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Rider Inspiration

Normalising mental health struggles

By June 30, 2021 No Comments
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Mental health isn’t something many of us feel comfortable talking about.

Things have changed over the years and there is less stigma, however I think many of us still feel shame over struggling and seeking help. We shouldn’t.

Horses and the horse community and my friends (many of which also own horses) are a huge part of my mental health, but they also played a huge part in my recovery from post Natal Depression. We shouldn’t feel ashamed or stigma – and hopefully by sharing my story I might encourage others to be receptive to help or share their story and help someone else.

There was a period after the birth of my boy Tom that I severely struggled, and the commitment I had to get up and feed my horses was most likely a huge part of my reason for fighting through. My journey has led to understanding and true empathy for anyone who struggles with ongoing mental health or has an episode like I did after trauma or birth.

The saying ‘Act, Belong Commit’ really holds true and my commitment to my horses got me up, active and gave me something to look forward to. I set some riding goals, my friends joined me, supported me and I had to be accountable as I had committed.

My absolute rock bottom in my PND journey and horses was when I had a full blown panic attack floating to a dressage lesson at a new place with a new instructor. I don’t know how I got there, got on and even rode. I did because I didn’t want to let me friend down who had booked the shared lesson as a way of supporting me get back to my horses. It was my turning point in recognising I was not ok and that I couldn’t keep going on like this without support.

Here is a short video I produced with City of Canning for RUOK day – here I talk a little about my post-natal depression. It is an individual experience, but what I can tell you is that committing to recovering and seeking treatment in medication, counselling, psychology or anything holistic along the herbs, acupuncture or diet route will be the best thing you ever did. Not only will this improve your mental health, which so many of us put up with, but it can have an amazing impact on your general life.

I want to talk about some of the negative self-talk we get as we are waiting in the start box for our cross country, or warming up for dressage or getting ready to chase a cow. What if I don’t get my correct canter lead? I’m nervous, what if I fall at jump 4 the one that’s really big! I can’t keep consistent head carriage in the dressage ring, what if people are judging me. I learnt a great deal of cognitive behavior therapy techniques after I had Tom, sounds fancy but its simply recognising the self-talk and reframing. I have never felt so confident cantering cross country… lets face it Denny doesn’t quite go fast enough to gallop!

So yes I went through some awfully dark days in my PND journey, but the person I have become is so much more resilient.

This doesn’t mean that when my horse has ulcers for the third time, or greasy heel again, or has done an injury and is out for 4 weeks that these don’t impact negatively – they can. Horses and the disappointment in riding and competition can in fact batter our resilience (or at least make it a struggle to keep motivated).

However, this blog is a reminder for the things that you can focus on to improve your resilience, lets face it horses can not only bring amazing happiness but can add to our life stress.

The fact is, we will all fail from time to time. It’s how we dust ourselves off and get back on that counts.

At Moora my latest competition I was coming second after amazing dressage and a clear show jump to fall at jump 4. I felt ashamed walking back from the course and had to spend some time quiet in my own space reframing my thinking to not let the disappointment get me down. Trust me, add this to packing camp and driving home 2.5 hours wasn’t an easy task. A bag of Lindt balls was involved!

A few really important things to remember that support positive mental health in horse ownership and life in general are:

  • Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead ‘I’ll book a lesson, get my confidence over some smaller jumps again and enter the next show’
  • Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals. This does not mean jumping from 65 to a 105 in a season, for me being realistic is important and taking 12 months training to be ready for 80 is achievable.
  • Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure. I had to not let the shame of walking off the course make me feel unworthy, it was a honest mistake and nothing to be ashamed of. If I let that negative self-talk keep playing over and over, I would have given up my goals for eventing.
  • Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over ‘Greasy heel again, oh well let’s get on top of treating this and re-book my lesson for next week, my horse’s health is all that matters’

So if you are struggling today, or next week or have in the past – Please know that it is ok and normal. Nearly 1 in 2 (46%) Australians aged 16–85 had experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime, and these statistics were reported back in 2007.

I have made a commitment to be supportive, non judgmental and encouraging of everyone – I understand and I want you to know you are not alone. Go hug your horse and be grateful we get to have them in our lives…even if they have greasy heel!

Jem, Den and Rummie

Jem and Den

Author Jem and Den

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