BY LINDSEY ANUZIS GAGE
Like a Barbie collection, horses have all kinds of accessories—blankets, boots, bits and brushes. But the most important accessory is the one that allows us the ability to ride them, and that is our tack. It all needs care and maintenance.
So, why do we maintain our tack so carefully? Cleaning keeps the leather looking nice, but also allows us to examine it and get insight into how things are holding up. When I was growing up, my trainer instilled the notion that it was important to clean tack daily in order to assess wear and tear and any potential safety hazards. This means examining each and every piece of leather; taking it apart, and putting it back together piece by piece while inspecting all the keepers, billets, and buckles. While this may seem like a tedious task, especially when you are already in a time crunch, I promise you slowing down to take the extra steps will be beneficial.
Having grown up in the horse world, essentially being raised in a barn, I was accustomed to the long days—especially over the summer during hay season. 6 am- 8 pm was the norm- watering and feeding the horses, turning out, mucking the barn, unloading the hay wagons, having a lesson on my horse, and exercising horses for other clients. Grooming, feeding cleaning, training.. random farm chores such as weeding the ring or fixing fence posts… all in a day’s work, right? And while I loved it all, and wouldn’t trade it for the world; I realize now with my mental health education that those long days can really take a toll on a person, both mentally, and physically!
So while the work does need to be done, (horses don’t feed themselves, and they definitely don’t muck out their stalls themselves! I would encourage you to check in with yourselves more often and examine areas where you may be getting weak. How do we know when routine wear and tear on our minds and bodies become hazardous? Typically, we don’t. At least not until we start to see negative implications in other areas of our lives such as our work-life balance, social interactions, stress management, or overall wellness habits.
What would happen if you took care of yourself as thoroughly as you took care of your tack and your horse? Noticing any area that’s weak and about to break, and therefore taking preventative measures to find a solution. Your mental health works in the same fashion. Does your self-care measure up to the care you provide for your horse? In my own experience, it typically doesn’t.
This is one of the many reasons why burnout is so prevalent in the horse world. Trainers, barn managers, and riders are all under various levels of stress, have insurmountable responsibility, long days, and minimal financial support. The stress from it all can have a variety of negative implications on mental and physical health—not to mention performance in competition!
Self-care is one way to reduce and prevent ongoing and chronic stress. In the horse world, the work really never ends. It is easy to become overwhelmed, feeling like you are always playing catch up, and sacrificing your own time and energy to feel accomplished. It is a cycle and an unhealthy one at that.
Self-care however, can be a key factor in reducing burnout with horses and in general life! Self-care is what we do to re-charge our batteries. It looks different for everyone depending on their individual needs. For some this may look like setting boundaries as to enjoy alone time, decompressing from the day while reading a book, for others it could be time spent socializing, or through doing yoga, a spa day, or hiking. Self-care is anything you do to protect, and recharge your energy. Self-care is not selfish, in fact, it is necessary.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with this concept, one way to identify the areas of life that are being neglected is through a wellness wheel (I have included one of my favorite models below)! A wellness wheel is a tool that explores various facets of a person’s overall health. I use this in sessions with clients, and for myself in my personal life. The wheel breaks down wellness into various categories.
Wellness may look slightly different between children and adults but overall covers the same categories. Typically, we consider wellness to encompass physical health, emotional/mental health, social health, occupational/educational health, spiritual health, intellectual health, leisure health, and financial health.
In identifying what areas of your life could benefit from a bit of support, you may feel better equipped to start nourishing those parts! Ask yourself questions about what wellness means to you. Explore the factors that make you well, or less well in mind, body, spirit, and connection. You can reflect on times when you have felt your best, and your worst, and patterns in the way that your wellness has changed over time. This may provide insight into adjustments that impact your wellness, therefore helping you identify ways to practice and improve your self-care.
Lindsey is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate located in Charlotte, NC. She knows from personal experience how symbiotic the relationship between horses and mental health are. Lindsey had spent much of her life working with, caring for, and riding horses in central New Jersey, before moving south to ride for the IHSA team at High Point University, and eventually attending Wake Forest University for Graduate school. As a therapist, she specializes in working with adolescents, and young adult females, as they navigate through various challenges related to stress, anxiety, life transitions, depression, body image, self-esteem and self-worth challenges, relationships, and grief. Follow her professional Instagram account @GageYourGrowth for more easily digestible mental health related content!