Working in the equine industry and suffering mental health.
A comment was made to me a few months ago now. It even made me question if I was worthy to continue coaching. Its left me wondering if I am good enough. Am I capable of working as a professional in the equestrian industry? The comment was ‘you’re a nothing’. How can one comment from a stranger have so much effect on a person? Truth is as a person who suffers from depression, anxiety and PTSD with chronic fatigue my brain really doesn’t need any extra excuses to find something to make me feel bad or worry.
I guess it’s brought the main question to light in my mind that are we, those who suffer mental health issues ‘good enough’. Are we good enough to work in this industry and be valued as professionals? The answer to that is ‘yes, we most definitely are!!’
The good thing about the equine industry is there’s so many different branches within the industry. There are so many different disciplines, show jumping, dressage, western, camp drafting, vaulting etc just to name a few and then within those disciplines there’s so many professions available. Not only do we need coaches and riders/trainers, we need farriers, vets, body workers, grooms etc again just to name a few.
The other thing is that having experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD etc makes you relate-able to people with the same or similar conditions. For me in particular working as a riding coach I’ve found that a lot of my clients have sought me out through word of mouth because I understand how it is to try and ride with these conditions. Understanding that it’s not just ‘mind over matter’ and that there’s good and bad days and we just need to be present with the person we have in that moment.
The biggest thing I have learnt over the past few years as a coach and trainer is to work within my own health parameters. Am I very good at doing that.. haha, no. I love my work, I wish I had endless energy to go out and ride like ‘normal’ professionals do. I wish I could teach from sun up to sun down and ride my own horses every day and compete every weekend but the truth is I can’t. The hard part about mental health is that it can be so unpredictable. I love it when you hear people who tell you oh it’s just ‘mind over matter’. Sorry, buts that’s a load of bollocks. Those who suffer mental health issues know that we don’t always have control over how we are feeling. Anxiety and panic attacks can arise at any time with unexpected triggers and fatigue and depression always seem to pop up just when you have big plans on the horizon.
So how do you manage a business in the equine industry when you struggle with mental health issues.
- Be open. I know it’s hard because even with all the media about dealing with mental health it still remains a bit of a taboo subject. People don’t tend to know how to respond if they haven’t dealt with similar things themselves. Having people around you that understand your condition definitely helps. By being open and knowing who supports you and accepts you helps you to create a supportive network of friends and clients. If people don’t accept or understand that’s ok too, I’ve just found that those are people who don’t fit in my circle so I let them move on and I focus my energy and time on those who do accept me the way I am.
- Be organised. Even though mental health can be so unpredictable it helps to be organised. I try and plan ahead to a) motivate myself, b) know when I am able to rest and recover, and c) it helps me settle my mind on days when I am struggling. Being organised means it’s one less thing I need to worry about.
- Train yourself do deal with a certain level of discomfort. This has been one of the hardest ones for me. It’s very easy to get caught up in how you are feeling. I am a person who wants to give my clients 100% so if I’m not feeling like I can give 100% I feel like I am letting people down, but truth be told, if you can turn up and help someone, no matter at what capacity they are generally happier to have you there than not at all.
- Train your responses. Something that’s really hard to do is to train our responses to triggers. Triggers will always be there. Once you have experienced trauma for example you will always react when that trigger gets brought forward. But what I have found is that you can train your response to the response. So, for example I will always react when I see a blue ute. I used to have to pull over because I would go into panic mode. Now, slowly, over the past few years I’ve trained myself to go through a check list. I see a blue ute, and it still sucks the air out of me.. then, I go what make is the ute, what model is the ute, what does the tray look like and by answering those questions I can now avoid myself from going into full blown panic mode because I can assure myself there is no danger. Mind you, it’s taken nearly 3 years for me to train this, so it doesn’t happen overnight! This will help you to continue functioning rather than falling in a heap when a trigger occurs. And it will avoid the depressive fatigue that can occur after a trigger as well. I still find triggers wear me out but not to the extent that I can’t continue with my work day.
- Most importantly, do what you love!! Trust your passion and your love for the work you do.
Kyrie De Jong Show-jumper, trainer and instructor.