically it is accompanied by a horse throwing their head up, diving behind the vertical, gaping at the mouth- essentially attempting to be anywhere BUT the contact.

Here is something I often say to people in my clinics.

Imagine you’re on a date. Your date grabs your hand and doesn’t let go. You squirm to get away, but he holds tighter. He says, some day you will have to hold my hand so you need to get used to it. I won’t release until you accept this contact. Maybe he’s brought up in the school of thought that your display of evasion should be countered with a strap of some kind to prevent you from moving away- a flash nose band of sorts for you.

It doesn’t matter how light or heavy he touches- it is contact that isn’t right for the moment. It’s greedy.

Now imagine you’re on a date and the conversation has lead you to realize you really enjoy his company. Your relationship is developing, he brushes your hand, you reach out and hold it.

Those are two very different feelings, and they come from two very different places.

When the conditions are there, the contact is taken by the horse. Not the other way around.

Contact has meaning. It is not meaningless pressure on the horses mouth, it is a holding of hands while you dance- it is a connection between your body and the horse’s hind legs. It is the display of everything you believe and who you are- manifested through your hand and into the horse- and the horse’s response is a direct representation of their preparation and feelings about your body and hands.