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Mental Health and the 'New Normal'

I really enjoyed being involved in a recent collaboration about how "the Covid year" affected mental health. The whole thing really made me think about the year we've just had. It has not been a great one for many people (and comparing it to what our ancestors went through doesn't make it less of a struggle), but were there any good bits for you? Did you have any self discoveries?

The effect on depression and anxiety has been strange for me because one minute, I’ve been totally fine, and the next, I can’t get out of bed.

It started to get weird for us in March, when I think everyone in the world was reeling! Unlike a lot of people though, we were the opposite of bored. We’re always busy in March, so I think we were on about 12 or more horses in work. Then Covid hit, so we took a couple of horses in early; one because his owner was flying back to Spain to be locked down with her family and had nowhere else for her horse to go before he came to us. It seemed like the sensible way of helping as many people as possible. However, we didn’t really prepare for the fact that people wouldn’t want their horses to leave us because a lot of livery yards weren’t allowing people to ride!

So while a lot of people were struggling mentally with being shut in, we were doing twelve hour days trying to get all of the horses ridden, and being kept beyond busy with more than 16 horses to ride each day. You may be able to tell from the video that it was chaotic!

Looking back, they really were our saving grace and they got us out of the house and made sure that we were unable to pause for even five minutes to overthink about Covid!

The time away from competitions also made me re-evaluate why I ride and what I hope to achieve. If you had asked me in February 2020 what my favourite things about riding were, I probably would have listed competing and show jumping pretty high up!

I’ve always had competition nerves, and for most of my life, they’ve been the good kind that make you concentrate better and be more competitive. I’ve also had my fair share of difficult people, who have made me feel like an appalling rider and given me real issues about riding in front of people. Somewhere along the line, the nerves culminated in asthma attacks, where my adrenaline and rapid breathing mixed to create these moments where my vision blurred so badly that I ran into a jump wing, or had to be pulled off my horse and fed my reliever inhaler until I could breathe again. Not ideal.

At the start of the lockdown, I was absolutely desperate to compete, to have that feeling where your focus is with the horse and everyone else slips away. It didn’t help that the BSJA memberships that we had just renewed were going to waste, and my sister is so driven so everything we were doing at home was preparation for when we could get back out there.

This one day, I was riding our little show jumping mare, and she just felt incredible. Rose isn’t the boldest horse, and she’s very small. If she hesitates, it can be costly. I can just remember asking her to collect her canter so much for the upright coming into a one stride double, and then really pushing her for a long stride over the oxer back out, and she pinged up like it was nothing. Then went straight on to a triple, with a water tray in the middle, and finished over another decent upright. I was thinking to myself, if what we have achieved all year is this amazing feeling where everything is easy and our buzzy little showjumper gives us self-carriage on the flat and then jumps a triple that nicely, that’s all I need.

It was huge to have the other aspects of being an equestrian taken away, until you’re left with the truth about who you are as a rider. Learning to measure my own success without approval from others was probably the biggest gift Covid could have given me.

Just before the second lockdown, we went to a riding club dressage competition. Even though the pony was very tense and wasn’t displaying her best behaviour, I was more relaxed than I had been in years because the whole show was run with such a kind atmosphere.

Almost every year, we write or read something about how goals should be internal, and I really found that the ‘Covid Year’ forced us into that and I can’t help but think it was much needed for me.

Having the responsibility of animals is so often what we need to keep us going. At the same time as a lot of people were finding different ways of getting through, and adjusting their view on their lives, I was realising that I was happiest at home with my family and my horses, and that’s a pretty nice revelation to have!

I hope everyone has been helped over the past year by their hobby, or their family in some way. If you are struggling, please open up and talk to someone, even if you think that they can’t help you, even if that person is your horse. We have to look for those moments of peace, to sit and smell soft, velvet noses and to know that we aren’t alone in this life.

To read the full article by Jessica Colvin, head over to Horsemart! It's such a good blog and such an important subject!

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