Bell Let’s Talk Day, held this year on January 30th, encourages individuals to reach out for support and get help for their mental health concerns. It’s a day to talk about mental health and reduce stigma.
As a Clinical Counsellor that specializes in working with equestrians, I often see a reluctance to seek help for mental health issues. It surprises me that equestrians wouldn’t be the first ones through the counsellor’s door, since we know that horses can sense our emotions and react to our moods and feelings. A 2016 study at the University of Sussex showed that our equine partners can recognize facial expressions and respond to them based on just a photograph of us. They can sense what we are feeling even when we try to hide it. World renowned psychologist and author Daniel Goleman cites research demonstrating that horses detect very subtle changes in our heart rates when we are thinking about stressful events. This causes an increase in our horses’ heart rates and more nervous avoidance behaviours in them.
So, when we go to the barn and work with our horses, the fight we had with our partner, the job we lost, the parent that was abusive and the friendship that let us down are all going to the barn with us whether we like it or not. We stress our horses when we are stressed.
Equestrians may have guessed this, but we still find excuses for not seeking the help we need. Some of the more common reasons I hear are:
I don’t have time – According to a UK study, the average person spends one hour and 50 minutes per day worrying about the following: work, relationships, finances and health. If you spent even half of that time working on the causes of those worries in counselling, in a few sessions, you would have more free time available to be with your horse. In 2018, there are several treatment modalities that have been proven to work very efficiently and often individuals feel better in three to six sessions. That’s only three to six hours of your life!
It’s too expensive – Many equestrians spend a fortune on things for their horses. We don’t blink an eye at spending $300 on a new bit or $500 on a new winter blanket. But when it comes to our mental health, we are suddenly broke, and we allow ourselves to continue to suffer emotionally. It’s perplexing that we won’t spend the same amount of money to help ourselves that we would on our horses – especially since they are going to have to deal with our emotional pain in some way or another.
It’s embarrassing – When we have problems with our equine partner we don’t hesitate to go to an expert, be it a coach, saddle fitter, bit expert, equine massage practitioner or veterinarian. We don’t feel ashamed of our inability to solve the problem on our own; we just get help. We need to think about seeking mental health support the same way. Counselling is seeking the help of an expert, for a problem that you do not have the tools to manage on your own.
If your horse can sense your emotional state regardless of whether you try to hide it, don’t you owe it to him to work out your people problems before you arrive at the barn?