Forget Netflix… my cure was in the paddock, waiting to be fed.
SAMHC Weekly Blogger:
UniSA Journalism Student
Sometimes things get too much. Uni assignments build up, friends act funny, money is running low and you feel like a large frog on a little lily pad. I feel like this a lot.
In the past few years, I’ve had some experiences with different kinds of unpleasant feelings. Without even noticing it sneaking up on me, gut-twisting anxiety came knocking at my brain at three in the morning. Or the shadowy, exhausting feeling known as depression leant heavily on my shoulders.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with these foreign feelings I’d only read about online or seen on trashy TV shows. And being a teenager in the first years of adult life doesn’t help matters. I self-medicated with never-ending Netflix and lots of sleep, but that only seemed to make things worse.
The cure to my unexplained sadness, I found, wasn’t held within the four walls of my bedroom, or behind the screen of my laptop, but rather out in a paddock, waiting to be fed.
For as long as I can remember, horses have been in my life. My father trained racehorses and I learnt to ride on school horses. I remember the beautiful police greys in the annual Christmas pageant.
I was lucky my mum set a precedent because she caught the ‘horse bug’ and most likely passed it on to me genetically or through osmosis.
At 4, I was given my first pony, a tiny palomino Shetland named “Pippa” standing at only 9hh.
I turned 10 and moved up to my ex-racehorse gelding, Sonny, who is still with me now at his grand old age of 35.
I had always been surrounded by safe animals. Sonny, despite being off the track, never put a foot wrong.
But as most equestrians know, some horses aren’t all that easy to work with. In August 2017, I was gifted a very strong, fast paced mare named “Quell” and was given fair warning about her strong-mindedness. Despite Quell being at least 10 times my body weight, and as headstrong as they come, my gut feeling was she was the right horse for me.
When she arrived, I was in the middle of a six-month university break. I was fragile – I’d just dropped out of a course I entered straight from high school and I felt I had let people down.
Taking on Quell at that time was the best decision I ever made.
Most days started with a 15-minute drive to where she is agisted. I was forced to get out of bed by a reasonable hour to make sure she was fed and safe. I spent most of my daylight hours outdoors with her, building a relationship based on trust, walking with her over hilltops and through forests. There were up days and down days: on the Monday, she would be a wreck – she’d spook at a kangaroo jumping past and walk all over me, but by Wednesday, she would be gentle and obedient. It was a rollercoaster ride and on good days, I’d be over the moon and ecstatic with the day’s achievements. On the bad days, I’d crave my bed again with the blankets pulled firmly over my head.
Over time, I found that any day I spend with her is a good day. She makes me feel like I can achieve the impossible.
Being responsible for someone other than myself, and building a connection with a being that doesn’t speak the same language as me is a daunting task, but entirely worth every bump, scrape and bruise.
Of course, following an equine path to wellbeing has its risks. I’ve been in hospital with concussion after falls, I’ve had strained muscles and a bad back from being yanked and pulled around, and bruised feet from being stepped on.
I know there are other ways to deal with my anxiety and depression. Friends suggested alternate methods of coping, most of which involve a trip to a psychiatrist. And while it works well for some people, I chose not to start with medication. Other friends suggested ‘other’ drugs. Well, they have side effects – and so does being with horses, but at least you don’t need to worry about eating everything in the cupboard after an equine trip!
The feeling I get walking away from my warm, contented pony pals is almost indescribable.
It’s usually late evening, and while the summer sun is setting beyond the trees, the glow on their coats is reminiscent of an angel’s halo. And as pathetically magical as that sounds, they are my saving graces. All I need now when I’m ready to turn off the light and turn on my laptop are my four-legged friends out in the paddock, waiting to be fed.
By Izzy McMillan
UniSA Journalism Student
Izzy McMillan is a first-year journalism and creative writing student at the University of South Australia. She has a passion for mental health awareness and with the knowledge of lived experience hopes to inspire others to talk about their own experiences. Izzy is a proud extrovert and loves networking and meeting new people, but equally enjoys spending alone time with her horses in the sunshine.
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