Break the stigma!
Christa Dillon introduces our mental health focus series
The equestrian industry as a whole is fraught with challenges and obstacles. Those who choose to live in this world are generally tough, resilient people who are driven by a great love of all things horse. Equestrians expect to encounter difficulties in the pursuit of their chosen careers – it is never a case of ‘if’, it is only ever a case of ‘when’. Horses going lame or becoming unwell at the worst possible times, awkward clients, dreadful weather, missed opportunities and struggling to make ends meet are ‘de rigueur’.
Physical injuries are commonplace and inconvenient but, in time they can be carried as some sort of peculiar badge of honour, equestrians can often be heard jovially partaking in a game of ‘injury oneupmanship’ over an obligatory show day burger and chips. But, what about the long term effect that the incessant grind of the equestrian industry can have on the mind? It seems that no matter how much the topic of mental health is opened up and discussed, the stigma surrounding the subject still stubbornly remains in place.
It is easy to quantify a physical injury. Seeing someone in a plaster cast and on crutches is definable and obvious and, we can ask the person about what has happened to them without much fear of offence or repercussion. But what about those struggling with their mental health? We may be unaware as to the depth of someone’s suffering. We can’t obviously see what is going on, and so we cannot easily quantify the difficulties that a person may be experiencing. This in turn brings a type of insecurity, which can make it almost impossible to know what to do or say to bring a little comfort and support. Very often it is less painful and less humiliating for the person at war inside their own head, to simply operate behind a sunny facade and outwardly, to appear perfectly fine. This is one of the reasons why a decline in mental health can be so frighteningly serious. You can’t disguise a broken leg, nor pass it off as ‘no big deal’ but that person standing right next to you, smiling and joking, may be wondering how to keep on going each day. And no one knows it but them.
Over the coming weeks The Horse Hub will be looking at the mental health and wellbeing of all industry professionals. We have many personal accounts of bullying and the stress of trying to meet impossible expectations or deliver the news an owner might not want to hear, as well as dealing with toxicity and negativity in yards and at horse shows. In contrast, we will also explore the almost magical ability of the horse to change a human’s life for the better and, ways in which horses can be utilised to help people overcome enormous adversity in their lives. Additional topics will centre around body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and confidence both on and off the horse.
The message that we need to keep on talking openly about mental health is clear. It is only by looking out for one another, listening without judgement, offering support and understanding, and living with compassion for fellow man, that we may one day begin to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.