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Whilst it’s not something that I like to talk about often, I have struggled in the past with my mental health and know firsthand how much it can suck the fun out of normally enjoyable activities and leave you struggling to know where to go or how to feel better. The one thing that has consistently kept me grounded and smiling is my lovely gang of horses in the paddock that I know I can go and see if I’m ever feeling anxious or upset. I have no doubt in my mind that horses have helped my mental health and I know that they have also helped others too in so many ways, so here are my top five ways in which horses can benefit your mental health…
We horsey people know that, for all the annoying things our horses can put us through, they are always there at the end of the day for a cuddle or a kiss or just for some company. It can really help to make you feel less alone if you have someone to be with and to listen to you – without judgement – when you are struggling. A horse is perfect for that, and just being in the presence of your horse can lighten up your mood almost instantly. Not to mention, horse hugs are some of the best hugs that exist!
What I mean by this is that being responsible for your horse and needing to get up in the morning to feed them, muck them out and maybe even ride them, is something that can really help you keep a sense of normality and positive routine in your life. This is especially helpful when you are going through a rough patch and don’t feel like doing much.
The knowledge that you need to take responsibility and look after your horse is an excellent motivator and is something that has really helped me when I have felt like nothing else has a point. It will be annoying and it will be frustrating sometimes when the last thing you want to do is go and muck out, but it keeps you in the routine of doing something constructive and positive each day and that is something really precious, especially when you are going through difficult times with your mind.
It goes without saying that the bond you form with your horse once they begin to trust you and care for you is truly heart-warming and also immensely rewarding, especially after all the time and effort you have put into creating a meaningful relationship with them. If you’re ever in need of a reminder that someone loves you unconditionally and will always be there for you, going to see your horse and spending time with them is one of the best you can find. You’ll certainly feel that deeply rewarding feeling when you have one of those moments that makes you realise just how much your horse really does love you.
However, it is also extremely rewarding just to have the responsibility of caring for a horse and keeping it healthy and happy (which, let’s face it, can be difficult sometimes, especially when some horses seem insistent on making the worst mess in their stable or running up an ever-growing vet bill by being so accident prone!)
To know that you have another life depending on you for care, help and love can be daunting at times, but it is always so fulfilling to know that you are looking after another being, which results in a big self-esteem boost. After all, if you’re feeling in need of a reminder that you matter, your horse will always be there to remind you that you have a purpose (even if some days it is just to shovel up his poop!)
We all know that exercise is good for us and helps to keep us healthy, so it’s pretty obvious that having a horse to ride is going to help to keep you fit. Even if you don’t ride, most yard jobs involve more than enough physical exertion to count as exercise; muck out some stables, carry some water buckets, lift some hay bales, sweep the yard… you’ve basically done a whole-body workout at that point!
But whilst we know that exercise is great for our bodies (and for our horses, especially if you have a chubby pony like one of mine!), it’s helpful to remember how good exercise can be for your mind. When we exert ourselves, our bodies release endorphins – chemicals that make us feel calm and happy – which in turn boosts our mood.
I know for a fact that riding gives me the positivity boost that I sometimes need, or the relaxed feeling that I’m desperate for when I feel stressed. Obviously, I also enjoy it and look forward to it, which is another huge bonus! Having something to look forward to is massively underrated when you are struggling and can really help you to remember that the negative or difficult feelings will not last forever.
The equestrian community is so large and so varied, but what we all have in common is the love of horses and the want to enjoy them. Knowing that you are a part of a group of likeminded people can really help to give you a sense of belonging, and can also allow you to get in touch with some of those people and create friendships that grow into something special.
Probably my closest horsey friend, Lauren, is someone I met through Instagram and we became friends through our love of horses and have since been on various equestrian adventures together. Whenever I feel alone or anxious, I know that I can talk to someone who will remind me that I am not alone after all, and the friendships that I have made through horses are some of the strongest and most dependable friendships anyone can have.
Feeling like you belong and knowing that you are part of such a lovely community is really one of the best ways to ground yourself and remind yourself of all the positivity that you can surround yourself with if you are ever feeling like you can’t cope.
Those are my personal thoughts and experiences with horses helping me through struggles with mental illness. Being in a battle with your mind is such a scary thing to have to go through and nobody should ever have to do it alone. Always remember that your friends and your horses are there to support you, and if you need extra help then you should never be afraid or ashamed to ask for it.