Mixing Depression and Anxiety with the Love of Horses

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

BY PEARL RUNNING DEER

Covid-19 put society into a world we never experienced before. Humans weren’t meant for total isolation. Human contact—even hearing a human’s voice—is necessary for survival. We are people who like walking in the sun, dancing in the rain, hearing happy sounds and enjoying smelling flowers.

As the pandemic became more manageable, we were thrust back into society at warp speed. The sun smacked us in the face. The rain is cold, and it felt like people stared through us. Living with yourself for two years became a mirror. Many people didn’t like what they saw in that mirror. The human race came out of their houses, with unexpected baggage. It wasn’t expected, realized, or wanted but… there it is.

Depression can make you emotionally distant, faking a smile, social isolation, overeating or not eating at all.

Anxiety can make you over-read things, particularly when it comes to others’ emotions that you may feel excessively responsible for. You run on empty and need to take a step back from everything. So you can recharge and get back to normal.

People who have depression or anxiety (which all of us have experience from time to time) have triggers. Triggers can happen when you have been violated, neglected, or a wound that hasn’t healed yet. But when those negative triggers pop up, horses can be incredibly healing. 

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

Trigger:  The more you keep seeing the same four walls, the more you don’t want to go out. Because you feel like no one wants to see you or misses you. 

Solution – Go to the stable: A change of surroundings will do you good. The drive to the barn. Car windows are down, fresh air caresses your face. You can smell fresh cut grass or pine trees. Pulling into the driveway of the stable. Your heart pounds, you are going to see your best friend. Just cruising up the driveway relaxes you. One of the riders sees your car and waves at you. Your horse nickers at you and runs to the fence. Never underestimate the power of a horse nicker!

Trigger: Depression can also make you angry. You can’t fix the problem. You can’t get yourself out of this bad situation.

Solution – Clean the stalls: If you are a border, ask the manager if you can help clean the stalls. There is something about a clean barn smelling pine or cedar shaving that brings comfort to the soul. Especially when you did it yourself. It also helps gets out frustration stabbing your pitchfork into someone else’s mess.

Trigger: Having no energy to do anything or be with anyone. No one cares.

Solution – Brush your horse: Feeling something warm, snuggling with you without wanting anything, calms the mind. Getting all the dirt off, (they had to find a mud puddle if your horse sense you’re coming!) gives you exercise while accomplishing a result of a shiny coat. Your horse enjoys the message and you both get bonding time.

Trigger: Depression can make you emotionally distant, faking a smile, social isolation, overeating or not eating at all.

Solution – Go trail riding: There is something about the color green and being alone with your horse gives you a sense of tranquility. You become self-aware of your surroundings. You hear the robin singing in the oak tree, and see a deer out of the left corner of your eye while smelling the honeysuckles. You become one with nature and your horse. When you finally return to the stable, you’re exhausted but refreshed at the same time.

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

Trigger: Certain smells remind you of you when you were happy, but now you’re lost.

Solution – Clean your tack: Something about working with your hands and smelling the oil brings your senses to a high. A freshly clean saddle and bridle have a feel of self-accomplishment.

Trigger: When you shut down it doesn’t necessarily mean you are mad at them or don’t like them. You can’t find the words to explain what you’re going through. You don’t want to burden them with your problems. It might make them reject you.

Solution – Go to a horse show: Even if you’re not competing, go watch your competition. Cheer for your friends or cheer for a stranger, “Just because.” Encourage a child rider who is afraid to go into the ring.  Talk to people. Ask about their horse. You will find everyone has problems. And many are in the same boat as you. They are using horse shows as an outlet to enjoy the day.

When you’re depressed, things usually feel like they progress at a slower pace than you want, but healing takes time. But by heading to the barn, you can spend time with your best friend who loves you unconditionally!

While seeking professional mental help is the best way to go. Being around horses can help you to forget your problems. Even if it’s just a few hours.


Pearl Running Deer was the first Native American who rode on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. She would follow Frank Chapot or Bert De Nemethy teachings. In 2003-13 she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she worked with film directors, being a girl Friday. Ms. Running Deer teaches, coaches at horse shows, and gives clinics. She has founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc. Starting a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also is a Freelance writer.

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