Ah, self-care. We’ve heard a lot about you in 2020.

Self-care can look a whole lot different from one person to the next. For one individual, it may be a glass of wine and a bubble bath. For someone else, it can be a candlelit yoga session and some light bullet journaling.

Or you may practice self-care by spending a week in the same gross sweatpants, eating Doritos and binging The Crown because you only recently got into it after burning through every other Netflix show while you’ve been locked inside.

Yes, it can look very different for everyone.

For horse people, it’s our best kept secret that we’ve cornered the market on self-care. Spending time with horses means you not only get the chance for fresh air and exercise, but you also get to spend time bonding with majestic creatures that may or may not actually give a shit about your presence.

If you’re curious about the mental benefits of spending time around horses, read on. Your quest for self-care is just a trip to the barn away.

One way or another, you’ll get some exercise

The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and if there’s anything that time around horses will get you, it’s a chance to exercise. Hauling hay or water buckets, cleaning stalls and riding all get the heart rate pumping and your muscles working. This can lead to a release of happy endorphins, which will ultimately help improve your mood.

My question is, does the exercise I get from wandering a pasture looking for a lost shoe also help reduce my anxiety about finding that shoe? I’m guessing no.

Barns breed a sense of community

As horse people, we attract our own. Like moths to a flame, we congregate at boarding barns, at shows, or on the internet, ready to bond over our shared love of horses. Although not about barn rats specifically, a 2016 article by The Washington Post reported on studies that examined the link between loneliness and poor health. Researchers found that being lonely can lead to increased health risks and worse outcomes for those with health problems. Conversely, having a strong group of friends can lead to a healthier lifestyle and encourage more positive health behaviors.

If my last pre-COVID Friday night barn party is any indication, having a barn group of friends can also have the opposite effect. Those bottles of wine didn’t drink themselves, that’s for sure.

Barnwork helps ground us in simple tasks

Google “ground yourself” and you’ll find pages of suggestions about breathing, moving your body, setting a routine for yourself, and filling your spaces with things that bring you joy. To me, this perfectly describes any work around the barn.

Chase a feisty pony across the pasture that does not want to leave his buddies and you’ll be moving and breathing in no time—likely heavily. Fill your spaces with clean shavings and water buckets, and chuck out the poop that does not spark joy. Set a morning routine and see how easy it is to stick to it when a barn full of angry horses are shrieking for their morning grain.

Breathe in horse hair and the smell of leather tack, breathe out your anxiety and stress. What could be more grounding than that?

Horses teach us to go with the flow

Life’s been pretty crazy this past year, and a whole lot of people had plans cancelled and their world turned upside down. Luckily for all of us, “just getting over it” is a lesson most horse people well know. (Unexpected abscess or lost shoe, anyone?). Somehow, horses are the best at teaching us that however you thought things were going to go, life has a different plan for you.

With horses, you can either board the go-with-the-flow train, or get run over by it.

And there you have it. Horses are the perfect way to get your healthy self-care in, with only occasional risk to your physical and emotional well-being. So if you’re feeling the complete facepunch that was 2020, hit up your barn and rock out a chore or two. It may be exactly what you need right now.