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Today, I want to do a little follow up to my previous article, ‘Equestrianism: Anxiety Within The Sport – You Are Not Alone’, published back in July of last year. If you are yet to read my original article and would like to do so, I will include a link at the bottom of this one for you.
In this article, I will be covering my journey and feelings throughout the pandemic, as well as catching up with a few equestrian influencers, whom you are likely to recognise, to get their take on it and to see what they have been up to in order to keep themselves busy.
We will be hearing from:
The pandemic has effected all of us in many different ways; whether you have suffered with high anxiety throughout this time, struggled with the lack of social activities, found yourself or loved ones ill with the virus or just plain missed your family and friends, we have all been there, you are not alone.
One thing that I have found instrumental in keeping me ‘sane’ has been my horse; having his daily routine to stick to, focusing on keeping him fit and healthy and sometimes just having someone to stand with, to breathe in that all familiar smell of his velvet nose and reset myself from all of the other thoughts bustling around in my brain. It has been a god send.
My favourite thing to do at the moment is to tack up and head out on a hack with him and my Labrador, Mable. We are very lucky in that we not only have an indoor and outdoor school here, but fabulous hacking with lots of different routes to keep us entertained. We can go out for an hour or two, maybe three if I am feeling enthusiastic, and I simply spend time, in the silence, taking in all of the sounds and smells around me; the birds singing, the clip clop of Memo’s hooves, squirrels in the trees, sunshine on my face, the smell of grass and the local farms (you may think me stupid for saying this but that farm-fresh smell is SO comforting to me)… Please tell me I am not the only one?
If I have the time, I will take him to the woods, where I am met with a wonderful smell of pine whilst listening to the wind blowing through the trees – just really being at one with nature and focusing in on my senses. I have found that in doing this, whatever troubles, worries and thoughts that possess my brain on a daily basis just melt away. In this moment, I find peace and tranquillity. In a world that is so scary and unknown to us at the moment, I have my safe place, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
“NO HOUR OF LIFE IS WASTED THAT IS SPENT IN A SADDLE”
- Winston Churchill -
Another great thing about having horses in our lives right now is that we can still ride out with our friends and family, keeping socially distanced of course. It incorporates a much missed social aspect into our lives that, without our four legged friends, we would be missing an incredible amount. I have spent a great deal of the year hacking out with my friend Abbey and, when allowed, boxed over to meet another friend Lizzie, and her mare River, to ride around our local national trust estate. I find having horses has really given me freedom, even during the lockdown months, and I certainly don’t take this for granted.
Now, I am not saying that I spent each week like this; I have found myself having several where I just can’t bring myself to ride and I struggle to find the enthusiasm or want to get in the saddle – for anyone that is reading this thinking “Me too!” I am here to tell you that this is ok. Our horses won’t mind if we feel the need to have a little break here and there. In fact, they are probably happier filling their bellies in their warm, dry stables, than they are trundling around the lanes or being taken in the school in our ever delightful English weather… which for the most part seems to be cold and wet throughout the autumn and winter.
I personally think that it is mostly about finding a happy balance; it is so important to not let yourself dwell too much on the negatives in life. Where possible, find something positive that gives you an endorphin kick. Perhaps, like me, this is taking in the world around you, or maybe it is learning a new skill, trying a new schooling exercise, listening to music (I won’t judge you on your choice! My taste is a little eclectic at the best of times – my iPhone library looks like a musical theatre actor, country singer and a post-punk band from the mid 90’s were let loose and told to create an album together), maybe you enjoy jumping, grooming your horse or going for walks from your home? Whatever it is, keep hold of it, make sure that you are giving yourself time to enjoy that activity where possible. It will do your mood the world of good.
One big thing that has changed for us all, and has certainly made me realise how much of a social species we are, is that we can no longer go to see our family and friends like we used to. Granted, we have Zoom and Facetime, which makes it far easier for us to stay in touch with our loved ones, but what about the hugs and the smiles and the face-to-face hellos? I have to say, I feel sorry for anyone that I know that bumps into me on my weekly shop, as I end up getting so excited to see them that I talk far to fast and FAR too much... so, apologies to anyone reading this that may have experienced my over-enthusiastic greetings recently.
You may have your horses at home or on your own yard, meaning when you go to see them, it is just you. I keep Memo on a large livery yard which means that at least when I do him at the end of each day, I get to see people from my barn and the rest of the yard in passing. I count myself lucky for this and see it as yet another example of how horses are helping me get through this lockdown.
Where possible, our friendship group has organised regular socially distanced walks for us to catch up and see each other in person as it is much better than trying to piece together the robotic words via a dodgy internet connection as we play the 100th Zoom quiz since the start of 2020.
However, that isn’t always possible and has been very dependent on our restrictions at the time. Something that I have come to realise is that it is SO important to just check in with your family and friends; one message, a “hello, how are you doing?”, an “I saw this and thought of you” or even a funny meme with no explanation can brightened someone’s day. When your next sat down, looking for something to do, have a think about someone that you haven’t been in touch with recently and send them a message – start a conversation and share a little happiness and positivity into the world. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.
“KIND WORDS CAN BE SHORT AND EASY TO SPEAK, BUT THEIR ECHOES ARE TRULY ENDLESS”
- Mother Teresa -
Throughout this pandemic, one thing that has been paramount for us all, not just equestrians, has been our safety. Now is not a time that we want to be having to head into A&E unexpectedly, that is for sure! Something that has given me confidence whilst riding has been my Point Two Air Jacket. I purchased this back in 2018 for XC and SJ, yet I now won’t leave the yard without it on. Whether I am hacking, jumping or just doing pole-work, I pop on my trusty air jacket and immediately feel 100% safer.
The way that I look at it is, spending an extra 5 minutes putting on my body protector and air jacket before I leave means that if I were to get into any trouble, I have done everything I can to protect myself. Thankfully, Memo is a very well behaved horse, for the most part at least, but they are animals after all and you just never know. Yes, at first you can feel a little like an extra in a Michelin man commercial, but you get used to it quicker than you would think and soon you will barely even realise you have it on.
I will leave a link to the Point Two air jackets at the bottom of this article, in case you want to read up on them – it is honestly the best money that I have spent on my safety gear, second only to my riding hats of course.
Next, we will hear from my two contributors to this article, who have kindly spoken to me about how they have found lockdown and what they have been up to over this past year.
First up, we have Alanna, who I came into contact with over social media. She is an incredibly upbeat person and I have really enjoyed following her journey with her horses throughout this time.
“My horses have been real life savers during COVID. The routine of getting up every morning to look after and ride them has given me purpose when nothing else feels normal. The one-on-one time with each horse has meant more than anything to me; taking them out for quiet hacks and even just having jobs to do at the stables has kept me busy enough not to miss my social life too much. To make sure I didn’t lose our competition fitness, I set myself schooling and competition goals where I could – I have included these below.
“For Ella, a schooling goal was to start working at Advanced Medium level at home, so one thing that I had to start teaching her were changes. A good exercise we used was to work on a small figure of 8 in canter, making sure that she was sitting and balanced. Then I’d ask for the simple change, so canter, walk approximately 3 steps and then away in canter on the new lead. Over time I’d ask for fewer walk steps until I simply asked for the change. This worked really well for her and we soon had our first few green changes coming along nicely.
“I also set myself competition goals; these were things like scoring well at a higher level and qualifying for Regionals and Area Festivals. First, because competitions were cancelled, we dipped our toes in the water with Dressage Anywhere online. I found competing online to be really good for feedback from listed judges and I would certainly recommend it to those of you who are missing getting out and about at the moment. Our scores and comments allowed me to measure where we were and meant that I could work on any issues highlighted. This was something that really helped in lockdown when my coach couldn’t see me.
"Another way I spent the time was by working online with my Diploma in Sporting Excellence (DISE) and keeping up to date with my mentor Claire Moir and my coach Gill Liggins, who I have been speaking with throughout to ask for advice and exercises. They were both very supportive and the connection that kept me on the right path. This support and hard work meant that when competition started again, both horses had made improvements and were able to step up a level. We got our qualifications in before this last lockdown. I was actually quite ring-rusty and rider mistakes pulled their scores down – sack the rider! There’s still a lot of work to do but I’m so proud of what we’ve done in the last year.
“I have 2 young horses, Star and Dave, who have also kept me busy throughout lockdown. Star is rising 4 and will be being backed just as soon as his latest growth spurt levels him out, and Dave is rising 2 and so has needed plenty of handling on a day-to-day basis to get him used to everything. I’m very excited about the future with them both and I cannot wait to see what the future brings.
“All of this has helped me stay occupied mentally and kept me focused on something other than what’s going on around us right now. Plus, looking after 4 horses every day definitely keeps you fit too!”
– Alanna Clarke
Finally, let me introduce you to one of my fellow Horsemart contributors Megan, someone who has devoted a lot of her life to helping horses and training them. Mostly working with rescue horses herself, she has been an inspiration to many.
‘’I’m Meg; I make up part of Hesteyri Horses, a horse training business focusing on giving all horses a chance. We’ve mostly been on rescue horses all of our lives, so our goals have consistently changed and adapted alongside the horses we ride. In later years, I have suffered more and more with my mental health, so I’ve been working on talking more openly about my own struggles, hoping to remove the taboo so that more people feel that they can speak up and ask for help.
“I would be lying if I said Covid has been a positive experience for us. Let’s be honest, it’s been a tough year. The effect on depression and anxiety has been strange for me because one minute, I’ve been totally fine, and the next, I can’t get out of bed.
“It started to get weird for us in March, when I think everyone in the world was reeling! Unlike a lot of people though, we were the opposite of bored. We’re always busy in March, so I think we were on about 12 or more horses in work. Then Covid hit, so we took a couple of horses in early; one because his owner was flying back to Spain to be locked down with her family and had nowhere else for her horse to go before he came to us. It seemed like the sensible way of helping as many people as possible. However, we didn’t really prepare for the fact that people wouldn’t want their horses to leave us because a lot of livery yards weren’t allowing people to ride!
“So while a lot of people were struggling mentally with being shut in, we were doing twelve hour days trying to get all of the horses ridden, and being kept beyond busy with more than 16 horses to ride each day.
“Looking back, they really were our saving grace and they got us out of the house and made sure that we were unable to pause for even five minutes to overthink about Covid!
“The time away from competitions also made me re-evaluate why I ride and what I hope to achieve. If you had asked me in February 2020 what my favourite things about riding were, I probably would have listed competing and show jumping pretty high up!
“I’ve always had competition nerves, and for most of my life, they’ve been the good kind that make you concentrate better and be more competitive. I’ve also had my fair share of difficult people, who have made me feel like an appalling rider and given me real issues about riding in front of people. Somewhere along the line, the nerves culminated in asthma attacks, where my adrenaline and rapid breathing mixed to create these moments where my vision blurred so badly that I ran into a jump wing, or had to be pulled off my horse and fed my reliever inhaler until I could breathe again. Not ideal.
“At the start of the lockdown, I was absolutely desperate to compete, to have that feeling where your focus is with the horse and everyone else slips away. It didn’t help that the BSJA memberships that we had just renewed were going to waste, and my sister is so driven so everything we were doing at home was preparation for when we could get back out there.
“This one day, I was riding our little show jumping mare, and she just felt incredible. Rose isn’t the boldest horse, and she’s very small. If she hesitates, it can be costly. I can just remember asking her to collect her canter so much for the upright coming into a one stride double, and then really pushing her for a long stride over the oxer back out, and she pinged up like it was nothing. Then went straight on to a triple, with a water tray in the middle, and finished over another decent upright. I was thinking to myself, if what we have achieved all year is this amazing feeling where everything is easy and our buzzy little showjumper gives us self-carriage on the flat and then jumps a triple that nicely, that’s all I need.
“It was huge to have the other aspects of being an equestrian taken away, until you’re left with the truth about who you are as a rider. Learning to measure my own success without approval from others was probably the biggest gift Covid could have given me.
“Just before the second lockdown, we went to a riding club dressage competition. Even though the pony was very tense and wasn’t displaying her best behaviour, I was more relaxed than I had been in years because the whole show was run with such a kind atmosphere.
“Almost every year, we write or read something about how goals should be internal, and I really found that the ‘Covid Year’ forced us into that and I can’t help but think it was much needed for me.
“Having the responsibility of animals is so often what we need to keep us going. At the same time as a lot of people were finding different ways of getting through, and adjusting their view on their lives, I was realising that I was happiest at home with my family and my horses, and that’s a pretty nice revelation to have!
“I hope everyone has been helped over the past year by their hobby, or their family in some way. If you are struggling, please open up and talk to someone, even if you think that they can’t help you, even if that person is your horse. We have to look for those moments of peace, to sit and smell soft, velvet noses and to know that we aren’t alone in this life.’’
– Megan White
Below are the details of those that have contributed to this article, along with links to their social media channels. If you would like to discuss anything mentioned in this article, please feel free to reach out to any one of us. We would be glad to chat. Remember, you are not alone.
Equestrianism: Anxiety Within The Sport – You Are Not Alone – https://www.horsemart.co.uk/community/article/equestrianism-anxiety-within-the-sport-you-are-not-alone
Point Two Air Jackets – https://pointtwousa.com
My name is Jessica Colvin, I am a Devon-based amateur dressage rider. Should you want to keep up to date with any other articles, blogs, product reviews and vlogs that I create, keep an eye on our Horsemart Blog page and social media channels.