Why Horse Owners Need Self-Care and How to Incorporate it into Your Life with Horses By Pamela L. Maynard, PhD
"Taking care of yourself can help you take control of your life."
I believe it is fair to say that horse owners tend to take care of their horses better than themselves. The horses get their teeth done before we go to the dentist. We budget for horse vitamins but not vitamins for ourselves. And we will go without before our horse does. I know for me when one of my horses is sick or not at their best, it stresses me out. However, when we don’t take care of ourselves then we can’t always have the capacity to take the best care of our horses. Our health is interconnected with the health of our horses and it is important to learn the practice of self-care—even if it is just 15 minutes a day. Because when we don’t take the time for self-care and create some balance in our lives, we start to spiral and feel like life is out of control.
When you feel out of control, I am sure the last thing you are thinking about is your own physical and emotional health. It is not uncommon for us horse lovers to put the needs of our horses before our own needs. As life gets progressively crazier, you will probably feel the need to take control of something. You might concentrate on making sure that at least you have not gone over your monthly horse budget. You may console yourself with the knowledge that you are on top of things at the barn. You could take some measure of control back by making sure that your horses are fed on time. When the tides of life have left you running yourself ragged, self-care is probably the last thing on your mind.
Self-care brings images to our mind of relaxing in a giant bubble bath with a glass of wine and chocolate, but the reality is that you feel lucky if you manage a ten-minute shower every day. You tell yourself that you can focus on yourself once you are caught up and have everything else under control. Unfortunately, it is hard to balance your life back into some sort of order when you are exhausted, run-down, unfocused, and low on energy. However, taking time to focus on your own needs can help you regain the motivation and clarity you need to create balance in your life. And part of that balance is having time to ride, show, and care for your horses.
The last I checked we are still having a global pandemic. The wildfires are raging across the US West Coast and times just seem crazy. I can’t think of a better time than now to start implementing self-care into your horse life. So today, I challenge you to start incorporating self-care into your everyday life. It will help you take back your life when things seem out of control. To do this, you have to have some tools in your toolbox to maintain your sanity during these unprecedented times.
No matter how busy your schedule is, I bet you can probably find 15 minutes a day somewhere. Whether you set your alarm to go off a little earlier, take a slightly longer lunch break or pause for a few minutes after dinner. I encourage you to find or create a small gap in your schedule. This is now your “me-time.” Use this little block of time to do something that is just for you—not for your friends or family. Pick something you enjoy doing alone and that you find relaxing and refreshing. Instead of an evening shower, spend 15 minutes soaking in a hot bath. Set your alarm for a few minutes earlier and take a 15- minute walk through the woods or the neighborhood. Do something to refresh your energy and let yourself breathe. Even if those 15 minutes feel like wasted time, remember that in airplane emergencies you have to put your oxygen mask on first! You are not able to help anyone if you are running on an empty tank. Take a few minutes for yourself each day and, when you feel guilty for it, remind yourself of the old saying, “physician heal thyself.”
Unfortunately, stress is a normal part of life and it doesn't just go away. I would take this a step further and remind us that even though for many people horses are our sanity, it can also be stressful. Many have been running a horse business during the pandemic dealing with canceled shows, which results in reduced income. Customers who lost their job were forced to take their horse out of training. In addition, the cost of hay has gone up along with unemployment rates. The list goes on and ignoring it does not help the matter. Neither does bottling it up inside. Internalizing stress just creates anxiety and/or irritability that makes you feel like you're going to explode. You might manage to keep your happy face on for a while, but eventually, it builds up too much and we end up lashing out at someone close when they ask for the simplest of things. This also crosses over to our horses. Horses sense our emotions, tension, and stress. Did you have a bad ride on your horse this week and blame it on the horse? How many times have you said the horse was having a bad hair day or that it woke up on the wrong side of the bed? The reality is that WE were having a bad day and the horse was just reacting to us.
If you have a smartphone or other device, you are virtually carrying around the world in your pocket. You can connect with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. You have access to an overwhelming amount of information via the world wide web. With the explosion of online shopping options, you could comfortably live more or less your entire life without ever having to leave your house. And yet, we were freaking out about having to stay home for a while. The constant exposure to information that comes with technology can leave you feeling like you are on an endless roller coaster ride. You can see every detail of your friend’s lives on social media, and the tragedy of the day follows you around in the news. If you have your work emails synced to your phone, you are never really on vacation, and most apps come with notifications that inform you about updates, status changes, or that someone liked your recent horse meme.
Don’t get me wrong it is fun looking at horses in the sale Facebook groups and watching Olympians ride their freestyle on YouTube. However, when you are tied to your smartphone, iPad, or computer all the time, you are at the mercy of the rest of the world. You struggle to control what you see, and even the best day can be ruined by the latest story on the news or seeing another horse that needs to be rescued from the kill pen. If you want to take back your life, try taking a break from technology and social media on a regular basis. Leave your phone in the barn when you go for a ride or limit yourself to how many horse videos you watch a day on YouTube. You will find that taking control of your own life is much easier once you step back and untangle yourself from other people’s lives and technology. I call it a digital detox. I make it a point to leave my phone in the house or the barn while I am with my horses. I can't be fully present with my horse and have the best ride when I am stopping to answer my phone, respond to a text, or like a post.
Exercise seems to be the remedy for all mental, emotional, or physical health concerns and it is something us horse lovers probably don't do enough of. Yes, we spend a lot of time moving while mucking stalls, moving hay bales, and sweeping barn isles. The good news is that some physical activity is way better than none. Even though riding is great for our thighs and glutes, it is not the same as working out. Regular exercise releases endorphins that help reduce stress and can help you sleep better at night. Exercising a few times a week will also leave you feeling more energized as your health improves and it will get you in even better shape for riding that Grand Prix test! You do not need to become a gym junkie or a workout guru to reap the benefits of exercise. A brisk morning walk around the block can help you feel more focused and 30 minutes on the treadmill can do wonders for your sleep. It’s easy to make excuses for avoiding exercise. “I don’t have time” and “I am too tired” are some common justifications. Spoiler alert! If you have time to watch The Walking Dead or scroll through Facebook, you have time to exercise. You can also do both activities at once. Set up a treadmill or exercise bike in your home where you can see the TV and watch your favorite shows while you work out—just not while you are supposed to be doing your digital detox! LOL!
It is hard to feel in control of your life when you are always feeling tired and need a nap. If you are skimping on sleep, you probably do not have the motivation to take back your life even if you had the energy to do so. As anyone who has stayed up too late knows, lack of sleep will leave you exhausted, irritable, and unable to focus on the things that are most important to you—like your horses! In addition to miserable mornings and a deep longing for the ability to drink straight caffeine (which raises your cortisol levels-the stress hormone), chronic sleep deprivation has been connected to several health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.
Getting enough rest will make a world of difference in your life. You will have more energy and motivation to put toward your goals, and life’s little irritants will leave you far less annoyed. Make it a point to get enough sleep each night, and you will find it much easier to take back your life. Because it is pretty hard to enjoy your horse when you are dealing with health issues!
Self-care does not have to take a great deal of time to be extremely effective. Getting enough sleep, watching TV from a treadmill, and spending a few minutes each day on yourself can leave you feeling like a whole new person. Spend some time focusing on yourself, and you will find it much easier to take back your life. After all, you cannot reasonably expect to control the many twists and turns of life if you cannot make time to control your health. Take care of yourself, and you will find it much easier to take back control of your life. Trust me your family, friends, and horses will thank you for it!
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