Horses & Christmas: 5 mental wellbeing tips to help equestrians get through this tough time of year!
Updated: Jan 26
‘You work with horses?’ They say at the Christmas drinks party...
‘How wonderful. Wow, you’re so lucky!’
Hmmm. Ok, working with horses may seem ‘lucky’ to people who sit under a strip light all day surrounded by equally unfulfilled colleagues who also hate their mundane office jobs, but wading through mud, changing rugs, battling the elements, and trying to keep money coming in, isn’t much fun for the equestrian at this time of year either!
In fact, as anyone who looks after horses will know, this time of year is especially hard because equines need constant care and attention all-year-round; the most pressing question of the moment right now being:
‘Who the hell’s going to do them on Christmas day?’
Memories of Christmas past
Having been a professional rider for several years (before severe bipolar disorder ripped an enormous hole in my life and nearly killed me), I can remember how difficult it was to stay motivated through the long, arduous, and uninspiring winter months.
It’s definitely a time where my mental well-being would suffer, so I feel for anyone who is battling to keep going right now, and today I’m going to share five ideas for how to get through this potentially very difficult time.
1. Forward planning
If you are running a big yard and you have all the mucking out to do on Christmas morning, then it’s a good idea to do as much in advance as you possibly can.
This may include practical steps such as:
Making all feeds in advance and stuffing them in bins
Preparing all haynets for at least the whole of Christmas Day
Rugging horses in turn-out rugs so they can go straight out
Filling extra water buckets if you don’t have automatic drinkers
And anything else you can think of to make life easier.
Remember – although I know how precious these event horses can be – they are designed to survive in the wild, so being rugged for one night in turnout rugs and even possibly surviving out in the field or in a corral or pen really isn’t going to kill them.
Be practical – as long as they are fed and watered, they will be quite happy!
Riders are especially bad at this because they so often want everything done to their own ridiculously high standards, but my advice (for at least this one day of the year) would be to:
LET IT GO!
If anyone will give you a hand on Christmas Day then accept it! Non horsey Dads can still work out how to empty a wheelbarrow and anyone can sweep a yard.
Give them obvious jobs and delegate as much work out to others as you possibly can, this will give you the best chance of being able to relax and enjoy the day too.
This one may seem ridiculous as you wade through the quagmire, but gratitude is infectious and goes both ways.
Send thank you messages to owners and grooms on Christmas Day.
Send them pictures of their horses and thank them for their continued support; practice the art of gratitude and more than likely it will come back in your direction too.
Admittedly, gratitude is impossible if you are suffering from depression or other mental illness, but once you get into the state of being grateful, it is impossible to be negative at the same time, so for mental well-being it’s definitely a good point to remember.
4. Time off
Physical recovery for the rider is as important as mental, and the two go hand in hand so make sure you give your body the time off that it needs in these quieter winter months.
The season is long so don’t panic about riding religiously all winter because the likelihood is that you will hardly get any time off mid-season, plus you won’t ride at your best if you aren’t physically and mentally well rested.
If you are not having time off over Christmas then tell your staff that you are taking some time off after the festivities are over when they are back on the yard.
Do NOT feel guilty about doing this.
In other jobs people get time off at weekends, bank-holidays, Christmas, Easter etc, etc, and you work bloody hard, so get away from the horses from time to time and perhaps even take up a new hobby or interest?
Something completely non-equestrian would be the ideal because:
A change is as good as a rest
Joining a language course or learning a new skill can be as refreshing for your mental well-being as simple R&R so never be afraid to try something new.
5. Rediscovering the love
Remember why you have horses?
Yes – believe it or not you enjoy this!
This might be hard to remember right now, but that’s the truth – you started doing this because it was your passion and you loved it.
On Christmas Day (and on other long winter’s days when you’re wondering why you do this) find a picture of your first horse or pony and reminisce a little.
Go back to those times in your mind and reflect.
Revisit those feelings of joy as you sailed round your first pony club hunter trial and relive the happy and uplifting experiences.
Go out to the yard and simply thank the horses for their presence
So often for professionals the horses become numbers and the love for the sport somehow diminishes through the sea of bills, disasters and problems, but lurking underneath it all is a grand passion for these wonderful, mystical beasts.
Hug them, thank them, be at one with them.
I was never able to do any of this when I was a competing rider, in fact I got to the point where I was so fed up with it that I never thought I even wanted to smell a horse again let alone ride one (admittedly I did have severe depression too) but guess what happened?
Now that I’m better and can see the ‘bigger picture’ there’s nothing I look forward to more than going out on Christmas Morning and mucking out Ed - My favourite horse in the world who does nothing for me except eat hay and roll in mud in his retirement.
But I love it…
Because fundamentally I have a great love of horses in general – we all need to remind ourselves of this and rediscover those deeply rooted feelings if we possibly can!
For anyone who is struggling this Christmas there are many, many other posts offering advice and help on this site, as well as a range of support and helplines detailed on the homepage including Riders Minds who offer a 24hr text and phone line service.
I wish everyone both four legged and otherwise a very happy Christmas.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,