Mental illness and the equestrian.

We all have heard the stereotype: All horse people are crazy people. From experience, I would be surprised if anyone who has been involved in the horse industry could say anything to refute the complete accuracy of this stereotype.

I am sure a lot of competetive industries breed a culture of wackos, but the equine seems to attract all different brands. There is the somewhat expected: narcissistic, hyper competetive types who try and step on others’ reputations to ease their own insecurities. The rampant gossip and rumor mill of the equine industry is a direct result of these types feeling threatened by the success of others in the industry, regardless of the fact there are plenty of horses to ride, ribons to win, and people out there to teach.

However, despite the competetive “make it or break it” atmosphere of the equine world, I have personally found an abundance of fellow riders with depression, anxiety, crippling self doubt, OCD, and the like. Every new horse person I meet has something they are dealing with that seems in stark contrast with how difficult it is to float in a fast paced ruthless sport. Either they are very open about their struggles and tend to over share about their doseage (I fall into this category, because I find my issues nothing to be ashamed of), or you hope they are in therapy or on meds and don’t advertise it, or they are so obviously messed up that you make a mental note to keep yourself and your horses far away from them because they are clearly in denial that they should be institutionalized asap.

I can’t be the only one who is at a horse clinic and find themselves consistently surrounded by crazy. I am not complaining at all, because it makes me feel right at home. Have any of you noticed the same trend when you think on the individuals in your piece of the horse world?

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What is it about these enormous creatures that attracts personalities so riddled with emotional inadequacies? It’s more than just a birds of a feather phenom. An outsider might assume that a sport involving a 1200 pound animal who sometimes tries to kill you would attract only the very bravest of adrenaline junkies. Certainly no place for someone who is far from secure about their own self.

I am clearly no expert on the matter, but I have been reading a lot about equine assisted therapy and how partnering with a non-judgemental animal such as the horse can heal. I assume this is why all of us mental cases flock to this sport – the opportunity to also set and achieve goals is just an added perk. There is something in the way a horse naturally gravitates towards a partnership with humans that creates extremely rewarding results. These gigantic creatures very perceptively feed off of what we are feeling and thinking. When you spend a great deal of time with a horse you build a silent bond that isn’t confused and overanalyzed by words the way human relationships are. It’s all about raw emotion.

In my own life I know this to be the key to why I continue to ignore the hyper competetiveness of the industry and come back to this unique emotional bond that no other sport has to offer. In a single riding session with my horse I am able to process and shed emotions that do not serve me, experience unconditional love, relinquish control to 1200 pounds of muscle and trust it will be okay to do so, and release endorphins through exercise. It’s no wonder why my anxiety, control, and anger issues are helped immensely by time spent in the saddle.

'You seem to be a stable person to me.'

And when it doesn’t help (we all know rides don’t always go well and it can be very hard to deal with when we have expectations that aren’t met), or can’t help (like in my current state because I can’t currently ride), life simply falls apart. Rehashing my feelings from this past Sunday to my husband and close horsey friend (who also has panic/anxiety disorders similar to my own) I realized how deep and real my PTSD has gotten after my accident and how much I have been resenting my pregnancy. Without my horse therapy, my 2 year hiatus from behavioral cognitive therapy needs to end. I have an appointment with a new therapist on Monday.

If anything can be gleamed from the realization that equestrians tend to be more emotionally delicate than emotionally tough as nails, it’s that I personally wish we would be more kind to each other. I have taken an ultra cautious approach to who I consider a friend in this industry lest they turn around and burn me for my trusting nature. It has certainly happened to me on more than one occasion; I find it curious as well as ridiculous that anyone would waste time trying to bring me, a novice adult amateur, down with negativity behind backs. I very literally pose no threat and try to do nothing but good to other horse people, and ironically I guess I somehow put a target on my back by simply being kind to another’s enemy. To me that is certainly sad. As I look forward to a future when I partner with my close friend to advance her boarding business and I someday hopefully start teaching and training for her, we discuss often the barn culture of kindness, inclusion, and no tolerance policy for bad mouthing we hope to foster.

Luckily as I start to read more and more horsey blogs, I find I am not alone in desiring this culture, and in contrast to the hyper critical dialogue occuring behind backs and on other social networks, I see lots of supportive commentary and open admissions of being human on the blogs of other equestrians. Go blogosphere!

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