Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Horses have been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I had always loved them and as a child, I had endless amounts of toy horses. They would allow me to create my own little world every day. One day, my parents took me to actually have horse riding lessons and I fell in love even more (which at the time, I didn’t know was possible). Then came the magical day that my parents bought me my own horse, who I still have to this very day.
I didn’t always suffer with severe anxiety, so I was happy most of the time. However, when I started struggling, I became more and more isolated from everything. I stopped going to school, I stopped meeting friends and I stayed away from family. The only time I felt okay was down the field with my horse.
My horse has always been classed as a problem horse so riding her was a huge challenge (one that I’m still working on) but that wasn’t what I needed at the time. I needed somewhere that I felt safe and somewhere that I could be myself with no judgement.
See, that’s the thing with horses, they don’t judge. You build a partnership based on trust. You teach them and they teach you. Being around my horse gave me somewhere that I could unwind every day and somewhere that I could keep my distance from people. On the start of my anxiety journey, my horse helped me by being my friend.
As time went on though, I managed to deal with anxiety in different ways and started working with my horse to get her rideable. That also meant that I started having riding lessons again so that I would regain riding skills and also gain more knowledge.
Throughout a year of riding lessons, my confidence increased dramatically but it also helped my anxiety enormously in ways that I did not expect. I became more assertive in my day to day life (as with horses, you have to be firm and kind), I became fitter which also helped lower my anxiety and I became happier. Every week, there was something to look forward to and that made a huge difference to my life.
There were a couple of specific riding lessons that I feel also helped in understanding anxiety. The first was a jumping lesson. Now, I’ve had plenty of these but at one moment, it finally clicked for me. My instructor repeated to me clearly that I have only two things to focus on: line and pace; the rest was the horse's job. When I cleared my mind, things went fantastically. When I overthought things, it would go wrong every time.
Overthinking and worrying is something that is very common with anxiety but through horse-riding, I learnt to control it and could immediately see the benefits.
The second lesson that stayed with me was again a jumping lesson where I had to let go of the reins as I was going over the jump. Now, logically, that should be easy. I don’t use the reins for balance when I jump; in fact, you loosen them completely so the horse can do it’s thing. However, when it actually came to it, I couldn’t do it! My mind was saying let go but my body was saying no. After a lot of perseverance, I could let go with one hand and then eventually two. Once I’d done it, I had no problem doing it again.
That lesson reminded me of battling with anxiety as your mind may be thinking one thing but your body is reacting in another way. It was a fantastic lesson in gaining control of both my mind and body and overcoming it’s natural instinct.
If you struggle with anxiety and aren’t afraid of horses, I would definitely recommend going to a riding school and having a go at it. Horses are proven therapy animals and it would be fantastic if they were more widely recognised as being able to help people with anxiety disorders.