When to stop pushing your health aside and listen to your body

We are equestrians.  We are a formidable species that – for many – dedicate their lives to their horses and the love of the sport.  BUT – we are also a species that chose to ignore things, when things result in time away from our horse, or sick days are not feasible.  We drag our tired and often injured bodies through all types of weather conditions and situations and sometimes we don’t realise the potential damage we are doing to ourselves, until it’s too late.

For the last few years, I worked through chronic back pain, caused when a horse slipped coming down a hill when I was leading him and fell on me with full impact.  I was heavily bruised and sore for a few weeks after – but like so many others – I could move, there was clearly nothing broken, so no need for medical attention – but then in the last 3 to 4 years, I also ignored the signs that there was more wrong with my back than the previous years – and I suffered in silence in absolute agony for this time – working through the pain, granted, reducing the time in the saddle and “cutting back” on things, but only because of the paralytic pain. It was only when I had to roll onto the floor out of bed, in order to stand that I eventually gave in and took myself to the doctor – where I was diagnosed with peri-menopause and given advice on how to deal with the pain, started on natural type vitamin tablets and within 1 week, the pain had reduced, but the strain I had put on my back whilst being too stubborn to make time to seek help – has done long term damage. 

Which is my incentive to write this article.  SELF CARE Is an absolute must. Ignoring your body trying to tell yourself there is something wrong, pushing aside the obvious need for help because you don’t have time, or prioritising a show over a doctor’s appointment – is not ok.  I’m not lecturing anyone for doing this –  because I did it myself far too many times – but as I sit here and write this article, with a hot water bottle against my lower back trying to ease the pain, the smell of CBD balm wafting around my office, I can’t help but feel regret that I did this to myself.  That I couldn’t have found an hour in a day to seek the assistance I knew I needed.

Thinking back now – I could kick myself – for not saying to myself – you know what – the horses are fine being late with a feed – or, they are out in the field with loads of grass, they don’t need to see me this morning – or even that I’d taken the evening off, so I could have had a lie in the following morning instead of dragging myself out of bed exhausted. I’m wishing I had taken the offers of help from friends – to step in and look after my horses whilst I took time away to rest. Also remember those who can’t have a horse of their own, but would jump at the chance to have one to look after in exchange for rides, or even just the experience of what it’s like to own one. 

The saying your health is your wealth is SO True and as not just equestrians, but humans, we need to realise this.  Particularly to any younger readers right now – don’t put your needs to one side because you’re going to feel it extra hard when you’re older.  For anyone older reading this – if you feel tired, sore or just in need of a break – TAKE IT.  You provide your horse with a good life – a few days off, or time in bed, just recharging or recovering from something as simple as a cold, is not going to affect them. And if it’s more serious than a cold – then take as long as you need – put them out to grass, ask a friend or family member to mind them – or if you’re on your own – pay someone to do the work for you. There is ALWAYS a solution.

As I am now out of the saddle, and in my mid-forties –  I look back on my equestrian life – Having started riding before I could even walk, my dad popping me on a pony as a toddler, and leading us around – I never had time off from horses – I never knew a life without them- but I also never knew the “other things” to life – even the simplest thing, such as going for a manicure.  Waking up on a Saturday and not dashing around to make a show at 9am – but now, waking at my leisure and having a cup of coffee, before starting the day. Just taking the time for ME.  An alien concept to so many people who have horses.  But then you also need to remember that your horse needs YOU!

So if anyone reading this right now is feeling overwhelmed, tired, sore, or just like they need a break – DO IT.  Don’t feel guilty, or like you’re a bad owner- because quite simply you’re not.  You’re a human being made of skin and bones and unfortunately we are not invincible. Equestrians live a hard life in all weathers, being dragged around by horses, lifting heavy wheelbarrows, bales, shavings, taking falls and impacts to their bodies that the average person will not. 

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Description automatically generatedAccept yourself as you are. Remember that you are running your own race. Try not to compare your life and what it looks like right now to anyone else’s. When you start comparing yourself to others, it’s easy to feel inadequate, which makes it hard to even take the very first step in self-care. Instead, try your best to accept the person that you are and where you are in life right now. So what if the girl stabled next to you in the yard is up at 6am in the morning to ride her horse? Maybe she goes to bed at 8pm when you’re trying to put the kids to bed – or work a night shift! STOP COMPARING.

Description automatically generatedFocus on the basics. Sometimes being an adult is not easy and it can feel impossible to get even the littlest things done. Taking time for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean treating yourself to special things. One of the most important things you can do is focus on steps to ensure you’re living a healthy lifestyle.  This doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym – but instead, taking a Lemsip and having an early night, or not riding because it’s -4 degrees out!

Description automatically generatedRemember that you are not alone. Everyone struggles to take time for themselves, especially when they have animals depending on them, so try not to get down on yourself for not having everything perfectly balanced all of the time. There will always be people that understand where you’re coming from and are willing to help. As mentioned, ask your friends and family – or enlist paid help when you need to take some time for your recouperation, rest needs or health.  
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Description automatically generated with low confidencePractice mindfulness. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to make the most out of any amount of time that you do have to care for yourself. Take a few slow, deep breaths, focus on each of your senses, whether it’s taking a yoga class, or doing something that relaxes you, even if it’s just sitting in front of the tv with your feet up – we all need time to just SWITCH OFF to our worries, surroundings and life issues.

Description automatically generatedMake small goals. Unfortunately, taking time for yourself doesn’t just happen overnight, so try to be patient. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to immediately have the life you imagine – make small changes. If it’s that you want to cut down on your riding from 5 days a week, to 2 – do it gradually.  You are going to leave your horse out to grass instead of stabling every night? That’s fine- do it for a few nights of the week first!
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Description automatically generated with medium confidenceSet some boundaries. Sometimes, the only way to really be able to make time for self-care is to lessen the amount of time or energy that you are giving away to other people and your horses.. Having the sometimes tough conversations with yourself, to set boundaries around your time, your emotions, your health, and your opinions can give you an opportunity to devote more time and effort to needing to make the changes that you are striving towards.


When to stop pushing your health aside and listen to your body

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