Pony Club member Alex Ambelang is back with more life lessons our members learn in Pony Club which help them in the real world. Alex is the head groom for Colleen Rutledge Eventing in Maryland. Follow along as she tells us how Pony Club has prepared her for this position as well as what she has learned since starting out. Alex will be a regular guest blogger, so if you have questions feel free to send them to us for her at Mandy@ponyclub.org.
Once you have secured a job, there is a whole new set of unknowns. These are things no one tells you about until you’re in it. One is the adrenalin high, the other is the adrenalin crash.
The adrenalin swings typically happen before, during, and after big events. The adrenalin gets pumping on the early mornings: feeding, mucking, walking, pre-rides, braiding, bathing, cleaning tack, and spit polishing and shining the horse before jogs or heading down the centerline. A sense of relief comes after the task is complete, but often, the adrenalin kicks back in just seconds later when the next horse is needed to be prepped. At bigger shows with fewer horses, there is often a let down period after, where the adrenalin drops off and sinks you back down. For me, this usually results in a wide range of emotions from exhaustion, to stress, to tears. I usually don’t eat for hours afterward and seclude myself to tack cleaning and reorganizing for the next activity- be it a hack or another dressage test. The ultimate crash comes after a full format CCI three-day. Adrenalin is kicked into over drive when the studs go in and the vet box is set up, then goes full throttle when the horse comes across the ﬁnish line and the real work begins. I ﬁnd I fall into a sort-of tunnel vision when the horse comes off course. The primary focus is always getting the horse to cool down and all that matters is putting water on, taking it off, getting TPR to come back to normal, and not getting run over by others in the same boat. It isn’t until after the horse is released and we head back to the barn that I begin to come back to earth where I count studs, check boots, and make sure nothing was left at the box. Once the horse(s) are settled, the crash hits. Same deal as before, but harder. It hits you like a bus. The world slows down and you start wrapping your mind around what just happened and what needs to happen now. The wide range of emotions kicks in, I again forget to eat for hours. Its not until dinner that night that I begin to snap back out of it, downing 3-5 glasses of water and eating like a carnivorous fiend. The series of highs and lows over one weekend can be overcome within a few days, but its when this series continues for weeks or even months on end that it begins to wear you down. Your brain functions at a lower level because of the exhaustion and the let-down. I wasn’t even aware this kind of cycle existed until after Jersey Fresh in May when I couldn’t ﬁgure out why I was stuck in a funk. That funk is called burnout.
In this line of work, burnout happens frequently. Between 12+ hour days every day, lack of sleep, lack of food (some days), and the absolute unpredictability of this job it wears you down slowly, but surely. The occasional rainy day to sleep in will remedy it for awhile but sometimes it knocks you out completely. Looking back on the past 6 months, I have spent nearly 5 out of the 6 in some stage of burnout. Its a natural part of the job and most days I don’t notice it. I didn’t come to terms with my complete burnout until I kept getting angry that I was missing small details day in and day out which made me angry with myself, and my performance. It was Colleen who brought my attention to the fact; not only was I suffering from a case of the burnouts, but I was also coming off a grand adrenalin cycle from not one, not two, not three, but four big three-days over the course of two months (The Fork, Rolex, Jersey Fresh, and Virginia International). I am here to tell you that it is okay to burnout. Recognize the burnout, embrace the burnout, and get rid of it. Now this doesn’t mean you use as a weekly excuse to go get a massage, but it does mean you get a chance to pull away from the industry for a bit, take a deep breath and absorb all that has happened. I was fortunate enough to be able to return home to Montana for a few days in early June when we had a lull in the season. Something that also contributed to my burnout was being away from my support system. I will say that I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing boss who has an equally amazing family who make me feel right at home, but there is something about having the people who really know you close beside you when the lowest of lows hit. When those people are 2000+ miles away it can take a toll. I fought this realization for a while. I wanted to be the strong, independent young women and push through, to ﬁght and prove I could do it all on my own. Like most things in life, it takes a village. There is something to be said for being self-reliant and independent, but there is also something to be said for recognizing when you need someone to fall back on. This person can remind you why you started this whole thing and how you’re going to get back up and start again. So, I went home to my village and regrouped.
At ﬁrst it felt like running away. It ended up being a rejuvenation period that kicked me back up and got me ready for the summer season. There is no shame in falling down sometimes, its about getting back up. Not everyone who enters this business will be that far away from home, but I think the lesson here is to not lose touch with your roots and your village, and to ask for help when you need it. Everyone, people and horses, have bad days. All these lessons learned; triumphs and failures; endless days and sleepless nights; bring me to this moment,sitting in an airport cafe as the sun goes down, waiting to catch a ﬂight to England, with Burghley on my mind. Its times like these that I ask the universe how I got so lucky…
Alex Ambelang is an H-A Traditional member of Five Valleys Pony Club in the Big Sky Region. She joined Pony Club at the age of 8 and has been an active member ever since. She has competed in Eventing through Preliminary and in jumpers and dressage. Alex has been a working student for two National Examiners and was a member of the USPC National Youth Congress in 2010. She served as a member of the USPC National Youth Board from 2012 to 2014 and is part of the USPC Visiting Instructor Program as well as the Regional Instructor Coordinator for the Big Sky Region. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Cultural and Medical Anthropology in December of 2014 and is currently working as head girl for Colleen Rutledge Eventing in Maryland.