Equestrian vs Depression: Embracing a New Pace in Life

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


We had a clinic at my barn this weekend, one that I was planning on riding in originally until my horse’s health meant it was better for me to sit out. Still, I audited and enjoyed taking notes and watching on the first day. But on the second day, I woke up and had zero desire to go. My depression washed over me with a vengeance. 

I felt like absolute horse poop by not going and learning, but I couldn’t bring myself out of bed. It was the most horrible feeling in the world. As much as I want to go learn and be at the barn I could not bring myself to do so. The entire day I felt devastated and debating about going to the barn to watch. I got into my car twice, but I could not bring myself to start it.

My mental health has suffered for a long time. In fact, it was originally my trainer who suggested I go seek help. That was two years ago, and I am so thankful I took her advice. Since then, I’ve started taking positive steps to establish good mental health for myself. It has been a long road. 

Over the past few months, I have lost sight of my goals. By doing so, my horse and I are both suffering. I decided for my family’s safety that I will not go to any horse shows. Personally, I do not need to go to shows. Though I love how much I learn at horse shows, I don’t need to compete to be satisfied with my riding. I’m just as content staying at home working to make me and my horse better. Horse shows don’t make or break a rider. Nor do the number of shows or ribbons show how successful an equestrian is. 

But recently, my old goal of simply bettering my riding in any way that I can hasn’t been cutting it. Without having any concrete riding goals, I feel lost. Of course, I still enjoy swinging my leg over the saddle and the power of the horse underneath me—that makes me feel invincible. But during my lessons I feel a major disconnect between my current self and the equestrian I once was. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I know my stress levels have a big part of why I have been feeling the way I currently am. With the pandemic, my stress levels have been super high and being with my horse has been a major relief. Horses are a part of me and I do not know what would become of me if I ever give my passion up. 

None of that has changed, but this has been a difficult year for everyone. Many of us feel lost. The hardest part for me is not knowing what I want. The hardest part of not knowing what you want is realizing that you do not know what you want. That is the killer—it’s like not legging enough through the turn. Your entire pace in life changes. For a split second, you do not know where you are at and what needs to happen to make your ride successful. I’ve messed up my distances, and am working to figure out my new pace. 

So when it came to the clinic, I realized my inability to get to the barn was a sign that my mental health needed a break. I stayed home and worked on stuff around the house. The unexpected mental health day turned out to be immensely beneficial to me. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I did some thinking about my riding goals, and decided to shift my mentality as I found a new pace. My goal now is to be in the moment and mentally there for my horse and barn family. When I feel depressed or stressed, I’ll skip lessons. I’ll take time to focus on enjoyment, my stress levels, and navigating these difficult times with my loved ones. 

I want to be an advocate for mental health in the horse world. Let’s face it—we’re all a little nuts (in the best possible way). In this sport we are constantly judged and always worried about the health and safety of our horses while we strive to constantly improve. It’s a fruitful combination for mental health struggles. 

This year, I’ve realized it’s okay to not know what you want. Changing your life’s pace can come with hard lessons. My depression that overcame me the second day of the clinic became my necessary leg, which is allowing me to develop a new goal and a new way of thinking about myself as a rider. 

The author has been riding hunter/ jumpers since she was 8 years old. She is a junior in college, and is majoring in accounting. When she’s not with the horses or doing school work, she is generally doing sometime outside.