We’ve all been a victim of stress at some point in our equestrian lives, whether it’s nerves in the run-up to a competition, fear as a result of a bad fall or simply feeling overwhelmed by the feat of juggling your horse with all the other commitments in your life. But what can you do to resolve the situation and begin to feel more positive about your time at the yard?
It’s likely that your go-to de-stressing technique involves a moan to a friend or partner over a glass of wine, or sprawling on the sofa watching a few episodes of your latest TV addiction – or all of the above. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can easily do if stress strikes at the yard, although a hip flask and a good internet connection mean it’s not totally out of the question. However, learning a few simple stress-busting techniques can make everything much more bearable.
What is stress?
We’ve all heard of stress and it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? Stress is the body’s natural response to a threatening situation – it’s what your horse experiences when he spooks at a plastic bag flapping in the hedge, for example. In both humans and horses, stress floods the body with chemicals, including the hormone cortisol, to prepare it for fight or flight. In some cases this can be life-saving – think of your horse and the incredibly dangerous plastic bag – but when the situation is beyond your control, it can become emotionally and physically damaging.
Spot the signs
There’s no medical definition for stress, but it’s generally caused by situations or events that put you under pressure and your ability to cope with them. If you find something difficult to cope with or lose control of a situation, it’s likely to cause you stress. This could include moving to a new yard, tackling something with your horse that you find scary, or caring for him when he’s ill or injured.
It’s possible that you’re suffering from stress without even realising it, so it’s important to be able to spot the signs so you can begin to tackle the problem. Here are some of the common symptoms…
- low energy or lethargy – you may struggle with your usual schooling session or need to take a break while mucking out
- a rapid heart rate and fast, shallow breathing – just looking at a course of jumps makes your heart feel as though it’s beating out of your chest and you’re close to hyperventilating
- an upset stomach – you might feel sick in the run-up to a competition or at the thought of going for a hack on your own
- tense muscles – you may notice you’ve got sore shoulders or an aching back while you’re riding or doing yard work
- feeling overwhelmed – does the thought of going to the yard or getting in the saddle feel too much to cope with?
- over-reacting to situations – you may find yourself shouting at your horse for a simple mistake or feeling close to tears when something goes wrong
To find out seven ways you can reduce your stress levels, get your copy of March Horse&Rider, out now