Breaking the Mental Health Stigma with the HAY Campaign

With Ireland’s first Equestrian Mental Health Week underway, it is only right that we all come together and be united as one. As the days go on and the HAY Campaign progresses, each day I am even more surprised and humbled than the last. To see such a huge industry come together, it turns out we are a closer knit community than we realized! It has been amazing and so important to see everyone come together, from ourselves here at The Grassroots Gazette, to the professionals and amateurs within our sport, what a week it has been!

There is no doubt that the Covid19 pandemic proved to be a seriously tough time for people, including myself. However as I tuned in to one of The Grassroots Gazette livestreams this week, with Shane McCarthy, Brendan Murphy and Eventing Ireland, one thought process ran through my head.  

Brendan Murphy mentioned – “I found a new lease to a peaceful life” throughout covid. 

This got me thinking. As the pandemic hit us equestrians, there was an automatic panic amongst us. “What about the competitions?”, “My training has been cancelled”. This made me think about Brendan’s statement above. For some it was an awful time, for others it may have brought peace, quiet time, horses having a break, riders and staff having a break, shorter working hours. It brought a different mindset to many people within the industry. Myself as a coach for example – I found many of my clients feeling bored and lacking motivation. I stressed that ‘road-blocks’ will occur, and feeling a lack of motivation was normal for any human.

I asked my clients – what do you want to achieve? Lets break down short term and long term goals. Many people will find this easier than feeling under constant pressure to ‘perform’. It was great to see so many people just enjoying time with the horses, whether that was riding and going back to some basic foundation training, or simply checking on them in the field. A mental break will always do more good than harm. As others across the equine industry mentioned throughout livestreams this week – they finally got to spend quality time with family and friends, in which case brought happy signals and had a positive effect on general mental health.  

There is no doubt that working in the equine industry is tough. Let’s be honest – the rosettes, reels and spotless horses make it seem like such a glamorous job. Whilst in fact, 70% of the time it’s the complete opposite. We’ve all been there – knee deep in mud, ripped rugs, injuries, a dark and dull sky when beginning the working day, and a darker sky when finishing the working day. Whether it’s a working yard, or your own horses you are looking after, the equine industry can be a very lonely place at times. 

I am guilty myself of sometimes not reaching out when I need to, “I’ll do it, sure leave that with me”. It is important not to feel guilty for not pleasing everyone around us, but to have the courage to say you are not ok if that is the case. Fatigue also plays a huge role for mental health within the equine industry. I find that us equestrians have the mentality of “someone needs to do it, the show must go on”. Which is true in a sense, although physical and mental burnout is another huge issue, in any job of course but especially while working with horses.

Next time you may feel yourself in a hard place or threading on tough times, here are some reminders;

  • Rest when you need to
  • Your past doesn’t define you
  • Its okay to prioritize yourself
  • You are worthy

Let’s remember to not put too much pressure on ourselves. Reach out to one another and simply ask “HAY” – How are you? https://twitter.com/hay_campaign/status/1616244176676339712?s=20&t=Yyx0lQ-X0SHX9EBOqzjG5g

For the Hay Campaign to have such an impact on us, This is huge progress, for a stigma that has seriously been lacking in such a demanding industry, both physically and mentally. To reach out, talk to someone, it could be anyone, myself, a friend or a stranger, as we say just pick up the phone, send that message or make that call.

Mental health is important, as the saying goes ‘look after number 1’. Number 1 being YOU! Remember – a bad day doesn’t mean it’s a bad life, and trust the next chapter, because you are the author.

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Breaking the Mental Health Stigma with the HAY Campaign

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