I talk a lot about being mentally balanced to help horses. Being able to be in the moment with horses is essential to good horsemanship, but I think it would be wrong to say that you have to be mentally perfect to do well.
Folks who have anxiety and such types of issues can often feel like their mental ailments are a burden or disability to their work with horses. Certainly they can be, but if channeled correctly, I believe they can be a tremendous asset.
I’ll stick to talking about anxiety for the purpose of this article, primarily because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. Anxiety can take us out of the moment, overwhelm us with worry and tension, and interfere with our lives.
To be a good rider, we need to be able to be in the moment, and to feel for and direct a horse.
Sufferers of anxiety are often hyper sensitive to their environment. They pick up on every little detail and are aware of things that many people aren’t. Because of this. They can have an upper hand on other folks when it comes to horses because of this sensitivity, and ability to empathize with a horse.
So many horses experience chronic fear and stress as well. A sufferer of anxiety has a great advantage for connecting and helping a horse for this reason- they are painfully aware of how burdensome, exhausting and isolating it can be to be hyper aware. They understand how small things others might not think much of can trigger panic, and how hard it can be to relax. Because of this, a rider with anxiety can learn to channel their focus into supporting the horse in a way others might not even know the horse needs.
Riding, too, can provide much needed stability, mindfulness, and a feeling of calm. It might be one of the only places a person with anxiety can feel this way. Someone with anxiety can learn to develop a place of mental stillness in the barn or in the saddle more easily than other areas of their lives. Because it might have been harder to do this, a person with anxiety can often appreciate and capitalize on this calmness without taking it for granted.
Of course, without good mental care, developing good daily practices, and supportive friends and family, anxiety can make riding exceedingly difficult. For those who are willing and able to work on managing their anxiety, it can give a rider an upper hand that others might not have access too: empathy, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of how to guide a horse toward calm.