- Why do you think, that as equestrians, we need to be aware of our (mental) well-being?
Horses are as much a part of our lives as our family and friends, more so in some cases.
Our horses rely on us for all their needs, but sometimes those needs are more complicated if the horse is older or injured or has an ongoing condition for example. We have to be pretty mentally tough to have horses! Anytime, we feel like we’re flagging, then we need to make sure of our own well-being so that we can make sure of the horse’s well-being too. It’s the old story of being on a plane and putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
- Most equestrians would say that their horses are part of their mental well-being, whether they ride them or not – would you agree?
They really are the lynchpin for equestrians. We’d forsake a good winter coat for ourselves to buy a new rug for our horse. But I also think that horses are often our sanity, they’re a well-bing package of their own! When you’re with your horse, you’re thinking all about them. The rest of the world goes on hold. And in that way, we stop thinking about work and life and we stop the inner voice that might be whispering negative ideas all day long. So, horses are fantastic for giving us a mental breather and putting things into perspective. It doesn’t matter if your time is spent riding your horse or caring for them or simply being when you’re with them. The time spent is a time to think of them – even in all their ripped rug, muddy glory!
When we went through lockdown, that was really tough for many horse owners, not to be able to visit or have limited time visits with their horses. I think that aspect of mental health was completely overlooked by non-equestrians.
- Given that equestrians are used to thinking of their equine first and foremost and forgetting themselves, What signs should they be looking for in themselves as indicators of stress or anxiety?
Well, as you know, this is very individual, but things like:
Noticing stress and overwhelm more, being reactive, snapping at people or yourself
changes in eating patterns, sleep patterns
Being overly emotional
Feeling more tired or TATT (tired all the time!)
Feeling like you want to hide away or protect yourself
Exhibiting symptoms of SAD (seasonal affected disorder)
There could be lots more physical aches or a stream of minor illnesses like endless colds
- Are there any equestrian-specific indicators of stress or even burnout? What can we look out for in ourselves and others?
Yes, you may notice that if you were riding regularly, you’ve stopped and there’s no real reason or you want to spend as little time at the yard as possible, where you used to spend much longer there. Any change of habit, where you notice you’ve got a shortened fuse or want to beat yourself up over something minor.
- If we notice a change in ourselves and know we’re not feeling as bright as we could, where do we start to find that balance again?
Now, this isn’t easy, but you’ve got to make a change. Otherwise, things will continue and may get worse. When you’re anxious or feeling low, it’s really hard to find the energy, but this is almost a non-negotiable, it’s your health. So, you need to find something that you can do every day and you can do without needing great weather or spending money etc. I’d say to start doing something mindful. For some people, it’s baking or crafting, for me it’s a 20-minute walk. 1 minute from my house and back. Even if you think you don’t have the time, this is a priority and needs to go into the diary, like an important appointment. Now on this walk, or when you’re doing those other activities, you need to get your mind to switch off. This is hard unless you know how to jam the signal. And you do that, you just need to manually override the thoughts, pictures and words that pop into your mind. You do that by doing a running commentary of what you can see or hear or feel.
- You’re a Trainer of neurolinguistic programming, how does that help people and could you maybe give us an example of NLP that people can use when they’re not feeling great?
NLP is a set of concepts and techniques aimed at non-psychologists, so it’s designed to be easy and fast. It’s not an academic subject! Here’s a quick technique to help with an intrusive or critical inner voice: turn the sound down on the voice, little by little until you hear just a hum, with no defined words. Or, make the words come out in a silly voice. Donald Duck’s voice is great!
- If you notice a friend or yard member is struggling, what can you do to help them?
Support them. You don’t have to necessarily be their counsellor, but ask them if they’re ok. Start a conversation about the woes of winter, tell them you’re here if they need anything You could do something for them, offer to fill water buckets, bring their horse in, buy a packet of biscuits and put the kettle on make them a cuppa, just something that lets them know that they have someone in their corner. If you think they have a bigger problem, there are charities like Riders Minds that have 24/7 helplines and texting available to any horse owner.
You can also point them towards my therapy and coaching for all mental well-being, be it anxiety, depression, stress or self-doubt; it may only take one session to give them the tips and tools they need!
You can watch the whole webinar chat below