Fear, rising prices, and the pressure to maintain an adequate work/life/sport balance is leaving many amateur equestrians feeling the burn. So how do you know if it’s time to hit the pause button?

There’s a common refrain on the internet these days seen on everything from memes and Facebook advice groups to publication forums. When it comes to horses, not only is the (board) rent too damn high, but the emotional cost of continued participation in the sport, for various reasons, is beginning to feel like a losing proposition. 

Even among my own barn friends, the refrain, “Should I just quit?”—once said mostly in jest—is being asked in a more intentional way. 

After all, is it that preposterous to wish to be out of debt and off the financial hamster wheel that keeping horses in training requires? Or to want to log more quality time with your family in place of long hours spent at the barn and traveling on weekends to horse shows? As one friend of mine so often intones, “For the hours and money I’ve spent on this sport, I could have had my own vacation home to enjoy with my kids.” 

Who wouldn’t feel guilty about that? 

In other words, it’s no wonder that these questions are being asked by our community more frequently. So are they valid? And once you start asking them, what do you do next? For that, I turned to a friend who’s uniquely qualified to answer this dilemma: Kristin M Paulson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and sports therapist who also happens to be an amateur jumper rider herself. 

“I find this topic to be a very relevant issue,” Paulson says. “Being an amateur who uses this sport for personal growth and for my own type of therapy, I, too, have spent some time thinking if it’s all worth it.”

Paulson has also noticed a spike in the “should I quit?” trend, both in her work as a therapist and among her own riding friends. She says the reasons for this shift tend to vary, but often, it comes down to either fear or finances. 

“I currently have a client who suffered a bad fall trying a new horse, and she is now left with six weeks of recovery, the stress of how her former horse will be cared for, and isolation from her barn life. What this creates is a lot of anxiety and depression,” she says. “Then, add to that the  feelings of guilt as to whether or not she really wants to return [to the sport].” 

For Paulson, the trauma of falling off is a common reason that rider-clients begin to seriously consider stepping back, especially when it comes to women with new families.

“Young mothers who once had no fear suddenly realize their health currency.  If they get hurt, there are many layers in their life that would be interrupted,” she explains. 

“So, with that reality in their view, choosing to ride—which is somewhat dangerous—now has a lot of strings attached to it. Many begin to realize they can’t spare an injury for their love of this sport. And, by extension, this same calculation can be applied to the financial burden put on oneself or one’s family.

“When something that is viewed as a ‘hobby,’ or a fun challenge, suddenly doesn’t make financial sense, what do you do?”

While Paulson notes that all of these feelings are valid, there’s also another side to the equation. “This sport is so unique in the reality that you often can’t leave it easily. If you own a horse, the idea of giving up, for some, and having to find a new situation for that horse, adds yet another layer of stress. 

“I do believe that there is no right answer, and it is truly a personal decision that should be evaluated over time,” says Paulson, adding that a good first step is to speak with a mental health professional who can help you navigate your doubts.

For example, is what you’re dealing with some type of fear or anxiety that needs to be addressed, or is it really time to, as Paulson says, “hang up your helmet”? 

And if your own cost/benefit analysis begins to dip toward the negative, it may be worth first considering a “pause” rather than a full-out exit from the sport.

“Young moms juggling toddlers and family life shouldn’t rule out a break,” Paulson suggests. “It doesn’t have to be permanent, as everyone’s situation is so different.”

As a starting place, if you’re seriously considering doing the dip, Paulson suggests asking yourself a few basic questions:  

  • What is your support network made of? 
  • What level of riding makes sense to you? 
  • Can you pause from showing and just lesson at home? 
  • Could you find someone to half-lease your horse, if you own one, to cut back your time and financial commitment but not leave the sport together?  

A final thought from Paulson, if you’re seriously considering either a temporary or permanent pause, is to think long-term.

“I have found that many of my clients do not have a fulfilling hobby in their lives [as they age],” Paulson says. “As their children grow, and are less dependent on them, they are left feeling a sense of uselessness and a lack of purpose. 

“It may not necessarily be riding, but I do believe that if you can make room to incorporate a hobby or sport that involves community, it can take you through many phases of life,” she continues. “It’s so important, as we grow, to always carve out a space that’s just for you.”