In my last two blogs about burnout, I wrote candidly about my burnout experiences and what I personally have done to avoid it altogether.
For me, it's relatively easy to control nowadays, because I'm self employed and I am ultimately in control of my own diary. If I want to take a day or week off, with a bit of organising, I can. Once I learned to prioritise my time off, rather than forcing myself
to work every hour God sends, what once seemed an impossible task (i.e. finding time for ME) has become the 'new normal'. As I write, I am sitting in the sunshine at AM Dressage, where I'm spending a few days training with my horse. This is precious 'me time'. Yes, it's still horses, and I'm learning stuff that will help me be better at my job, but I can relax here. Being surrounded by friends and horses, and learning more about how to train these wonderful creatures renews my sense of purpose and refreshes my enthusiasm for my job and lifestyle. This time last year I wouldn't have allowed myself an entire week away from home just to train one horse, but here I am now, and I'm grateful I've granted myself some down time.
Someone once said to me: "Do something today that you'll thank yourself for tomorrow."
So thank you, Ali of the Past, for having the foresight to book Future Ali some time off after Winter Champs, and before the fun of Pony Club camp!
But what if you're not self employed? What if you're working yourself into the ground for someone else? Someone who can't (or won't ) see the reality of your situation?
Within the equestrian industry, too many employers rely on their employees' passion for horses, rather than rewarding them fairly (and legally) for their work. Research by the British Grooms Association found that in 2019, only 33% of respondents were being paid National Minimum Wage or above when extra hours worked were taken into account (What Am I Paid survey, March 2019). Time off in lieu and overtime payment seemed a rarity, according to this survey. Even more worryingly, employment rights are being ignored by many equestrian employers. When asked, only 53% of respondents said they had a contract of employment, 57% receive pay slips, 66% get paid holidays and 43% receive sick pay for time off work due to illness or injury. These should all have been 100% response rates.
It's no wonder so many grooms and yard staff leave the industry thoroughly burnt out. You love working with horses, so you don't want to give up your job to find a 'sensible' nine-to-five that might grant you your employment rights. So you get a bar job in the evenings to help pull in the pennies. You're now working around fourteen hours a day, six days a week, sometimes even seven. You don't want to take a day off from either job, because you'll be giving up a day's pay; neither job give you paid holiday.
This situation IS NOT SUSTAINABLE. How do I know? Well, that was me in 2007. I left university, got what I thought was my dream job on a huge livery and competition yard, but then realised I was earning diddly squat. No employment contract, five and a half day weeks that turned into seven day weeks, no paid holiday, no sick pay and no overtime payment. I was working 65 hours per week on that yard, and being paid for 36. I then got a job in our local pub (which I also loved) to plug the financial gap. Luckily I was still living at home at this point, but I still had my car and horse to pay for. There wasn't time for a social life, so at least I saved a few quid there. But yeah, it wasn't sustainable, and I crashed. It broke my heart to leave those horses behind, but I had to. I was pretty broken. My boss showed exactly zero empathy, and I left that yard feeling very low indeed.
If you're one of those amazing grooms who lives for the welfare of the horses in their charge, I applaud you. The equine industry wouldn't be what it is without you. We need you. The horses need you, and we should all value you. Know your self worth. Please, please don't work yourself into the ground for someone who is breaking employment law. Good grooms are so hard to find, so if that includes you, vote with your feet. Go and find an employer who really values you, and will give you paid holiday, sick pay and a fair contract. We, as employers, need to do better for our grooms. I'm the first to hold my hands up and admit that I've made a few (entirely unintentional) mistakes along the way regarding employment law - it is quite complicated - but I've learned, and now (and I hope my grooms will agree!) I provide fair employment terms and try to be a flexible employer. My business isn't a huge one, or the most sophisticated, but we try our best to get everything right when it comes to employment. Why? Because I value my grooms.
Things are changing though, as more and more equestrian employers become aware of their responsibilities towards their grooms. However, grooms need to be aware of their rights too, and not sign up to something that isn't legal or fair.
Grooms - I salute you! You're the backbone of our industry. Thank you for all you do!