I have always loved horses. There isn’t a time where I don’t remember playing with horse figures or dreaming of my future barn. I couldn’t imagine my life without them, so much so that I’m currently studying equine science with hopes of doing something with equine nutrition. People are surprised when they find out I want to dedicate my entire life to one animal, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I started riding when I was really young but was pulled out because I couldn’t focus. I ended up going karate for a few years to improve my attention span, which worked thank goodness. However, I didn’t start riding again until I was about thirteen. I took lessons from a 4H leaders daughter and rode on a horse named Reale. He was lazy, but he was the perfect horse to learn on.
Starting lessons came at a good time, as I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease a year earlier. Riding helped me cope with my diagnosis. It was an escape from all the worrying and self-deprecation I was doing. When I am on a horse, I don’t have time to think about other things than what I am doing. It’s not just sitting and telling the horse to move forward. You have to focus on body position, where you’re going, how the horse is feeling, and more. The longer you’re distracted from outside things, the more likely you’re going to end up on the ground.
Horseback riding also gave me some control. I couldn’t tell my Crohn’s to stop or go away, even though I really wish I could. What I could control was the horse I was on. I told them where to go how, how fast their pace needed to be, and when to change gaits. Having that felt empowering. It took the feeling of lack of power I felt from my disease and turned it into power I needed to ride. When I got into the saddle and took hold of the reins, the horse was going to listen to me.
One day, I was riding a horse named Skipper at the county fair. We were doing a trail class when I picked up a bucket with rocks in it while I was on him. He bolted, and I ended up falling off and getting a minor concussion and whiplash. After that accident, I felt like my safety blanket was ripped out of my grasp. Getting back on was very hard. I acted like it was no big deal, but I was so anxious about riding again. I rode Skipper for about a year after that, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety.
I was so frustrated. Something that made me feel in control and safe from my mind no longer was. I still loved horses and riding, but my mind was trying to convince me otherwise. That I would fall off again and get hurt even worse. It was rational, but I found myself caught in the middle of a war with my passion and my anxiety.
I stopped riding my senior year in high school and that’s when I really noticed how much I needed riding in my life. I started failing and my mental health declined drastically. Call it a coincidence, but I really don’t think it was.
When I got to college and started riding twice a week, I started working on the anxiety that I had around riding. That started to fall away, and I could use riding as a coping mechanism again. I started feeling in control again. My confidence rose, not just on a horse, but in all other areas of my life. Socially, academically, and mentally I started to get better. Riding often healed me and made my life better in all aspects.
Lazy horses are my favorite to ride. First of all, I don’t have to worry about them bucking me off, which is really nice. I am able to get out of my head completely. Any frustration or anxious energy is used to get them to move forward. Most of the horses I have ever ridden have been slow and unwilling to move, so I’m fairly skilled at getting them to actually go somewhere. It’s a different challenge than a fiery off the track thoroughbred and I’m content with that.
I have learned so much from horses. They don’t judge me and will never talk about me behind my back. If something scares them, they simply get away from it and get on with their day without overthinking. Fear of judgement and overthinking are two things I deal with every day because of Social Anxiety Disorder. I know humans and horses are different animals, but I think they teach us more than we realize.
Just being around horses makes me feel so much joy. They make living with a chronic illness a little less sucky than it is. Riding distracts me from all the issues I’m dealing with. I am able to live absolutely in the moment, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Everyone should have that hobby or activity in their lives. It may not cure my Crohn’s, but it definitely heals some of the pain I deal with mentally and emotionally. I am forever in debt to the equine species for giving me a reason to smile at least twice a week.