The importance of being outside…

I love being outside. Don’t get me wrong I am very grateful that I have a house and love going inside at the end of the day. But being outside is wonderful. Other European countries have had far more severe lockdowns than we have experienced with many not allowed to go outside at all. Without the ability to go outside, my mental health would have been shattered.

It has been long know about the restorative properties of a walk. Sad, go for a walk. Angry, go for walk. Bored, go for a walk. Confused, go for a walk. Walking improves mental health, reduces blood pressure, improves fitness, reduces stress. Walking is the wonder drug we are always searching for and it is free.

Part of the joy of walking is the exercise part, but part of the joy is being outside. Don’t simply stay cooped up inside four walls. Just popping your head out of the door will help. We shouldn’t simply sit all day slumped in front of a screen. Even brief periods of standing up and stretching make a huge difference.

We are now allowed to go out more than once a day, if we want. Remember everyone is different. Some people are happy with a short walk once a day, other like nothing better than a dog walk, a bike ride and a run all in one day. If you think your neighbor seems to be going a bit overboard, imagine how cooped up they felt before.

We all have different limits, different sticking points, different absolutes. We all respond to the same situation in different ways, our tolerances vary. However, we can all benefit from the healing powers of a walk. So make sure that you take one. No matter how terrible you feel at the beginning of the walk. You will almost certainly feel better by the end.

It’s okay to just be surviving…

There are so many stories of how people are doing wonderful things. From Captain Tom Moore raising over £30 million for the NHS, to children learning to sew to make headbands for care givers. From your neighbour who talks about how this time has made her recreate her childhood with board games and blanket forts, to your friend who has started to learn Mandarin…

I am not diminishing from anyone’s achievements and I am blown away by the level of community spirit that has risen around us during this crisis. However, if you are struggling, then seeing other people’s achievements can sometimes just feel like a criticism. If you are floundering around, struggling from day to day, spending your time trying to control the waves of panic breaking over you, threatening to drown you and you are managing to still breathe, then you are doing amazingly.

It is just as incredible to manage to carry on breathing if you are in the midst of a panic attack, as it is to raise money for charity. We are all different and we all have different responses to the same thing. Some people rush round being busy, others retreat to bed. Our experiences are unique to us.

If you are just concentrating on existing, you are doing an amazing job. Don’t feel peer pressure to be bettering yourself during this time. We may all be in the same storm, but we are all in different boats. Some people’s boats may be big, sturdy, seaworthy and well stocked with food and love. Other people’s boats may be small and leaking and it is simply taking all their time to bail out the water as quickly as it comes in, they only have the time to stay afloat. They only have the energy to survive…

 

Brave new world

In this brave new world, it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to feel like you cannot cope. It is okay to struggle. None of us were prepared for this. No strategy devised for keeping ourselves happy and healthy ever had these restrictions placed upon it. But time will pass, this will end. Remember, every day that passes, we get one day closer to the end.

Humans are incredibly adaptable. Already people have come up with new ways of living, new strategies to get them through their days. We are, when faced with no other choice, remarkably inventive. I hope that you have found new ways to be, new ways to cope in this new world.

Share your tricks and tips with others. If we all have one good idea and share them, imagine how many good ideas we will have altogether? Lots! Anything that works for you, whether it is a game that you are playing with your horses, or a way to make baked beans taste more interesting…

Discard the old rules that you had. I have always had screen time limits with my child, not any longer! In the grand scheme of things another hour spent watching television is not the end of the world. Most of the rules that we held were designed for a world we are no longer living in. You need to flex with the changing circumstances, you need to change according to what is happening in front of you.

The only thing that shouldn’t ever change is kindness. Today we need kindness more than ever. We need to not judge others, offer help if people are struggling, check in with your neighbours, your family, your friends, your work colleagues. Everyone will be coping with this differently, but everyone is affected, in some way.

There are no words…

There are no words for this time. We have no map to follow for this time. All the normal rules no longer apply. The ways we previously lived our lives, filled our time, occupied ourselves no longer work. The world is different, shockingly so.

All we can is adapt, and then adapt some more. Never has the ability to be flexible been more essential. Human beings are endlessly flexible, we do adapt and change to our unique circumstances, and more extraordinarily we get used to it really quickly. Within a matter of weeks this strange new world that we are inhabiting will become our new normal.

So all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep going, keep smiling, keep being imaginative in how we meet the challenges before us. And this time will pass, we will look back on it in wonder at how we coped. But we will cope. Better than we think we will.

Please be sensible during this time. I know it is boring, but now is not the time to try and back that nice 3 year. The NHS need us to stay out of hospitals. I know it is so tempting if you aren’t at work, the sun is shining and there is your 3 year old all ready and waiting. But really don’t!

There will be plenty of time later, there will be time to do everything that you want to do. But now is not that time. Now is the time to follow the guidelines, do what you are told and be sensible!

Please look after yourselves, stay safe, look after those around you, the elderly and the vulnerable. Shop from small local businesses, support your friends, neighbors and family. At this time of separation we are more connected than ever.

One step at a time…

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? I’m sure you do, everyone does. Remember you can’t “see” that someone is overwhelmed. That woman on your yard with 3 children and 4 horses and a job, who remembers people’s birthday – you have no idea how she feels inside. She might be a panicking mess of overwhelming thoughts and spend every morning crying before she starts her day. That lady down the other end with one horse and no family, who from the outside might not seem to have any reason to be overwhelmed. She suffers from an anxiety disorder, and getting through a day is like wading through treacle, she always feels overwhelmed.

Everyone experiences the world differently. We have no idea what other people are going through. But we can deal with our own feelings of being overwhelmed will still being kind about others.

Indeed one of the first steps is to realise that other people feel like this, that you are not alone. The second is to breathe. Running round like a headless chicken won’t help. Take a moment to sit down and work out your priorities. I know you feel like you don’t have time to sit down, but working out a list will make your world feel more ordered, more under control.

Sometimes on a bad day, I add to my list things that I have already done and then tick them off so I can see that I have accomplished things! Whatever works for you…

Look at your list, you probably don’t need to do some of the things on it, or certainly not today, so cross them off, make the list bearable. Then start with thing that is stressing you out the most and do that. I operate better in the mornings, so always try and do stressful things in the morning, leaving the afternoons for the easier, more mundane tasks. But you might find yourself more productive in the evening.

Whatever way you get things done doesn’t matter, just do them one step at a time. If you look all the way down the list, or all the way up the mountain you will feel overwhelmed. If you just take one step and then another, soon those steps will all add together to a great distance, a great achievement.

How horses can be part of the problem…

Horses are wonderful. They can be brilliant for our mental health, giving us a bond without falseness, a language without words, and a chance to find ourselves in the souls of our horses. However, for some people, and in some circumstances, horses can be part of the problem rather than the solution.

Bullying on yards has not gone unreported in the equestrian media, I’m sure we have all witnessed incidents, to a greater or lesser degree. While there are many incredible yards, where you can mix with supportive and helpful peers, there are some that are more problematic. Loneliness and isolation can occur when we are surrounded by people, and indeed to feel lonely in a crowd is a peculiarly sorrowful state.

Feeling that we are on a different path to the others in our yard can leave us feeling inadequate or alone. In an ideal world, we respect the path that others are taking, but sadly in practise this rarely happens. You may enjoy walking your horse out in hand, and derive great pleasure from that bond that you have created. Your neighbour may be fiercely competitive and gain satisfaction from beating other people. It can mar our own pleasure to have scorn poured down on us.

If you are lucky enough to be able to keep your horses at home, or on your own land, you are spared having to deal with the judgement of others. However, you are stuck around the schedule of your horses and may be forced to spend longer periods of time alone than can be healthy. If you are in a good place mentally, being alone can be healing, soothing, restful, and looking after your horses can be rewarding and beneficial. At some points in our lives, however, we may not in the best of states, and those feelings can quickly morph into other less desirable emotions. Being alone can feel lonely and we can begin to feel overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility for our horses.

If you think you are starting to feel isolated in the equine world, there are steps you can take to remedy this. Consider moving yards if that is possibility, though bear in mind that all yards come with their own issues. Find a like-minded friend who you can talk to, be it online, in person. They don’t even need to have a horse, just be supportive and kind. If you are struggling caring for your horses alone, consider asking someone to help. Again, weigh up the pros and cons of this, as inviting someone else into your space can cause other issues.

If you are feeling isolated with your horses, remember that other people feel like you do. Other people feel alone and lost, others feel overwhelmed and drowning in responsibility. Keep searching for these people, for your family, keep talking, keep reaching out. You will find allies in the strangest of places. Horses are meant to be a source of joy, all too often that joy can be lost, but, it can also, be found again.

Exercise is great!

Science has proven what we have long suspected, that exercise is effective in lessening the risk of arthritis, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, brain deterioration, and in reducing stress. Exercise is literally one of the best things that we can do for ourselves. Even just walking for 20 minutes a day can have an amazing effect on our health, both physical and mental. It is worth remembering this when we are going about our day to day life. Little thing make all the difference to increase the amount of walking we do. Park in the furthest corner of the car park, take the stairs not the lift, walk across your office to speak to a colleague rather than email them!

Research from a Boston hospital made the same link, that exercise can add 7 years to your life. Fortunately, with horses you automatically get exercise, not only in riding them, but in their day to day care. It is, however, important to ensure that you are looking after yourself while taking care of your horses. It can be all too easy to roll out of bed to the yard and spend time bending over and lifting before you are properly warmed up. Many of the tasks involved around the yard are heavy and involve bending and lifting.

The mental benefits of not spending your free time slumped in front of the television have also been researched. Exercise gives you a more positive outlook, and a longer and happier life. We sometimes moan (especially in the winter) about having to trail around in the dark, wind and rain to care for our horses, and think that we would much rather be watching television. However, that time is better spent outside than inside, the ongoing benefits are greater than we appreciate when our feet our wet, and rain has made its way inside our jackets. So, remember as you battle through the wind, this is good for you!

Joking aside, remember exercise is good for you, and now science has proven it.

Are you having a bad day?

Everyone has a bad day every so often, and then every so often you have a terrible day when you feel like you have slithered all the way down the longest snake on the snakes and ladders board, right back to the bottom…

Sounds familiar? Don’t despair! First take a few deep breaths. When we are anxious we breath more shallowly and take in less oxygen, our brains interpret this a stress and then we become more anxious. So breathe – I know its hard but it really does help, you can do it anywhere, you can do it discretely, its free and you can do it by yourself.

Once you have breathed, tell yourself it is okay to have a bad day. You are not a robot you don’t function the same from day to day, we are affected by the world around us, and our triggers. We are constantly in motion, and evolving.

Remind yourself how far you have come, don’t focus on today, imagine a graph, steadily rising, this is simply a blip, not a trend.

Reduce your expectations for today. So, you had planned with your new found confidence to go on a longer hack by yourself today, but that was going to be a challenge so today is not a good day to do that. Why not lead your horse round that hack instead? Or do some groundwork or give them a massage? This is not failure, it is adjusting to the circumstances, it is sensible.

Be kind, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Look after yourself, chocolate, hot bath, early night, good book, whatever you need.

And then tomorrow, you will wake up and the world will look different, feel different and you will wonder why yesterday seemed so tricky, and then you will carry on with your day…

Getting started

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Recently I received an email from a lovely lady asking for help with her horse.  She bought him just a month ago, and everything was going great, but over the past week he’s misbehaving in his ridden work.  The lady suffers from anxiety, and she’s really worried that she’s going to ruin her lovely pony.  I reassured her that actually, it’s very difficult to do that.

 

There’s so much advice on the internet and on the yard that it can be difficult to decide who or what to listen to.  Science says one thing, the book you just read says another, your coach says something different, and the person who owns the horse in the next stable says another thing altogether.  Where do you start?  One suggestion is to start by avoiding analysis paralysis 🙂  If you’re like me, you’ll know someone who has literally given up and sold or retired their horse because they just don’t know what to do.

 

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” Wikipedia July 2018

 

Here are a couple of articles, if you like reading around a subject (one of my favourite things to do!), please note I have no links with any of these sites and am not specifically recommending them, I just picked them from a google search:

https://www.success.com/stop-overthinking-it-9-ways-to-make-decisions-with-confidence/

https://personalexcellence.co/blog/analysis-paralysis/

https://psychologenie.com/what-is-analysis-paralysis-how-to-overcome-it

 

Sometimes I find the best thing is just to get going.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  But when it comes to my horses (or my child, or my work, for that matter), I often feel as though I’ve only got one chance, and I’ve got to get it right.  It seems like ‘right now’ is the only time this opportunity will ever come up, or if I don’t make the correct decision ‘this time’, then it’ll be a downwards spiral from then on.  This feeling is rarely accurate, and looking back, it seems that we usually have a second and third shot at things if needed.  If it takes so long to train a horse to do something we do want him to do, why do we think he will learn something we don’t want him to do so quickly?!

 

My latest project is to familiarise myself with the science that already exists on pain related performance and behaviour in horses, and to share that knowledge with you as I learn through my blog at www.patreon.com/thehorsephysio. I struggle with always being able to see ‘both sides of the fence’, and having some science to support a decision definitely helps me. The science I’ll be sharing is from peer reviewed published papers, but I’ll also be sharing anecdotal evidence through blogs and case studies. I’d love for you to come on over to the site and take a look, plus of course feel free to share if you know others who might be interested 🙂

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