Having worked in mental health services for the last 13 years, the topic of mental health week felt like an appropriate blog post. Over the years talking about mental health has become more common. The media, celebrities and people, in general, have been trying to reduce the stigma attached to the topic by opening publicly about their struggles.
From my experience, mental health is no different from physical health. It’s a spectrum, and we all move along it, up and down during the course of our lives. There will be times when we are well, and times when we aren’t. This can be due to certain experiences, stress, etc, or there may be no apparent trigger, just a decline in your health, be that mentally or physically.
Animals, and particularly horses can be fantastic healers for those who may be suffering. Terms such as “mindfulness” are becoming more common. The ability to live in the moment, to not let your mind wander into various distractions and enjoy the here and now, is a skill that takes practice. But being with a horse can make this much easier. Just standing and brushing your horse can do wonders for your mind if you zone out of everything. For me, one of my favourite things is listening to the horses eat their hay of an evening. The quiet sound of them rhythmically eating is a sound I love, and I try to take a minute to just enjoy that moment of calm.
Like physical health, no one is immune from becoming unwell, and sometimes all the “self-care” in the world won’t prevent it. But not feeling alone, or ashamed, is one of the first steps towards finding recovery. Unlike physical health, treatment can be very varied and unique to each individual. “Recovery” means different things to different people, so it’s really vital for people to set their own goals and try different techniques and forms of treatment to help them reach the outcomes they aim for.
“Self-care” is a very broad term and can be interpreted in many ways. The ability to look after yourself, your mental health, is actually a tricky concept. It may be accepting that there’s someone at your yard who makes you feel bad about yourself, so maybe you need to keep your distance in order to protect yourself. It might be that your job is stressful, but a nice long hack on your horse really helps you unwind, or a lesson with your trainer helps you focus your mind on positive things rather than negatives.
Social media can make people feel envious of other people or paint unrealistic portraits of people’s lifestyles. But it can also bring people together who are separated physically, it can be a domain to share information and news, so it’s not all bad. I have seen recently some topics on forums about “matchy” and if it’s had its day. There are some strong views both ways, but again, if it’s not hurting anyone else (and the horse) then who cares?
Personally, I love wearing a nice outfit to the yard, that’s comfortable, fit for purpose and looks stylish. I like my horse wearing nice colours and knowing he is comfortable with breathable fabrics. Does it make me ride any better? Technically no, but when I feel confident, I think it does help me try and ride to my best. People will always have different opinions and different tastes, wouldn’t the world be boring if we were all the same! But if we all support each other, embrace our individuality and critics one another less, it’s one less thing for us all to worry about.
People tend to open up in environments where they feel safe, so supporting one another in person, on forums, on public pages on social media, at the yard is just one thing we can all do to support one another’s mental well being. After all, we all just want to enjoy our horses, our hobby our sport, don’t we? So if some of us like doing that in the latest neon or pastel colours, and some of us prefer the understated muted tones, let's just be glad there’s a style available for everyone!