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I’ve heard it said many times before – horses and school are increasingly hard to balance when you approach exams and make your way closer towards the end of your educational career. It’s also something that I have been asked about quite a few times on my Instagram account (@mycrazyponies_x), most commonly when young people are distraught at the prospect of having to give up their horse to devote more time to their schooling and exam preparation.
As someone who made it through school with a good academic record, as well as having three horses that I cared for, exercised and competed (and then later four when I got Mini soon after starting college), I know that with some good planning and determination, it can definitely be possible!
So, I’ve put together some of my top tips to help students balancing horses and studying, whether at school, college or university;
This means setting out designated study times and sticking to them – Anyone can create a plan to show when they need to study, but a certain level of determination is required to actually stick to it! If you’re up to the challenge of balancing your love for all things equestrian with your education, you can’t procrastinate!
Outside of the hours you’ll be in school, college or uni, think realistically about how much time you’ll need to set aside per week for revision, homework or self-study, and then create a plan to remind yourself when these sessions will be. Having this information set out will provide a useful reminder to keep to your study times so that you don’t fall behind which, if you stick to it, should leave enough time for horsey activities as well!
Do you need to go daily to visit your horse? Twice a day? Maybe you loan and don’t need to commit to every single day? Establish when you need to be at the yard and how frequently to do everything you need with your horse (allow time for the stable jobs as well as riding!) to get a clear idea of what days and times you need to keep free. If you need some transport to get to the yard, you’ll need to factor in the time and availability of this too – having a perfect plan but then no way to get to your horse wouldn’t exactly be ideal!
You can then compare your yard times with the study times you previously designated and figure out how they are going to work with each other. Do the times clash? Do you need to adjust the plan a bit? Is it light enough that you could ride later in the evening, allowing you to study when you get home? Make any changes you need, but also be open to your plan changing again and not being too rigid. After all, you can never plan everything completely, and what fun would that be anyway?
Do you have other hobbies or commitments that you need to factor in? Do you want to have some time free to see your friends or go out? Probably the most important tip I give people is to avoid taking on too much and trying to cram in too many things, because it will just lead to a burnout and your activities will stop being fun.
Horses and school are compatible but you need to make sure they remain your priorities, otherwise you will start to struggle and fall behind. You can absolutely have a social life as well, but going out every day after school or college with your friends? Probably not.
Remember, the more you cram in, the less quality time you will be able to spend with your horse and the more stressful the horse care side of things will become. The relationship with your horse is one to be enjoyed, so you have to decide what it is you want in order to make a plan that suits you and makes you happy.
Realistically, you can’t study every single waking hour of the day, so there is certainly enough time to keep your equestrian lifestyle going alongside it, as long as you don’t waste the time you have! Obviously, you want to avoid putting so much pressure on yourself that the entire thing becomes stressful, but you also want to make sure you’re making good use of your time by spending it productively.
If you’re in your study time and have homework to do, don’t waste it by leaving it for later – make the most of the time you have to get it done and you’ll find yourself with much more time for the horses. Similarly, lingering around the yard for hours to avoid going home to study is probably not a good idea either, so it is really important to make good use of your time and honour the plan you made. Procrastination is not your friend!
It’s also important to ensure that you make a clear mental separation between study time and time at the yard. To find a good balance and get the most out of each, you need to focus on whichever activity you are doing at the time. Don’t let a bad grade at school put you off your evening lesson, or a poor run at an XC course distract you from your history assignment.
As the expression goes, ‘many hands make light work’, and this is also true in the case of caring for horses. Consider your options when it comes to who you think could potentially help you to lighten the load, whether that’s your yard manager, a friend on the yard, or even your family. Simply having a yard buddy that can turn your horse out at the same time as their own, or pop some hay in their stable, is a blessing when you’re running a tight schedule.
It may be that you think you’ll need some more regular input, so you might want to consider opting for assisted/part/full livery for your horse. Remember though, the more care provided at your yard, the more costly it will be, so if you’re a self-supporting student, this may not be a viable option.
If you’re struggling with time management but you’re on a tight budget, it’s well worth considering a part loan or share agreement, whether that’s finding someone to help out with your own horse for some of the week, or finding a horse to loan/share yourself. This can be a great way of reducing the amount of time you need to spend with the horse, riding and doing yard duties, and gives you the potential for a more flexible schedule. The most important thing with any loan or share agreement is that it works for both parties, so you’ll want to set out any rules, responsibilities and restrictions in a written contract to avoid any misunderstanding. For more information on loaning a horse, please see our article ‘Loaning A Horse Successfully – Loanee ‘Do’s And Don’ts’ For Making It Work’.
If you have the means and determination to make it work, don’t let other people who didn’t manage it put you off. Having the belief in yourself that you can balance your education and horses – without falling behind in either – is so important if you’re going to give it a go. And you can still compete and train and do everything you would normally do with your horses, just with a bit of extra planning and time awareness!
As long as you work hard and keep up with your studies during the week, it is absolutely possible to train in the evenings and then go out competing at the weekend! As long as you don’t leave all your holiday reading until the last minute, it is completely feasible to go to pony camp during the summer! What I’m getting at here is that some careful time management, along with keeping horses and school balanced in terms of priorities, can make it possible, but your own self-belief and determination is what makes it really work.
These tips are from my personal experience with horses and school. To anyone reading this that is facing having to give up their horses due to educational commitments, please understand that everyone’s circumstances are different and this advice might not apply to everyone.
If you’re struggling to balance education and horses, or considering finding a new home for your horse because of this, I urge you to talk it through with your family to decide what would be the best option for you and your circumstances. It’s never an easy conversation to have but there are many different factors that might need discussing, whether that be logistical, time based or financial, and discussing this with those closest to you can help to make the decision a bit easier and clearer.