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Suggestions? How to feel more fulfilled

I know we don’t talk about feelings much here, but I’d like to!

I love my horse and riding more than anything, and being at the barn or on my horse is my happy place. And yet, more and more I feel so lonely in my riding. This creeping thought of “What am I doing this for?” sneaks up on me and self doubt creeps in. Maybe these feelings are getting more prevalent because show season is winding down here, kids at my boarding barn are back in school, and there’s less to look forward to.

I’d love to hear about your experiences. How are you feeling? What keeps you going? What has helped you find more fulfillment in your riding?

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I’ve felt this way often over the years, too, though it was usually when I was struggling more with my horse. It seemed like everyone else was going out and being successful except for me. To a degree, it is still that way. Several people at my barn have been successfully showing the past couple of years, but I’ve only been able to get my horse out once this year to a schooling show. Partly due to finances, and somewhat because I didn’t feel confident taking him to bigger venues. Most of the shows my trainer and others have been going to have been recognized. So, without having my own truck and trailer, there wasn’t always room for me to go even if I felt ready for bigger shows. Also, I don’t want to spend money on recognized shows if I don’t think I can be successful!

Additionally, I also struggle a lot with feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I don’t have many friends here. I moved to the area within the last two years, and outside of work, it’s really difficult to meet people. Some of the people at my barn do stuff together, but even though they seem to like me and I like all of them, I don’t usually get invited to go along. I genuinely feel like there must be something wrong with me and I try to monitor my behavior by making sure I’m not talking as much, not being overly opinionated or coming across as insensitive, making sure that I’m not complaining, etc. but I still feel like a weirdo who doesn’t fit in anywhere. I’m actually a pretty empathetic person, have a decent sense of humor, and try to be the things that a good friend would be, maybe I’m still falling short? I honestly don’t know.

What DOES help, thankfully, is that I have some really nice co-workers. Also, my work has different things for staff like morning workout groups and there are other opportunities for me to get involved and volunteer. And my horse is awesome! He’s doing really well with his training and my riding has improved tremendously. I hope that I can get him out more next year and get some scores toward our bronze. But yeah…even though I treasure my alone time, I do feel lonely and melancholy pretty regularly. At this point, I fear it is just part of my personality and I’m not sure it will ever change.


A couple of serious bouts of omg am I going to lose my horse to founder (5 years ago) and asthma (last year) have really helped me. :joy:

Coming back from the founder I made a deal with myself that I could be happy enjoying my horse if all we could ever do was hack around level fields in a walk enjoying sunsets and scenery. She came back. Finances didn’t (pooh :frowning: ) so we continued with training and having fun.

Friday night wine nights (grab pizza or every brings a snack, sit on bales in the barn enjoying watching horses eating, drink some wine, tack up, swap horses, shoot the breeze), obstacle course weekend afternoons (take the initiative and say you’re going to set up and ask if anyone else would like to join in), “run” barrel patterns in dressage style between other people’s serious barrel runs, organize a group hack around the property, etc. If group things like these are important - take the initiative and ask others if they’d like to join you rather than waiting for an invitation to join their activities.

On your own, take your phone out and snap pix of anything kinda cool - flowers, trees, animal footprints, etc. If your horse is safe, do “free-range” hacks where you allow your horse to decide where to go (that can really give you some interesting insights to their personality), pick one exercise to work on and get really in depth with it, choose an exercise which may be above current level (maybe half steps or half pass or pirouettes) and figure out step by step how to get there - find the fun in training.

All that said, I do miss my own wheels and I sometimes miss showing. I’m not going to let those things get me down on the daily though. There is so much I can learn from horse and teach my horse.

I have figured out how to enjoy my rides without needing to feel like I am working towards the show ring every day. I give myself permission to fiddle diddle around at least one or two days a week. My horse appreciates it a free-range hack, a proper hack, playing over a small jump, etc.

Always remember that we do this thing because we love horses not because we need to live up to someone else’s goals or expectations.


What’s kept me going in horses the past 15 years is that riding is the thing in my life that gives me joy outdoors relaxation exercise and meditation all in one packet

That said there are periods in my life where extra stress from outside horses makes it harder to access that joy. Also when extra stress makes me low-key question everything I’m doing in life :slight_smile:

It’s important to know in your inner heart how much external vs internal validation you need in different aspects of your life. I’m pretty much internally motivated and don’t want that many people chitchatting around me, but I do miss my actual friends when they are out of the barn.

I got a truck and trailer for going trail riding when I started to get bored.

Anyhow, if you are truly just objectively bored then your busy mind can create fun challenges and new training objectives. If you are externally motivated then you need to figure out how to initiate shared challenges or objectives. And if you are just feeling blah because of outside life stress, then you need sort those out, let riding be what it is for now, and not go down rabbit hole stressing about “why don’t I have the right feelings anymore?”

Don’t police your feelings. Let them come and go

One of the other commenters here talked about making friends.

Something it took me to me 3Os to learn was that you don’t make friends with a group. You make friends with individuals. Then they include you in group activities with their other friends. So take the initiative. Target the several people you want to be actual friends with and do the things adults do. Start conversation to see if you share values and interests. Gradually mutually reveal more about your lives. Ask for help or advice on a horse related thing. See if they want to trail ride together. Be genuinely interested. Eventually you can go for coffee with them at a place near the barn. Go to a tack sale or horse show to watch, something above your competency as a rider like a big Grand Prix competition or a 4* CDI or go audit a clinic. You take the initiative.

If you don’t like any of them enough to spend 4 hours driving to and scouring the annual Therapeutic Riding Charity Tack Swap or auditing an Olympic level clinician or etc, then why would you want to spend time in a group?

Take the initiative to make friends with individual people. It’s not grade 8, you don’t join cliques or teams


I honestly have to say that I have not had these feelings in at least the last 30 years. Prior to that, however, I did. I was struggling in my chosen discipline, listened to many well-meaning and often well educated people, buying and following their recommendations. I just wasn’t happy but I was not about to give up, not on horses anyway. So I did some soul searching and prioritized what I wanted, what really made me happy and gave me a purpose. I selected a breed after two solid focused years of research (on top of many years of experience already under my belt) or perhaps the breed selected me. I then decided what I wanted to do with that breed in terms of discipline(s) and started selecting and acquiring breeding stock along with ambassadors of the breed. From there it was simply tweaking the plan as life throws the unexpected curve balls but there wasn’t a day that I didn’t wake up and look forward to the next phase of my journey. I have had to retire my breeding program but I retained two from that and acquired a couple more well suited beasts; so, my herd of four still give me a purpose, not too far from the one I identified 30+ years ago. I just don’t have mares or stallions anymore; so, it somewhat simplified my path but the path is still there. What keeps me going is the bond I share with my horses and their development as willing, steadfast partners. I train(ed) mine from the ground up so their progress alone gives me fulfillment. I will confess that showing and getting confirmation of that progress also continues to fuel my fire. I take great pride in being breeder, trainer and rider; but, I also take great pride and feel a commitment to show those to their best that are from fellow breeders as well. I consider it a responsibility of mine to do so but I guess that gets back to having selected a breed or breeds as it were.


#1 thing that works for me is being motivated by the process of improving my riding and figuring out what brings out the best in each horse. I’ve always felt the most fulfilled when I’m fully invested in my daily rides and seeing progress so the showing becomes a nice bonus but not my main priority. For me that means having access to good instructors that keep me engaged and progressing is really key.

This could also be a sign it’s time for a discipline switch or something. At the end of my junior years I was feeling pretty discouraged and really didn’t know how to get back to enjoying riding. A good coach talked me into trying a jumper class (had been doing exclusively hunters before that) and it was like a light bulb went off. I just enjoyed it so much and it played to my strengths a lot more. Shortly after that I took some time off riding after college and decided to try out eventing when I came back, and I haven’t looked back since. With hindsight I can identify the things about the hunters that weren’t serving me, but at the time I was too close to it to make that leap on my own.


This is a hard one to try to answer since all I know is that you posted in the dressage forum. How about sharing a bit about your path to where you are now? How’d you get started riding, what disciplines have you tried, etc. ?


General answer to the question in the title:

  1. do not compare yourself to others.
  2. help other people.
  3. practice gratitude for what you have.
  4. pay attention to the present moment instead of regretting the past or being anxious about the future.

Do those things and you will probably fix whatever the problem is.


Interesting, was feeling just like this on my ride tonight. But I also ask myself am I feeling like that because crazy red mare is still so unpredictable. Was spooking at the wind tonight, nothing I couldn’t ride but…not a fun ride, always ready.

Also, I don’t have a community anymore. My riding friends have moved away or stopped riding.
I strongly suspect if I could haul somewhere and feel more confident on red mare I would get back in the zone. I really don’t know what to do.


Well, this is a really interesting question—I haven’t experienced this, probably because I was a horse crazy kid that couldn’t have a horse, so now I am getting to fulfill my childhood fantasy as an adult. And I always feel like any of my horse related struggles are very much “1st world problems” in the big scheme of things.

That being said, I have always boarded my horse and notice that some of the boarders definitely get their energy and motivation from the social aspect of the riding community. They love their horses, and riding, but if they owned their own farm, and just rode on their own—I predict they wouldn’t ride much or at all. Others are goal oriented and competitive, so having shows to work toward definitely keeps them motivated. Then there are those that just love making progress with their horse through lessons/clinics or just riding on their own. There are some people that enjoy grooming and hanging out with their horse and the riding aspect is a sidebar for them.

So what is it that is your favorite part of owning or riding your horse? Is it the group of like-minded friends that occupy the same “happy place” as you? Or is it doing lessons and feeling your horse (and you) make improvements? Or does a show on your calendar motivate you to ride more often with more purpose? You might need to think about the times you were happiest or most engaged in your riding. What was the situation? What were the factors that really got you excited about being with your horse or riding?

We all have different reasons, some very complex, for why we are drawn to horses and/or this discipline (assuming you are interested in dressage since you posted here). Understanding what makes you feel fulfilled during your horse time is the first step towards understanding why you are feeling this way.


Well, most of the time I feel slightly overwhelmed and/or behind schedule :joy: but that’s because I have multiples to ride and also a farm to maintain. The horses are all at different stages and are all slightly different types of rides, so it keeps me on my toes and thinking.

I have had horses at home for 10+ years, and TBH I also haven’t been to a show in just as long (for unrelated reasons), so I have had a lot of time to discover and re-discover my motivations and set goals that don’t revolve around show seasons or rely on the social aspects of boarding life. I stopped taking myself so seriously and re-discovered my inner horse kid - the one that would have been ecstatic just to have a horse, any horse at all. I find joy in the horses, whether it’s dinking around bareback in a halter, doing in hand work, starting youngsters under saddle, taking my oldster for his “check the fences” walks, and everything in between. Every time I get to swing a leg over is a beautiful day. I just enjoy the training process.

I collect cast off horses, the ones that end up at the bottom of the barrel. I do not buy fancy expensive horses. It started out as pure economics - it was what I could afford as a young adult, so I’d buy cheap hard luck horses and make them up into something nice. As it turns out, I find it extremely fulfilling. Now I just do it because I enjoy it, and because I am good at it.

On a smaller level, I always look forward to a particular horsemanship challenge that comes around every winter. It was started up by a friend/neighbor of mine years ago, and has grown so big that thousands of people from around the world, across disciplines, join in. There is a set number of days in which to get in a certain number of rides and a certain number of ‘horsemanship’ hours, and there is a FB group where participants post about their progress and support each other. There are no awards or prizes, just feeling like you accomplished something. Even when I haven’t completed the challenge, I’m still better off for all the extra hours it pushed me to spend with my horse.


OH man. Good thread. I haven’t read the replies but will make myself a cuppa and settle in to do so.

I feel/felt like this a lot, especially when boarding but not in a “program” or when boarding in just a mixed-discipline backyard barn. I kept on plugging, sporadically finding new instructors/barns that I hoped would be “it” and bring the spark back but no luck.

I think I might have finally found it though. Early days yet, and I don’t board so it’s just lessons, but I have my fingers crossed that after 20 years out of my young rider days I might finally be back in the game.


Most shows are always looking for volunteers. Its a great way to get to know others, and many volunteers are in a similar place to you i.e. interested but not showing at that show for various reasons and perhaps also feeling a little left out. Also stop by your barnmates’ stall area to say hi. Especially at the end of the day, this is when people are likely to be hanging out and chatting.


I feel your pain. I’ve been asking myself what I am doing with horses for the last couple of months.

I recently stopped taking lessons with a trainer I just didn’t feel comfortable with. Honestly, I think she was having me use shortcuts to push my horse, probably to cover over my crappy riding, and he was increasingly unhappy in his work. I tried a different trainer who found so many faults in my riding, I am questioning the thousands of dollars I’ve spent in lessons over the last 10 years. I’ve never considered myself a good rider, but I thought I was at least reasonably competent.

I am at 15K in vet bills for the year and my other horse just tore her check ligament and is off for the next 6 months at minimum and potentially permanently retired at 18. I consistently spend 3X more on my horses than I do myself - I can’t remember the last time I had a massage, but my horses get bodywork and chiro on a regular basis. I’ve lost touch with non-horsey friends because I am always at the barn. I am definitely having a WTF am I doing moment.


How are you feeling? What keeps you going? What has helped you find more fulfillment in your riding?

When I was younger I felt very pressured to Keep Up (or keep pushing to some unknown end). I had a wonderfully athletic, incredibly capable, super lovely horse. As magnificent as he was, however, I was just a sack of potatoes who had absolutely no knowledge (and even less skill :joy:)
Once upon a time a friend told me “[horse] doesn’t care about living up to his potential, [horse] doesn’t care if he never shows himself off, [horse] just wants to be fed and watered, have a clean stall, adequate turnout, and when handled, to be handled with kindness.”

I won’t lie, that kinda knocked me off the rails for a bit but it turns out, it’s what I needed to hear. (And, free from the pressure/expectation/self imposed obligation To Perform, we actually got quite proficient.) That said - he passed away very unexpectedly in a very sudden way. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back into horses after it, I felt like he was my once in a lifetime.

When the horse bug came nipping (as it tends to do…) and I ended up with another horse, I told myself that there would never be any expectations with her. If she wants to do dressage (what I bought her for), that would be great. If she’d rather we go event, that’s fine. If she just wants to be my very expensive trail partner, that’s OK too - because I enjoy her. I enjoy her company, I enjoy her personality, and honestly, I just enjoy spending time with her. It’s why I was OK buying a 12wk old foal, knowing it would be years before I could ride. I enjoyed her when she was an ugly unbalanced yearling hidden behind a barn because OMG would the front end ever catch up to her butt?? :grimacing: And I enjoy her now as a reasonably well balanced (but still ridiculous) mare.

I feel like this is more schmoopy than I meant it to be, ha. But at the end of the day…I want to be a good rider. But I want to be a good rider because I want to be a kind, effective rider, who can do all the things I’d like (and even the things I don’t know to think of, yet) with my horse.

(it goes without saying that I am really, really, really not a competitive person so while I did show in the past, I’m not really chasing the concept of it now. )

I like being at the barn on my own. I like spending time with my horse when it’s just the two of us. I don’t need hustle and bustle, or socializing. It’s always just been about the relationship with my horse, for me. As long as that’s present, I think I could be happy anywhere.


Dressage is designed to keep both the ridervand the horse interested and not bored. Follow the steps to the next level.


Following this thread as I’m finding many of the answers to be so insightful.

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THIS X1000,000,000!

My horses are at home, but I boarded for the first 20yrs as a re-rider.
While I sometimes miss the social aspect, I do not miss the Drama of a public barn.
I don’t ride (or drive my mini) as often as some, but I’m happy caring for them, seeing them in good health & enjoy the times I do ride or drive.


This is a beautiful topic Thank you for starting it :smiling_face_with_three_hearts::smiling_face_with_three_hearts::smiling_face_with_three_hearts:.

It’s a very good question…. I am a 60 + rider with a lot of experience and (imo) still enough fitness (I work out to keep this fitness) to compete in Dressage shows.
In Germany where I live and compete right now, most riders are young. Only a handful of riders are my age, it is sometimes frustrating and also makes you feel old and worn out.
so although I have nice horses and do lessons on a regular basis I am not as competitive in shows as I would like to be.
But for me it’s really the joy to go to the barn everyday and enjoy my beautiful well trained horses (all started and ridden by me) for me their progress is the motivation for it….
It doesn’t really matter how far they get, everybody including me has limitations but every new movement we accomplish and every lesson we finish feeling good gives me personally a reason to continue.

Also it’s really hard to admit, but the whole package of riding and working out keeps me pretty healthy…. In the moment I feel fitter than 20 years ago and I really regret that I did not start a Fitnessprogramm decades ago :pensive:

And top of it I am incredibly lucky because I found a barn which is a bit like a fairytale. An extremly friendly young team and a beautiful facility…

so overall in the moment I am pretty motivated and could not image to stop going to the barn.


Such an individual issue and one person’s experience will be vastly different from what you are going through.

I have never experienced being unfulfilled in my life with horses. I haven’t been without at least 1 horse since 1976 and usually have 2-3. I did compete in my past and that was rewarding but it was separate from my love of horses.

For me just being able to go out and feed, clean up after, wrap my arms around their neck and breathe in deeply is complete fulfillment and it always has been. Riding is just icing on an already perfect cake.