It’s Mental Health Awareness week, Eventing Worldwide contacted some of the Worlds best event riders to ask how they cope in such a busy and pressurised world..
How are you coping during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am coping absolutely fine during the pandemic, other than the fact I am a little tired due to decreased numbers of staff and no time off as a result, but that’s the nature of the game! I am using this time to give the horses plenty of attention and optimise their programmes, such as assessing and improving diets and exercise routines.
Have you encountered any difficulties due to lockdown?
Not yet, as we are out in the sticks, so it’s fairly straight forward at the moment but we are a bit stretched across all the duties, due to lack of staff and trying to stay on top of everything that needs to be done.
Would you say you feel more stressed than normal, due to the restrictions?
Definitely not as I am always trying to juggle many different balls. This is probably the least stressed I have been in years!
I’m doing a lot of painting, tidying my place up and focusing on my own fitness. It’s been great to have the time to do this. I had planned a holiday in April, which was obviously cancelled, but I have still had this time to use as a mental break and to recuperate, so it has actually been rather pleasant!
Do you normally suffer with any mental health conditions? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I don’t believe I have, however I lost my father 3 years ago to cancer and there was a time there where I worried about coping with everything and the responsibilities I had. I did feel very stressed and depressed at that time. It took me a while to get over that. Time is a great healer and horses played a big part in this.
Has being around horses helped overcome any stress related struggles in your career? What strategies have you implemented to help you stay level headed in tougher times?
Yes, when I lost my father I wasn’t able to sleep. We had 3 eventers at the time and two were about to step up to advanced level. This kept us all going as a family and gave us all something to focus on. It got me motivated to do well, even though we didn’t actually have a very good year. We also lost one of my best horses in the same year that my father passed and the other advanced horse had a freak fall at Hartpury and unfortunately never quite bounced back from it. The following year we discovered a tumour on his sheath and we ended up losing him too. It was a tough time. The horses did help but, there were trials and tribulations with that too!
Have you or anyone close to you felt that they couldn’t speak up about how they may be feeling for fear of being judged or perceived differently? Do you think that mental health conditions can have a bad reputation which means some who suffer are less inclined to open up about it?
It’s hard having been to the Olympics and having a high standard and particular way of wanting everything done. It can be difficult for some people to see why you want things done in a certain way, which can make you feel quite isolated in that respect. I do think people judge others, especially those that have never experienced mental health conditions. However, I do believe that at some point in our lives, everyone experiences it in one way or another. Things in life just don’t go smoothly all the time and it’s important to learn how to deal with these things. I was taught a very good expression, “you never judge a person on a good day, you judge a person on their bad day” and I think that is absolutely true for every person. On a bad day, I make sure I can be the best I can be, because you just don’t know if someone else is struggling too or if they need support. You just don’t know who’s going through what.
Do you think that other competitors or spectators might see someone as weak in a competition driven by bravery if they were to open up about suffering with a mental health condition?
Unfortunately yes, I think that honesty isn’t always a good thing. If you can show you can overcome something, it can be a really good thing. I was interested in Tyson Fury’s story, because he can have some very bad days, he has anxiety and depression and really struggles with it. I suppose I was struggling the first couple of weeks because it was hard to feel like I had achieved anything. I like to achieve something so I feel like I have made the most of that day. I have since relaxed on that and I probably would have burnt out at that speed! I think people would see it as a weakness but if you have a way of overcoming it then possibly people will see it as an act of bravery.
What would you say to someone who finds therapy in their horses, but struggles with event related anxiety?
There are tools available for goal setting and visualising which I find very useful, along with learning to clear my thoughts. I have so many ideas and things to think about and things not to forget, it really affects my sleep. So, I’ve learnt how to manage that better and to slow things down. If you use the right tools to help you learn to manage it and find the right coach who can put things in the best way for you, you can relax and perform your best on a competition day.
It’s time to remove the stigma of mental health from our sport by speaking out and increasing mental health awareness, understanding, and confidence amongst all riders. Remember that #ItsOkayNotToBeOkay
Riders Minds is available to ALL riders both amateur and professional for anybody struggling with mental health
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