Dealing with Anxiety and Horses

July 6, 2019

Let’s talk anxiety. How about, dealing with anxiety while dealing with horses.


Sounds terrible! I mean, let’s face it. Horses pick up on everything, right? They can tell if we are scared, if we are nervous and even if we are anxious. So, lets add a 1200lb animal to the mix of us dealing with anxiety….rational.


This is a topic that is near and dear to me. It is so important to me that I write this blog in hopes of helping someone who is dealing with anxiety, but also in hopes of helping those that are working with a student, client or loved one suffering from anxiety. 


Only those that have spent enough time with my husband and myself would know, that I suffer incredibly from anxiety. SERIOUS anxiety. Sometimes, crippling and debilitating anxiety. I have shown up to clinics, horse shows, lessons and horse events and left before beginning because of my anxiety. I have become physically ill while sitting on a horse because of my anxiety. I have found myself curled up on the floor, crying, because my anxiety has taken control of me and I have lost. I have skipped out on rides, horse shows and continuing ed because of my anxiety. I have lost at horse shows because my anxiety took over. My timing and feel have lacked because I couldn’t control the anxiety. I have even thought about leaving and quitting horses all together because of my anxiety. 


Something to know right now, anxiety and fear are not the same thing. Anxiety can become a symptom of having fear but fear does not mean anxiety and anxiety does not mean fear. 


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Did you just cringe reading that? Why? Did you not know that it is considered a mental illness? It is. It’s real. It’s also okay. It doesn’t mean that you are a lost cause or that you are broken. It just means that it’s time to learn about yourself and work toward growth. 


Anxiety can stem from genetics or even be environmental. It can also be both! Was there a turning point for you? Was it college? Was it high school? Maybe the pressure of stepping up into the rated show scene? Maybe you are like me and it has just steadily crept up over the years until it was right there in front of your face. 


For me, I suppose now that I am fully aware that I am a high anxiety person, I can look back and see signs of it while I was in high school, college, a young adult, new mom and so forth.  


Now, here comes the horsey part. 


Horses have taught me how to read it creeping up. How to see the signs of it progressing. How does it creep up? It starts with the mind starting to fire off at a million miles a second. I can’t focus on someone talking, I can’t focus on what I am working on or what is going on around me, my breathing becomes faster, my heart rate increases and then my stomach starts to knot. I can’t sit still. My hands will shake sometimes, my legs, arms and chest will feel heavy and I am literally in a full attack by this point. However, these last years I have honed in on feeling it begin and working myself out of the, “rabbit hole,” as my husband calls it. THAT’S the trick. Well, not the only trick, but that’s the start! You HAVE to catch it. You HAVE to catch it before you are not function-able. However, in order to catch it happening, you have to admit that you are feeling anxiety and be able to recognize your signs. 


I am absolutely not going to tell you that this is an easy process or one that has this beautiful outcome, because neither of those things are true. This is a long road of self reflection and growth. I am also going to admit that medication certainly wouldn’t be a horrible thing, especially for those who struggle as badly as I have, however, the person that I am is not one to take medication…..I even wanted natural births with no epidural! Just try to get me to take your ibuprofen! So, if you are one that is losing this battle with severe anxiety and it is effecting your day to day life like it has myself, please don’t hesitate to talk to someone about medication. That may be the best course of action for you and your situation. I have chosen to fight this battle with no medication. This doesn't make me any better or worse than those who have chosen to get extra help with medicine. Sometimes, I certainly wonder if I should try that route.