Happy Monday! The international day off for equestrians everywhere.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to unwind, the hashtag #SelfCare has 32 million hits on Instagram alone. A scroll through the explore page floods you with images of fresh nails, elaborate skincare routines, and rose petal baths by candlelight.
It’s fun to daydream, but let’s be real. That’s not what most of us are going to do when we get home from the barn. Or, on our only day off. Equestrians aren’t very good at #selfcare to begin with. My horse saw the vet more regularly last year than I saw my doctor. I know the specific feed and supplement regimen for 30 plus horses by heart, but couldn’t tell you when I last ate.
All day long we joke about how achy and cranky we are. We wear the sacrifice of our physical and mental health like a badge of honor. To an extent, it is comical how much better we are at looking after our animals than ourselves. Yet, the better we feel, the better we show up for them. Something I realized during a rough spell with my own health.
So, I made some manageable adjustments. What I learned on this venture is that an equestrian’s self care routine looks a little different than what you might see on the Instagram explore page.
I should note, I’m no health and fitness guru. Far from it. Just a regular, overworked horse person trying to make it through the week in one piece. Here are some of my ideas, maybe you have your own too:
Put on normal people clothes
Too many times after coming home from the barn I’ve found myself humming the chorus to Billy Eilish’s idontwannabeyouanymore into the mirror. I’m the type of person who really wears the day on them. Seeing yourself covered in three types of dirt, shavings, sweat, hay dust, grass slobber and God knows what else after a rough day doesn’t exactly boost your confidence. Especially going directly from that to pajamas, when I look just like my brother.
Even if you’re not planning to see anyone on your day off, sometimes it’s nice to feel put together for 24 hours. If there’s one day a when you can go to the grocery store without getting funny looks, might as well let the produce aisle be your runway.
Have an actual breakfast
Heck, take a page from the Hobbit and have second breakfast if you want. The half toasted Eggo waffles as you were running out of the house barely got you out of the week alive.
Just imagine the smell of applewood smoked bacon drifting through your kitchen, the pan sizzling in perfect harmony with the gurgling coffee pot…
Okay, or maybe this isn’t your kitchen. It’s not usually mine, I’ll admit, because I’m a bit of a shell by Monday. So my favorite tradition is going out for breakfast with my coworkers when we get a chance.
For equestrians conditioned to rise before the sun, a good breakfast can be a luxury, and it’s a really easy thing to incorporate into your day off. Plus Mimosas—if your week was particularly rough.
Address your body aches
Some get their hair done. Others get their nails done. These days I “spoil myself” by going to the chiropractor. During WEF this year I got adjusted regularly and it was the best decision I ever made. Turns out, falling off horses hundreds of times can knock you right out of alignment. After a few visits I could stand up straight, something I haven’t been able to do since I was a kid.
Not only did I spend years in pain and being reprimanded for my rolled shoulders for no reason, but I was fighting the horses for straightness when I was the real problem.
We spend years trying to make our horses into perfect athletes, when sometimes an hour of attention to our own bodies each week can help make their jobs easier too.
The chiropractor is my thing, but lots of riders swear by yoga, physiotherapy or even pilates. The point is, if you have persistent aches and pain there are lots of avenues worth trying that might help.
Make a Monday playlist
Often I’ll still do some work in the stable on Monday. Maybe a few stalls, preparing grain, walking the horses that just had a treatment, you get the idea.
When you’re mucking stalls the morning before a workday the barn aisle becomes a nascar track for wheelbarrows. The monstrous manure pile grows so rapidly that to the untrained eye it appears sentient. The continuous dumping and scrubbing of water buckets creates a ravine that develops its own ecosystem. The first hour in the stable is a terrifying and beautiful organized chaos.
On Monday, the wheelbarrows Sunday drive. Stable chores can be a cathartic experience when you’re not in any particular rush. Sometimes I’ll pop in my headphones with some acoustic sunrise vibes to drown out the stress and remind me to slow down. I’ve started to look forward to the little chores on my day off. It gives me time to think. And really, who wants to go all day without seeing their ponies?
Reduce your screen time
Working in a barn, my phone buzzes pretty constantly throughout the day with random questions and ring status updates. When the day is through, my phone can be a source of stress, because sometimes it feels like I never really leave. The messages keep popping up on the screen, and like texts from an ex that appear routinely, they’re unwelcome but tough to ignore.
As tempted as I am to break up with my phone too, I try and be attentive in case anybody needs anything. Too often that call I missed is about something important. So, my boss gets a special ring/text tone and which over time triggers a stress response strong enough to shake me from a dead sleep. That way I can put my phone down and not be paranoid every time it buzzes.
Sorry to everyone else I ignore on Monday, it’s nothing personal. I’m just tired.
Talk to someone outside the barn
This one might contradict my last point, but who am I kidding. It’s the 21st century—we’re basically cyborgs the way our phones are stuck to our hand. Thirty minutes of separation a day is admirable enough to have grandparents call you an “old soul.”
The healthiest thing I’ve ever unintentionally done is probably have a best friend who doesn’t ride. I always give her a call on my day off, and it’s refreshing to hear someone vent about things that don’t involve a bad lesson, gelding that threw a shoe or more barn drama. It reminds me that there is life outside of this industry, and something like a bad round isn’t really the end of the world. Maybe just my world (for a minute).
The best part is she doesn’t know anyone I complain about. So she always tells me I’m not crazy, they are. Best friends really are free therapy.
Attend to the responsibilities you avoided all week
I’m talking to you laundry pile. I’m a neat person on the inside, so for a few reasons it gives me anxiety when “the chair” in my room starts to resemble the Night Hag during my weekly episode of sleep paralysis. Doing my laundry at the end of the week propels me into a state of euphoria. The room is clean. I don’t have to put another Franken-Outfit together tomorrow. I feel like a functional human being again—endlessly capable.
Maybe doing normal house chores is nothing to pat yourself on the back about, but the hourglass of time and energy only has so much sand each day, and it makes me feel really good to get things in order. So, I think that wave of relief you award yourself when you check off your own neglected responsibility counts as self care.
Try a hair mask
Maybe you’re lucky, and when you take your helmet off you can elegantly shake out your shimmering Rapunzel locks. That’s not been my personal experience so far. My hair coupled with Florida humidity and a helmet creates more of an Edward Scissorhands look. Every now and then it needs some extra TLC, and so I go for a hair mask. It doesn’t really help but it makes me feel better to try.
There are tons of online tutorials with ingredients for how to make your own. I learned I wasn’t very skilled with a knife after I tried to sever a gigantic aloe leaf on the kitchen counter, to my roommate’s horror. If you don’t want to deal with a slimy mess, try one from Target.
Embrace your inner domestic goddess
To avoid the risk of being recognized at a Chic Fil A drive through and in the spirit of being healthy, throw on your apron and pull up one of the countless recipes you’ve saved from scrolling online late at night and have been “dying to try.” A lot of days I’m too burnt out to prepare something elaborate. I’m Italian, though, and feel a little responsible for upholding the stereotype that we know our way around a kitchen. I’ll never be my Nonna but on my day off I pretend.
Try to get enough sleep
Experts might recommend eight hours of sleep a night, but “Experts” never worked on a farm. It’s just not always possible during the workweek. The night we manage to turn in early is usually the night we get a 3 a.m. phone call.
I’m not complaining, I love my job. I also love sleep. Which is why I’ve realized it’s extra important to reset on your day off. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a lack of sleep negatively affects your judgement, memory and long-term health. So next time you go off course ask yourself if you got enough sleep…