Every horse owner I know is experiencing some level of anxiety around how COVID-19 is or might affect them as an equestrian. This is totally normal, and if you’re having feelings of anxiety or panic, know that you’re not alone.
This anxiety has many causes, ranging from whether the horse show season is over before it began to when we will get to see our horses again.
My friends who board their horses are worried about something happening to their horse while the barn owner has COVID, their horse not getting proper care, and more. Even riders with horses at home are worried—will the feed stores run out because of hoarding behavior? What if I have an emergency and my vet or farrier can’t or won’t come?
I’ve put together some thoughts and ideas for how we can keep our anxiety in check so that we’re not the ones taking Ulcergard while we wait and see what happens with this pandemic. Everyone reacts differently to stress, but I hope everyone finds one idea that helps.
Part of anxiety for many people stems from a sense of being out of control or not knowing what to do. The absolute best thing any of us can do right now is to stay home (even if we aren’t in States with a stay-at-home order yet—this is key to flattening the curve).
But staying home can feel passive, so while we are stuck it’s good to find ways to help. Those financially able to do so can help by donating to disaster relief funds, such as the Equestrian Aid Foundation COVID fund, or by shopping online from small businesses (so many tack stores need your help!).
If you don’t have money but you do have some crafting skills, this is a great time to learn how to make droplet protection masks. I have been making masks with a pocket for HEPA filters. While these certainly do not guarantee protection against COVID, the CDC says they’re better than nothing, and might protect against other things like the common cold. Who has time for a cold right now? Not me! Too busy sewing.
Not the news. Not social media. Limit those sources of reading material. A friend of mine gives himself permission to check social media and the news at noon every day for 15 minutes and that is it. It seems like a good way to prevent an onslaught of information, some of which may be false, and all of which can overload our brains.
Instead, read books on sport psychology. This is the perfect time to work on your mental skills for riding and life. After all, if your overall mental skills are strong, it can only help you when you’re back in the saddle, right? I love Jane Savoie’s That Winning Feeling, Tonya Johnston’s Inside Your Ride, and Nancy Dye’s Unflappable.
While you’re at it, if you’ve got the financial resources, why not schedule some coaching sessions with a mental skills coach?
Focus on what you can control
This is key to mental skills training. We know we can’t control how well our competitors ride on show day, right? So good mental skills coaches have us focus on what we can do well and give us the tools to do that. In this particular situation, we can all practice social distancing, wash our hands thoroughly and often, FaceTime our loved ones, and whatever else makes us feel settled. My apartment is clean because I can control my immediate environment, and that makes me feel a lot better.
Exercise, hydrate, sleep
The trifecta of foundational self care! Exercise doesn’t have to be brutal—just go for a walk if you can, or find a new workout video on YouTube that you like. Exercise is key to warding off anxiety and depression. So is drinking water—dehydration can increase anxiety levels fast, so keep a water bottle next to you and see how many times a day you need to refill it.
Finally, a lot of people seem tempted to let their sleep schedules go wild right now, without set times they need to get up in the morning. This is a disaster from a mental health perspective. Sticking to a sleep schedule will help you cope with all of the unknowns.
We’re all in this together, riders. We miss our horses and want to see them, but remember, the sooner we all comply with social distancing practices, the sooner we can get back to the barn. In the meantime, know that you’re part of a community feeling much the same way you are, and there are people and resources here to help.
Jess Clawson is a freelance writer, event rider, and historian based in Berryville, Virginia.