You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly have burnout. Burnout creeps up over time and is a common problem for riding instructors.

What is Burnout? defines burnout as “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.” 

The Business Dictionary defines burnout this way:

  1. Feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion, due to stress from working with people under difficult or demanding conditions. Burn out is followed by signs such as chronic fatigue, quickness to anger and suspicion, and susceptibility to colds, headaches, and fevers. 
A fire burns out when all of it’s fuel is consumed.

Most riding instructors start out as passionate horse lovers committed to doing their best. They’re involved with horses because life without them is incomprehensible.

Passionate people pour themselves into their careers and since we all know that horses are a lifestyle, not an activity, they think nothing of the 24/7 consumption of their life.

Passion is what drives us to be our best, to motor on when things get tough, and to exhaust ourselves. Passionate people stick around for the long haul. Those without passion rarely last.

Personally I love passion. For me it’s a fuel that fires life and makes things worth doing.

Passionate people can burnout.

Is that All?

What other occupation requires a person to be “on” twenty-four-hours a day, seven days a week? Parenting? A horseman isn’t going to walk away from their colicking horse at 2:00 A.M. any sooner than a mom will walk away from her colicking infant. 

Maybe we wouldn’t burnout if our lives only involved taking care of a few horses, but a riding instructor’s life is so much more.

We run a business and no matter what level of instruction or type of program you have there are problems inherent to your business that require attention and answers.

Plus, there are the students. Keeping them happy. Helping them progress. Keeping them safe. And keeping them coming. Oh and keeping them on schedule, dealing with their vacations and prom, and getting them to pay their lesson bills.

There are the parents- or significant others if you teach mainly adults. Keeping them happy, and the list continues.

Did I mention motivating people, listening to barn squabbles, handling student emotions like fear…

And scheduling? Riding Instructors have to work their schedules around everyone else’s—after school, after work, on Saturdays when others are off. I’ve given lessons at 6 A.M for people who wanted to ride before work. And there’s rescheduling and weather scheduling. Scheduling around shows and events.

The pull on a riding instructor’s time and talent is endless.

And then there’s your own personal life… Do you even have one?

Here’s What Burnout Can Look Like

You’re tired. Not just because you had a long day but you’re always tired. You can’t remember the last time you felt fresh 

Your energy is down.

You have headaches, are always catching coughs or whatever else is going around, but like a trooper you push through.

Your lessons are the same old lessons you always teach and frankly, you’re tired of teaching them.

You can’t get everything done.

Maybe you have accidents and you misplace stuff more than normal.

You dread having to teach certain students or see parents or a particular border.

People are beginning to annoy you. 

You start blaming others even if it’s just in your mind.

Your attitude changes. No one appreciates what you’re trying to teach them. They expect you to do everything for them. You feel like you’re being used.

Perhaps you get angry at your horses, angry at your students.

You begin to think about a career change.

And it’s possible you look like something the dog dragged from the pasture.


Maybe you don’t have all the aforementioned characteristics. The point is people suffering with burnout are exhausted, frustrated, their health suffers, and I don’t want that to be you. Instructors with burnout wave goodbye to their motivation as it exits the barn door—without closing it, of course. 

Burnout happens in all types of careers and lifestyle.

What to Do


Recently I took an online course through The instructor, Thomas Umstattd, had advice that applies to riding instructors. He said, only do what only you can do. Delegate the rest. Read it again, slowly. Think about it. We do everything. I won’t go through another long list because you already know what I’m talking about. Good help is hard to find. And it’s expensive.  Maybe you haven’t reached the point in your career that you can pay people to help. Be creative. Barter. Trade. Find a way to alleviate some of your tasks.

Consider Your Brand

Burnout can result from working toward goals that don’t resonate with you. Students whose goals don’t line up with yours can cause frustration. People who have unrealistic expectations usually end up dissatisfied. And parents who want you to make olympic champions out of their twelve-year-old who takes lessons once a week are difficult to deal with. Or even the student who wants to barrel race when you want to teach hunt seat is at odds with your goals.

Evaluate who you want to be in the riding instruction field and work toward the goal of your preferred clientele. Your goals and type of teaching are part of your brand. If you don’t believe me look at the big names: George Morris, Jimmy Wofford, Bernie Traurig, Tom McCutcheon, Steffen Peters. Sure, you say, “They’re at the top of the pyramid. They’re famous. Champions.”

But guess what? They didn’t start there and just the mention of their name gives you a picture of their brand- what they do, what kind of students or horses they take, what they stand for. Start cultivating your brand- your kind of student who shares your goal—now. The more you try to be everything for everyone the closer you come to burnout.

Be Kind To You

I’m not your mother, but I know riding instructors eat on the fly. They eat junk food at horse shows between classes, donuts or drive thru breakfast sandwiches in the morning, pizza at barn parties, and they hit the drive thru again on the way home from the barn. Take time to shop for healthy groceries. Plan meals. Take healthy food to the barn and to shows. Invest in a crock pot so you can have a yummy meal when you arrive home. Drink more water. Do whatever it takes to eat correctly.

And get regular exercise.  I hear you. “Are you kidding me? I’m on my feet all day. I haul bags of feed, ride horses, blah blah blah…” but you need sustained cardio and respiratory building exercise. Go to the park and walk the trails, ride a bicycle, run along the beach, swim. Do something for your body that isn’t horse related. Give your body the chance to develop a rhythm, to be healthy. And schedule it.

Sleep. Turn off the late night TV, phone, tablet, or computer (they have rays that interfere with your sleep long after you shut them down) and go to bed. Sleep is the optimum healing time for your body. Take advantage of it. Use a sleeping mask if you have to.


Here’s my bonus suggestion. Do something for yourself. You don’t have to go to a spa or even for a mani pedi. But at least take a regular day off. Have fun, a “me” day. And treat yourself like you’re special, because you are.

What about you? What are the things that drive you to the brink of burnout? Do you have suggestions on how instructors can avoid it? I’d love to hear.

Here’s to great students and creative instructors!

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • Thank you so much! I really needed this. I’m tired, frustrated and bitchy at times! I need to slow down and delegate! Thanks for the push!

    • Hi DeDe,
      I’m glad the post helped. Try to remember how much you love horses and teaching, too. It’s pretty amazing that we get to do this. Thanks for your comment. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Perfect article on Instructor burnout. After 56 years in the industry I’m on the edge of selling farm, horses, tack, equipment. Everything and…….

    • Hi Robin,
      56 years is a long time and I bet you’ve impacted the lives of a lot of people and horses. You probably know a thing or two about burnout as well. Horse are such a way of life thing that i’s hard not to give them 24/7. I hope if you sell it’s because you’ve got great plans for the future. Thanks for commenting. Barbara Ellin Fox

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