8 Tips to Help You Balance School and Riding

10/05/2022

If you’re worried about how to balance schoolwork and horseback riding, you’re not alone. 


Every September, riders swap long days at the barn for long days in the classroom. Homework replaces hacks, and student equestrians begin the school / horse balancing act, trying to make time for a time-consuming hobby and the responsibilities of school and life.


If you’re a student rider, whether you’re in elementary, high school, or college, these 7 top tips will help you balance school and horseback riding. 


student typing at laptop

  1. Know Your “Why”


Balancing riding, schoolwork, and life isn’t easy - it takes dedication and motivation. 


Before we talk about how to balance it all, it helps if you first understand why you’re doing it and what your goals are. Understanding why you’re doing something will inspire you to keep at it, even when it gets difficult.


As Mark Twain famously said, “a person who has a why can withstand any how.


You probably know what you need to do (finish biology homework by Tuesday, get up early for a morning lesson on Saturday, for example), but what will inspire you to keep going is knowing why you’re doing something. 


If you can associate an action with a goal, it will help motivate you to do it, even if you’re tired or really don’t feel like it. 


So, let’s take those things you need to do and tie them back to a larger goal. For example: 


What: “I need to finish my biology homework by Tuesday.” 

Why: “I want to get into a top-ranked college veterinary program (goal), so I’m going to make sure my bio homework is ready by Tuesday (action).”


What: “I need to wake up at 6:30 am on Saturday for a riding lesson.”
Why: “I want to finish in the top 3 of my division this year (goal), so I’m taking extra lessons to improve my riding (action).” 


The thought of getting into a great college and being division champ is much more inspiring than the thought of homework and early mornings. 


row of horses in stables

  1. Plan Ahead


Planning ahead helps you see potential conflicts before they become issues. 


For example, if you have three big tests in 1 week, that’s probably not a good time to enroll in a coaching clinic or volunteer to muck stalls at the barn. It might be better to opt for a hack instead of a lesson or make arrangements for a friend to exercise your horse if you’re going to be busy that week. 


Likewise, if you have horse shows or other major events already planned, you can give your teachers a heads up about missed classes or let them know if you’ll need an extension to complete assignments. They may not always be able to accommodate you, but they’ll appreciate the heads up. 


Planning ahead is also critical for reducing your stress, too. The last thing you need is to come home from the barn Sunday evening and realize you have a huge paper due Monday morning that you totally forgot about. 


Use a day planner, agenda, or app to track your assignments and riding lessons. 


girl writes in day planner


Apps like iStudiez Pro help students manage class time and extracurricular activities. If you just need help staying on track with homework, an app like myHomework planner can help you stay on top of your assignments.


Or opt for an app like Todoist, a time and task management app that isn’t strictly for students but is great at scheduling other life commitments, like riding lessons and social events. 


For more apps horsepeople love, check out Equinavia’s 9 Best Mobile Apps for Equestrians


The more you plan, the less likely you will be caught off guard by “last minute” schoolwork. 


  1. Set a Consistent Schedule


You have a class schedule, so why not a homework one, too? Setting aside even 60-90 minutes after school to do homework while you’re still in “school mode” can help you get a lot done. 


An added bonus: knowing you’ve made progress can help clear your mind before you ride, so you can focus on your horse and not worry about all the work waiting for you at home. 


school agenda and schedule


If you own or part board, try to schedule your practice rides for a consistent day and time too, if your barn doesn’t already do this. 


Not only does a consistent schedule make the horse’s life easier, but it makes scheduling the rest of your life easier. If you know you always hack Tuesdays from 6-7:30, you can schedule appointments or social events around that time. 


Oddly enough, this same rule applies to distractions, too (more on that below). 

  1. Banish Procrastination 


It’s easy to avoid procrastination if it’s something you enjoy doing (like going to the barn). But if it’s something that’s less exciting (like homework), it’s much easier just to procrastinate and delay the unpleasant task.  


Help keep your studies on schedule by avoiding procrastination triggers that lure you away from the task at hand. Here are a few tips to help you avoid procrastination: 

Eliminate Distractions 

Do homework in a quiet place away from distractions. This could be a desk at home, or the backseat of Dad’s SUV at a show. 


Set yourself up to win, so turn notifications off when it’s time to study or do homework. If you have to, leave your phone in another room so you’re not tempted to look at it.

Prioritize

It can be hard to know where to start when you have so many things to do. Combine your horsey and school to-do’s and set priorities based on urgency and due dates. 


Choosing a lab partner for next week can probably wait until that dirty tack is clean, but you need to log some study hours before you can go shopping for a new lead rope

Reward Yourself 

Balancing horseback riding and schoolwork can be challenging, so ensure you’re rewarding yourself for a job well done. Using the barn as a reward is pretty effective! Just promise yourself that you don’t head to the barn until your homework is done. 


Or use other rewards, like not watching that new episode until you’ve finished scrubbing the mud off your paddock boots or have finished your homework. 

girl riding horse in open field

Schedule Distraction Time

Instead of falling victim to distractions - schedule them!  Rather than telling yourself you’ll never use social media or watch Netflix again, schedule time for them so you can focus on your priorities without feeling deprived. 


Ideally, schedule “distraction time” for after you’ve taken care of your regular responsibilities. Decide you can scroll Instagram and stream all the binge-worthy shows you love- but only after 8 PM. 

  1. Master “Little and Often”

You know the best way to pull a mane is a few strands at a time instead of trying to yank out big (and painful!) chunks. So why not give yourself the same kindness? 


Instead of waiting until the last minute to cram or staying up all night trying to finish an assignment, break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks, and do a little bit every day. 


For example, if you have a test next week, just study for 15 minutes every day. 15 minutes isn’t long and is easy to fit into your day. But multiply 15 minutes a day by 2 weeks, and that’s an incredible 3 ½ hours of studying! 


And you’ll retain and absorb more information if you review it regularly instead of trying to cram for hours the night before, so your study time will be more effective. 


girl working on laptop, sitting on couch with dog


The same approach works for big assignments and essays, too. 


“Finish English essay by Friday” is a pretty daunting task. But if you break it down into smaller tasks that can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time (say half an hour), you’ll do a better job and get it done more easily than if you try to do it all at once. 


For example, that English essay due on Friday might look more like this:


-Weekend: choose a topic and outline the essay.
-Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: write just 1 paragraph a day.
-Thursday: write the intro and conclusion paragraphs.
-Friday: final edit. 


Checking off a task every day, even if it’s just a small task, is rewarding and motivating. Seeing how much closer you are to your goals will encourage you to keep going, and keeping the time limit for each task short makes it easy to get started. 

  1. Make the Most of Every Moment 

Scheduling is wonderful, but keep an eye out for those extra moments you can carve out to accomplish your goals. 


Instead of relaxing in the barn lounge and gossiping with your barn buddies, can you clean your tack or polish your boots while you chat? 


You can start on some homework while you’re waiting for your parents to pick you up, or do homework in the car to and from riding lessons.


car parked outside paddock


The very best place to get lots of schoolwork done, of course, is school! Spend spare periods or study halls at the library getting work done instead of just hanging out. If you have an hour for lunch, try eating for half an hour and studying for the second half an hour. 


My favorite school study tip is to get a jump on homework as soon as the teacher assigns it - while you’re still in class. Or get to class early and spend the first few minutes working on homework while the rest of the class is getting settled - you’d be surprised how much 5 or 10 minutes here and there adds up. 


girl writing on paper on desk

  1. Beat Burnout

While proactively managing your time is essential for balancing your education and equestrian aspirations, it’s also important to take care of yourself, too. If every waking moment is consumed by homework and horse responsibilities, you’re bound to get burnt out eventually. 


Here are a few tips to help student equestrians avoid burnout:

Schedule “Me Time”

You give your horse a day off after a hard ride or big show, so remember to extend the same care to yourself. 


Whether it’s a major event, exam week, or just a hectic few days, schedule some downtime for yourself and do something that refreshes and renews you - an afternoon with friends, catching up on your favorite shows, maybe some yoga and a warm bath, or just catching up on sleep. Find something that helps you relax, and make time to do it - you deserve it! 

Get Enough Rest

Between early mornings at the barn and late nights in front of the computer, it’s easy to think the key to getting it all done is adding a few hours to your day by cutting back on sleep. Please, don’t. 


Sleep is essential to maintain your physical and mental health, and consistently not getting enough sleep can cause bigger problems later and set you up for burnout. If you find yourself with just too much to do and not enough hours in the day, look at reducing your responsibilities to ensure you have enough time for sleep.

Practice Mindfulness

Rushing from class to class and then the barn and back while constantly worrying about your next assignment, lesson date, or when board fees are due is a surefire recipe for burnout. Sometimes, you need to slow down to get ahead. 


Take a few minutes to stop and allow yourself to breathe deeply and simply exist for a few moments without the expectation to “do” anything. A few mindful moments can help refocus your energy and center yourself. Not only will you feel more relaxed at the moment (something your horse will appreciate), your improved focus will help you get more done outside of the barn, too. 


Mindfulness training can even extend to the time you spend with your horse. Practicing equine mindfulness exercises like matching your breathing to your horse’s or giving him a slow, soothing massage can help deepen your bond while you give yourself some much-needed self-care time.

  1. Enlist Help

Managing your time is ultimately your responsibility, but that doesn’t mean others can’t be allies. 

Let your family know about your schedule, and politely ask them not to interrupt you when you’ve set aside time for studying. The same goes for friends, too - if you’re hitting the books every day from 4 - 6 PM, tell them the best time to reach you is after 6. 


If you have to miss classes due to a horse show, ask your teacher if they can email you your homework, or ask a classmate if you can borrow their notes for the classes you missed (and offer to return the favor too, of course). 


The same goes for your show team or barn buddies - if you need to finish up some homework at the barn or show, just let them know you need half an hour in the tack room to yourself and ask them not to distract you. 


Chances are other riders are in the same situation, so you’ll probably find people are surprisingly supportive of (and maybe even a little inspired by) your excellent time management skills and will be happy to support you. 

Conclusion: Saved by the Bell

graduate and mom waving


Balancing an equestrian passion with educational responsibilities isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. 


If you understand why success matters to you, are proactive with planning, scheduling, and avoiding distractions, make the most of your time, and ask for help when you need it, you’ll be well on your way to balancing horseback riding with school and the rest of your life. 

 

Tags: Sophie Baker

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