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Has anyone gone through giving up competitive riding or struggled with giving it up?

I apologize in advance. This is a bit of a pity party post but I don’t really know where else to go for advice.

TL;DR: I had a dream of riding at the GP level. I am very far from getting to that point and wonder if now is the time to call it quits at my age. The expense, the struggle, the stress, it is all just feeling impossible. I am, however, also struggling to call it quits and stop riding competitively even at the low levels. Please help.

Has anyone gone through giving up competitive riding or struggled with giving it up?

Where I grew up, keeping and showing horses was affordable.

As a junior, I had a great 1.20 - 1.30m mare that we had purchased for $2k - can you believe that? Sure people had more expensive horses but I worked my butt off and sacrificed a lot to do well. I was also offered other horses to show including horses in my coach’s training program. I had decent success.

Like many young riders, I had dreams of jumping at the top level. I had schooled up to a 1.45m at home and thought if I just worked really really hard, I could maybe jump at the GP level one day.

Fast forward to my move to Canada for Uni over 11 yrs ago. I rode everything I could, sometimes getting free leases, but couldn’t afford to buy a horse let alone show much during those years.

My mother always said there was no money in horses and told me to find a job that could pay for them. So instead of working at a barn, I focused on my studies, trying to ride, and trying to set up small businesses which ended up failing during that time. I severely regret not working at a barn in my 20s or finding my way to Europe to get experience like many do.

I spent my entire 20s working to ride. I am now 31 with not much to show for it.

I do have an incredible horse who I pulled out of a field as an un-started 5 year old. After a few trying years and an injury setback, we have finally gotten to a place, where, in the last 2 years we have been showing. All I have wanted to do since coming to Canada.

I am not saving anything - I pretty much spend everything I earn on whatever my horse needs and on showing. It cost me ~30K to show in 12 local shows last year. That’s outside of board, training, supplements, farrier work, vet work, massages, equipment, etc., etc.

I can’t shake the feeling of “why am I even doing this?” We aren’t jumping very big and after not showing regularly for so long, I am always terrified before going into the ring. I sure as hell can’t afford a sports psychologist at this point.

My trainer and I feel 1.20m will be my horses’ happy place, he currently shows the 1.15m. He owes me nothing and this horse will be with me forever. My trainer says if I had a horse capable of it, I would be doing much higher by now. But I won’t be able to afford to keep him plus buy and keep another horse as well at this time.

I am finding myself feeling like what is the point in carrying on then? Why keep spending so much money only to get to the 1.20M? There are kids in my barn who will be jumping that height before me soon.

I am feeling regret, disappointment and sometimes bitterness. I am hateful towards myself for not making a ton of money to support what I love, I sometimes feel bitter that I didn’t grow up with wealthy parents. I just look at young people on the GP circuit like Cara Chad, Jennifer Gates, Katie Dinan and the like, and feel envious of how lucky they are. I am ashamed to feel this way - I know I shouldn’t. I was never this person and don’t want to me. It just seems like hard work and sacrifice don’t actually get you anywhere these days if you don’t also have money.

I truly have nothing else in my life - I work and I ride, that is it. It is so incredibly hard to let go of a dream I have had for so long. I keep trying to be logical about it and I am coming to accept it just won’t happen for me, but every time I think of letting go I can’t help but cry. Why?

I worry I will regret not keeping going later in life. But maybe what I will regret is having nothing to show for all the money I wasted. I feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

This year, I have been struggling to get out of bed, I can’t find the will to work out anymore and hate myself for gaining weight, I feel immense guilt for showing and feel like I am wasting money. I don’t know what to do. This year I have to drive 1h30 mins to my horse because my coach moved far from where we live so now I am only riding 3 times a week (she rides him the other 2 times a week). I don’t want to change coaches because my horse is very happy with her. We can’t afford to move closer.

I just don’t think I can keep doing this. It has gone from something I love more than anything to just immense stress. If I’m not stressing about competing or money, I’m stressing about my horse and if I am doing enough for him.

Can someone who has been in a similar position offer advice? I can’t speak to my husband (horse person too) about it because he thinks I should sell my horse and/or take a break to focus on work and making more money. I think my coach will tell me to find a way to keep going but my mind will tell me she’s only saying it for her gain.

Did you keep going? Did you just keep forking money to jump at the low levels? If you quit did you keep your horse in training or did they become a lawn ornament? Did you pivot to another discipline? If I do quit, what should that look like in terms of what I do with my horse - do I keep him with my coach or move him closer for light/flat work riding?

Thank you to anyone who had the will to read through this. :sweat_smile: :heart:


I am double your age. I rode and showed as much as I could for a few decades, in the jumper divisions. Being not rich, there were limitations. I rode alone at the shows, no full time coach or trainer, and kept my horses at home. Attended local jumping clinics with travelling clinicians whenever I could. Chose what shows I wanted to go to, and what I could afford. Prize money was always welcome. People don’t seem to do this often any more. I don’t think that it’s impossible to do this though, if you want to. You are not green. You don’t need your hand held, or your problems solved for you. You can warm up your own horse, and have a clue how to ride a course. Are you going to go to the Olympics? Or fly your horses around the globe to compete at the top levels of the sport? Probably not. But you can still enjoy the sport, and the competitions you can get to, at the level you and your horse are competitive at. If you want to.

I know that not a lot of riders these days attend horse shows like this, like I do, and like I have always done. Less of a “barn atmosphere” when competing alone, but less expectations and less people involved. You look after your own business, your own horse, get yourself into the warm up ring, and get in with others using the warm up fences, and get yourself into the ring when you are ready, just as if you have the right to do so. Because you do. Win, lose or draw, you load your horse up in your trailer and drive home when you are done.

I haven’t got back to the local shows much since COVID. But haven’t given up the thought of doing so.


I’m going to comment on two things that really jumped out at me, while also not addressing the biggest things because I’m at work and don’t have the time to type out my thoughts:

  1. You’re not too old for this. 31 is just starting out in the horse world, and you’ve got YEARS of good riding time.

  2. I know you say the horse will stay with you forever, but I seriously think you should consider selling him, if not now then at some point, if he’s truly going to top out at a lower height than you want to/can ride. A 1.15 horse is a very useful animal, and he will find a stellar home, and you can find a horse to fulfill your goals. If you’re a one horse amateur, you’re going to either have to decide to be happy doing whatever that One Horse can do (even if it gets hurt and becomes a pasture pet or has to step down 15 years from now!), or you need to get REAL practical.

You don’t have to choose between being a responsible owner and pursuing your goals. It’s a very good process to buy a nice horse, get it going at a useful level, sell it and use that to fund the next one. Keep buying nicer horses this way (responsibly) and you can make it happen. Especially if you don’t expect the horse to pay for all it’s board and training as part of the deal (since you’d be doing that anyway). Horse math, as we call it.

That said, it sounds like competing and boarding/training is getting in the way of responsible personal finance. You might want to take a huge step back and fix that, so that you have breathing room to pursue your goals.


I’m several decades older than you, and have ridden since I was a kid. I have been you, and have felt the same feelings you’ve shared. Now that I’m older and can look back with some perspective, this statement of yours stood out to me:

While horses and riding may define you as a person, and may in fact be your life’s blood, you need to incorporate other interests into your life. For me it was gardening, hiking and making crafts that I sold at art shows. It didn’t mean that horses meant less to me. It was more that I learned horses weren’t all of me.

I also just accepted that there are countless other riders who are just as talented as me, just as determined, just as passionate, and some of them have far, far more money than I’ll ever have. As a result they have more opportunities to show at higher levels than me. That’s just the way of the world.

So what to do? I found where my horses and I fit. The county and state-rated shows were, and continue to be, my niche. That’s where I can afford to show and be successful, and I am happily among my peers.

I’ve also explored other aspects of horse ownership and competition. I’ve ridden in televised parades, done competitive trail challenges, worked at major TB sales, had fun doing hunter paces and dabbled in western dressage. There’s an entire world of horses out there, full of all kinds of people who express their love for horses in a variety of ways. Consider expanding your equestrian horizons and meeting some of them.

And when you’re not in the riding mode, invest in your other gifts and interests. It’ll make you a more rounded individual, and help alleviate the depths of sadness you feel at times that are associated with riding. Being around horses will probably always feel like being home. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy exploring other worlds, too.


You are not alone. Every competent amature rider goes through your thought process multiple times in the their lives. Each time it is a grieving process for what could have been. Equestrianism the only athletic endeavor that doesn’t have a physical/age capability sunset in late youth (mid to late 20’s.) So it allows for new dreams, yearnings and goals - and their disappointments about every 10 years or so. You are hitting the first one. And its harder with a horse spouse because your highs and lows aren’t usually in cinque.
This is time for a life reflection (and life and financial coach) moment. A few things to ponder:

  • You aren’t a pro, so you can take any horse path that you want. Maybe try something new and low stress (and low cost,) for a while. My go to is to head to the mountains. Trail riding builds fitness, dressage, teamwork/trust and brain skills. Its a good sabbatical activity.

  • Get your financial life in order. Horses are obviously your life blood, you need them in your life on a daily basis, more than people. You need savings and retirement funds if you want to still have a pony in your yard at 80.

  • Its ok to adjust horse breeds/types in order to change paths. Maybe you need to sell your current horse because he’s too exhausting mentally for you. Or you just don’t like him. Example, I have a Trakhaner, an OTTB, and Quarter Horse. Because of the expense of having all of them there’s a pretty non-existent personal vacation budget, show budget or much of anything else besides funding retirement and enjoying good bourbon. But that’s the choice that makes me and my spouse happiest. And when there is a windfall and we show up at a competition, go cub hunting or gather cows we are more than competent . And that is good enough for a 60-ish horsewoman.

  • Find another outlet besides horses that gives you happiness or enjoyment. Gardening, cooking, or woodworking. Sometimes you just need a break from horses too.

Most of all hang in there. This too shall pass. You have a long horselife yet ahead of you.


I think this is a very real thought for anyone who isn’t simply swimming in cash. Showing is so terribly expensive, and having the horse that can make it pay off is also so terribly expensive.

I know it’s a goal you had since childhood, but have you ever asked yourself WHY it is still a goal? I think sometimes we neglect that question.

The drive of competition often doesn’t have a basis in anything tangible: it’s a drive we acquire at some point and feed off like drugs. It can be useful if it makes us strive harder for something worthwhile. It can be damaging if we push ourselves beyond our limits and crash and burn. But it’s just a drive, it’s not a result. What result should you be looking for?


@fivestrideline - Thank you for your thoughts and advice. I appreciate it,

My horse was diagnosed with mild navicular syndrome. We monitor and manage it very closely with an excellent vet and farrier team and with particular attention to his training program - all to ensure he is still comfortable and happy jumping. Because of this, I wouldn’t be able to sell him for much even IF I wanted to. I don’t trust someone not to overjump him and have him end up in a bad situation - I love this horse more than anything. As of today I am starting to wonder if an in-barn lease with me paying for his additional treatments might be an option to take a step back, save, and re-evaluate my plans.

I have thought about the buying, and selling road until I can get myself something that can jump the bigger heights. This is still in my mind. I keep thinking I just need to make enough to afford 2 horses in order to do this.

Thanks again!


Thank you @NancyM. I appreciate your comments and your story.

Keeping my horse at home is definitely another dream and I think would help with some costs - maybe. Even if it meant only having a coach a couple times a week. Where we are located an indoor is a must and its easily $1.5-$2.5M for a horse property here. It’s still something we will work towards though.

I do like having someone on the ground. Although I am not green I believe I still have a lot to learn when it comes to actually training a horse and taking them from level to level. :slight_smile:

It’s funny, for a long time my partner and I did just this. Had our horses at a regular barn, trailered to our coach for training a couple times a month, shipped in to show hear and there when we could. During that time all I wanted to do was be in a full training program. I have come to realize the expectations and pressure to show are part of my added stress. I don’t want to disappoint or let down my coach either. The grass may in fact not be greener.

Thanks again for your words!

Do this. And don’t cave to the temptation to immediately buy another horse. Use the reduction in costs to free up mental space and savings.

As far as horses at home, I’ve also considered this (and started at least one thread about it). Turns out it’s NOT cheaper, not unless you’re far enough south for year round riding without a ring or indoor, and usually you don’t start breaking even until 5+ riding equines are on the property. Just food for thought.


Take a breath. You’re only 31, you’re still very young and have decades of riding ahead of you. There’s no reason to make an all or nothing decision right this minute. This is a tough sport, and making it to the upper levels requires a combination of time, money, talent, and luck that not everyone can line up, especially so early in their lives. Most of us find ways to enjoy ourselves at the lower levels because that’s what’s feasible, and keep working and improving in case that changes down the line. I know it sounds cliche, but if you’re only focused on competitive goals and climbing the levels you’ll never really be satisfied; you need to find a way to enjoy the process for it’s own sake and take any competitive achievements as a bonus. There’s no magic formula where the amount you spend should get you certain results; you could have all the time and money in the world and still be tapped out at 1.20. It’s up to you to figure out if it’s adding value to your life or if it may be time to dial things back.

If I were you I would take some steps to get your overall stress levels under control. It’s hard to perform your best in the saddle when the rest of your life feels like it’s spiraling. Find things to do that have nothing to do with horses - non-barn friends, hobbies, whatever. Horse people are weirdly committed to the all-or-nothing obsessive lifestyle but it’s really not healthy, we all need balance. It sounds like you could benefit from talking to a therapist; struggling to get out of bed and lacking motivation for things you used to enjoy are both signs that something might be going on. Simple things like getting enough sleep, managing your finances, working out, etc will all help you feel better in the long run but can be difficult to manage when you’re at a low point, so talking to someone might help. At the very least it would give you someone to talk to who doesn’t have a vested interest in the situation like your husband and trainer do.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back for a few months and pressing the reset button. I wouldn’t make any drastic decisions right now, like selling the horse or swearing off competition forever, but just ease off for a while and see how you feel afterwards. Your horse doesn’t care about his potential or whether he’s showing at a high level; throw him out in a field for the winter and give both of you a break. You’ll either find that you miss riding even at a lower level or different discipline, or you’ll find that it’s a huge weight off your shoulders and there’s your answer.

Nothing has to be permanent. People take breaks from horses or competing all the time and get back into it when it makes more sense for them. Your riding aspirations won’t die if you can’t make it work right at this moment. Look at all the people out there who got into horses later in life, or didn’t really have the resources to compete until their kids went off to college and came back with a vengeance. You’re still early in your career, chances are your disposable income and free time will increase over the next several years and give you some opportunities that just aren’t possible right now.


Thank you @Cowboy_Girl.

This is something my husband tells me as well. Always pointing to Ian Miller and Nick Skelton as people who rode late in life. He says it is a life long endeavor which is true.

My husband and I do have plans to move west. We have friends who own a small cattle ranch out there - when we could our vacations would involve trail riding in the mountains. You’re right that its a good activity. My boy is a bit spooky so I can’t imagine what he’d do if he saw a moose on a ride but something he’d hopefully overcome. :smile:

Blockquote “Maybe you need to sell your current horse because he’s too exhausting mentally for you. Or you just don’t like him”

Although he is exhausting mentally at times I love him very much and he has my whole heart. He nickers to me, comes over in the paddock every time I go out and genuinely seems happy to see me. Maybe it’s all the carrots I give him but I like to believe he loves me too. :slight_smile:

Thank you so much. I think maybe I am just going through an emotional time and I appreciate your encouragement.

This sounds like a great plan. Even a partial lease where you hack him on the other days would give you what sounds like some much needed breathing room, financially and time-wise, if you don’t want to stop riding completely. Leases can be cancelled or adjusted if you decide to go another route, as with everything else your decisions now don’t have to be permanent.


I wasn’t precisely where you are, competitively speaking, but I did give up my dream of moving up the levels in dressage. I worked for a long time to become a good rider, had a talented horse ready to move up the levels, and yet things never worked out in my favor, and after a falling out with my instructor, I called it quits. However, I only did schooling shows, as I honestly didn’t care to do more than that - so again, not quite the same thing.

I want to address a couple of things in your post. First, at 31, you’re not at the end of your riding career by any means, but you ARE at an age where you need to focus your finances on yourself - namely, retirement and savings. If something happened tomorrow (massive medical bills or vet bills, etc.), do you have enough of an emergency fund to be okay? If not, that really needs to be a priority.

One reason it was easier for me to step away from riding was that I had other interests. I had a job I liked, I was teaching, I had friends who were non-horsey, I wrote - I had a lot of things going on besides riding (one reason behind the falling out, in fact). If you don’t have any of those things, that’s not a great work/life balance.

I would suggest (gently) finding a good therapist and talking about these things with them. Explore other interests you might have - art, theatre, volunteering, church, maybe even going back to school - anything so that if you do decide to stop riding, you’re not suddenly bereft of everything. They might also talk to you about ways to manage your anxiety and depression (because it sounds like you’re both, or at least borderline. “This year, I have been struggling to get out of bed, I can’t find the will to work out anymore and hate myself for gaining weight, I feel immense guilt for showing and feel like I am wasting money.” All of this screams depression.).

“I am feeling regret, disappointment and sometimes bitterness. I am hateful towards myself for not making a ton of money to support what I love” - this needs addressed. It sounds like you are putting far more pressure on yourself than is strictly warranted. I don’t even think you need a sports psychologist at this point, because I think the showring nerves are probably from this undue pressure to justify the expenses of riding.

Big hugs to you. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to find someone to lease your horse for six months or a year - perhaps you coach can help you find a good person - and then focus on yourself. Take the pressure off. Find a therapist. Start thinking about what your life might look like if you didn’t ride. You may find, like me, that you actually don’t miss it as much as you thought you would. My horse has been in the pasture quite happy for 14 years. Sometimes I think “what if,” but not often.


DMVeventer said very eloquently what I was trying (and failing) to write myself.

I think most of us (all of us?) have at one time or another had to face the bitter reality that we will not achieve the riding dreams and goals of youth. I, too, have had (and sometimes still do) envy those with more resources and support than I. But part of finding happiness in life is learning to love what you have and be satisfied with what you achieve.

I will say that turning 30 was a big milestone in my life. I definitely took a long look at my life and reassessed my goals, my lifestyle and really questioned what I needed and wanted out of life to be happy and ultimately made some big changes. I did this with the support of a great therapist, some other outside resources and a lot of honesty and digging deep.

Some of what you shared - struggling to get out of bed, unable to find the will to work out, hating yourself for gaining weight - makes me think there could be more going on - you could be struggling with depression and may not have realized it or admitted it to yourself.

Take a deep breath, be kind to yourself. You are actually already achieving far more than many of us will ever see. But you are the one that needs to be able to see the value and satisfaction in that.


@dmveventer - Thank you!

This is extremely helpful advice.

You are right. I do need to find a way to enjoy the process again. My mind immediately goes to my age and feeling like I don’t have enough time, rather than just enjoying my horse and working on personal goals. I try to remind myself of this but sadly get bogged down in seeing everyone else winning and moving up the levels. I end up comparing myself unfavorably when the truth is I just don’t have the money they do - to have 3 horses in training and competing at various levels - so I am going to be behind and that’s ok. Or I need to find a way to feel like it’s ok and not blame myself for not working harder. I will try to focus on how far my horse and I have come, I do know we’ve come a long way and greatly appreciate the reminder.

I do need to take a step back for sure. I have one more show and then it’s off-season for us so that might be a good time to reevaluate what I want and to enjoy just spending time with my horse without the pressure.

Really, thank you very much!


I started riding at 30. I started eventing at 32. So being a late -starting adult I had little expectation of ever being an upper level competition rider. Being challenged by riding in clinics with Lucinda Green, Bruce Davidson, David O’Conner, Jimmy Wofford and others changed the little expectation factor to no expectation. I found that I enjoyed being with other eventers way more than I actually liked competing itself, and I kept at it just for that.

But then at 40 some of my eventing friends introduced me to fox hunting. No competition stress, no obsessing with perfect circles and such, just a flat out adrenaline rush. I was hooked, and had no regrets other than no longer regularly being around eventing people.

If you are a fierce competitor and need that show competition in your life my story won’t mean anything to you.


I am also a bit older than you, been there and done that a bit. You are still young in equestrian years and have many more decades before you are truly too old to jump the big sticks, or maybe hit upper levels in some other discipline.

I achieved the dream of having horses at home. A cost has been that competition is no longer as accessible to me for a few reasons. It’s okay. I haven’t totally given up my dreams of competing but I’ve also maybe changed my life views about the value of that to me. I have other things that are important to me and that for me I think are places I can have more impact, and that’s cool too.

There are so many ways to have fun with horses. So many people to learn from. If you’re stressed and not enjoying it, take a break and do something different. You will come back stronger and smarter.

Don’t get too stuck into “no one will treat my horse as I will.” There are people out there who will, or you can do a lease as you suggested, and you won’t know unless you make the offer out. It’s okay if you don’t get “full value” - because sometimes just getting out from under the bills and the responsibility of a horse that isn’t suiting you is enough. We all got our horses because someone else was willing to let them go.

But also: maybe there’s another discipline that would be fun for you and this horse.

One thing I like about dressage is that it’s very easy to set personal goals you control. I want to get X% at Nth level - that’s something I can do regardless of how fancy the people are around me and how many shows there are. See what other kinds of competitions are around that could be fun. I used to take my dressage horse to the local $4 gymkhana - not to be fast but just to be out and about. I’m thinking about checking out the competitive trail riding people do local to me.

Hunters and jumpers can be very unsatisfying if all you’re doing is completing, but there are other disciplines where just going out is its own fun. Or, maybe you can make the completing fun by taking on a young horse.

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Lots of excellent and thoughtful advice here.

All I will add is, as an exercise, try imagining real happiness. Not “winning” not “achieving”, just happiness. Joy, contentment. What would it feel like? What would it look like? Get very detailed with it, down to what the weather is, and exactly what you are doing, and who with. Don’t make any assumptions, just let it spontaneously flow.

Do a few separate sessions where you do some visualizing and then write down what you thought of and how it felt.

And then get back to us!


Good luck! I hope you find a way to enjoy yourself again. This sport makes us all feel crazy sometimes, finding balance is a constant work in progress.

Personally, I switched disciplines. I knew I didn’t have the money to really commit to the H/J world and would constantly feel “less than” if I tried. Eventing is more affordable in general and with 3 disciplines in 1 even the lower levels are challenging enough to keep me occupied for now. There are a lot of smaller skills to master and tangible ways to measure progress that don’t involve moving up levels. It’s not for everyone, but if you think eventing or dressage might interest you I would definitely give it a try; worst case you’ll build useful skills that will serve you well back in the jumper ring.


Ray Hunt was still starting colts in his 90s. :slight_smile: