How are you.....?

This is my first blog so thank you for reading

It seems a good place to start….How are you? It’s a question we ask all the time but using it nowadays it has slightly more meaning. How are you…really?

This past year has been such a tough time for everyone in one way or another. I couldn’t begin to understand the depth of suffering for some. I’ve been lucky enough to keep on top of my mental and physical health, but I am sure there are many who haven’t found it so easy.  

I hope you are all coping. I have found horses and the outdoors to be lifesavers….and not for the first time. How about you?

Let me tell you a little bit about me and cover just a few of the events of the past year, in the hope it might encourage you to keep looking forward. I’ll begin by telling you that I have suffered with anxiety and depression for most of my life but have learned to manage it pretty well now. It hasn’t always been the case and I will touch on some other things another time.

My partner Roy and I moved to Suffolk from Hertfordshire in May 2019 to start work for Tessa Reeve. An incredible lady in her 80’s now who has run her own highly successful business/businesses with the most notable being Sealmaster - fire, draught and weather seals – a division of The Dixon International Group. Roy would be driving her carriage horses and looking after the property, I would be working part time. I’ve learned quite a lot about driving in the past year or so and continue to learn. I can tack up and drive if I must now…. not really keen though!

I am still freelance coaching and love to learn as much CPD as I can whenever I have the opportunity. It has been great meeting new people in Suffolk and I still go back to Herts once a week to coach clients there (when not in lockdown!)

We were just settling from a house move, job move, horse move and reaching out to new clients in a new location when we arrived at the strange concept of lockdown #1.

For that first lockdown I was living in the horsebox at a local livery stables. Bit of a strange experience!

Just before lockdown #1 began we had moved the driving horses there because their stables at home had been knocked down for improvement work and a new arena was being built. The livery yard was closing it’s doors to visitors so I could either stay in or stay out but not come and go. The horses would have been cared for either way of course. I decided it best to stay in and take care of the horses myself…my own included as she was on livery there. That meant keeping socially distant from Roy though. I had a mini breakdown about the whole thing in the first week and cried a lot. We didn’t know how long it would be or what would happen next. I was so worried about everyone’s health. It was all very scary. I realised pretty quickly that I needed to stop that way of thinking and find a new focus.

So, I threw myself into the morning routine of the yard which ran like clockwork. All the usual chores were done and then I made my own plans for the day. I worked the horses on long lines and laid poles out for exercises. You can faf for hours with horses doing all kinds of things as you know, so that was a welcome distraction.

The other brilliant help I had was a book I had been reading called The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters. I was already aware of the concept of managing my chimp, but my god did I appreciate that guidance then. I recommend either reading or getting the audio book. Very apt in the times we are living especially. I really found it helpful to get back in the right mindset and recognize quickly when I wasn’t.

When the new stables were built, I went home with the horses which was strange at first and quite emotional. It made me think of all the people who were doing much more important jobs than me, living away from home at the time. I have so much respect for them. They were not playing with horses or reading books.

Spring and Summer were much more positive generally and I even got to a few shows for about a month. I went from doing no shows to entering Hickstead! It was supposed to be a short holiday with Roy but unfortunately not to be. Tessa had to have a back operation which had been previously postponed due to COVID. The date came through on Hickstead week, so I went alone. It was fun, but not quite the same.

I love learning new things, so in October I was so excited to begin the  Advanced APEC Coaches course. I wanted to enroll before but struggled to afford it. I had some help from the SEISS due to lack of coaching (self-employed scheme), so I booked myself on. Charlie Unwin and Sarah Huntley began Centre 10 Sports Psychology training courses for riders and coaches in 2017. Training mental skills and resilience has always interested me, so there is the perfect combination of equestrian mental skills. It felt so good to plan and learn new things. I have so much to share with you about it…can’t wait to get coaching.

Another course opportunity came to me which I also said yes to. The chance to be on the first Certified Coaches Course with Chartered Physio Andy Thomas. Andy works with riders around the world to improve rider symmetry. He has developed his own process with over 15 years of experience working with riders, called Testt.  I will be able to deliver the process to riders when I am qualified later this year.

All really exciting and positive, unfortunately both courses ended up starting within a week of each other so not easy but doable. I imagined we would probably be having a locked down winter so it would keep me busy…and it has.

As Lockdown #2 and then #3 came along I have been so grateful for the focus of work on the courses. I have joined in lots of other online CPD courses too and if I wasn’t doing the APEC and TESTT courses I would definitely be doing more of that type of thing.

It was in November that I reconnected with the Pilates & fitness instructors that I used to see when I lived in Herts - Jacqui Smith and Dani.   All on Zoom of course, as everything is on Zoom now! I’m not sure why it took me so long to do that. I could have joined them in the first lockdown. I am so grateful for their enthusiasm and guidance. It has been the best motivation to know there are a whole group of friendly people, most of which I don’t know personally, just all trying to keep going. It is of course all part of a fitness plan for riding too, but great fun at the same time.
The people I have met online and in particular on the Centre 10 APEC course have been really inspirational. I can feel myself changing (very slowly) and pushing myself more out of my comfort zone in the past year than probably in the previous 10!
Sharing my story a little and engaging more with people, showing vulnerability, exploring new things, making mistakes, being seen on camera (without my horse) and generally just having a go are all things that make me anxious but ultimately when I’ve done them, I feel a bit braver.
I have had a lot of dealings with mental health issues within the family over the years, where I have often been the psychologist (learning on the job) and carer. I have had times that I didn’t cope well myself. I generally have a good management system in place now, but it took me years to learn that. I have the odd few days when I feel down, anxious or demotivated now but not that often. 

I think because of my past experiences I had some coping strategies already in place. Ironically, I might have been more prepared for this crazy year than some people who don’t normally struggle in day-to-day life. I can be more anxious about little things than I am about the impending doom of a world plague and financial ruin! I guess that’s because I can’t change the big things. I am always trying to think of new and more flexible ways to adapt to the world around me. It’s a challenge but I like a challenge. 

If I could give any general advice to anybody not coping too well at the moment it would probably be this…

  1.   Control the contrallables – try not to dwell on what you cannot change but be active in your own day to day life focusing on healthy activities.
  2.   Let go of stress at the end of each day – try not to carry it forward – practice relaxation. Download an app e.g. Headspace or use online tutorials focusing on breathing maybe.
  3.   Plan ahead, but only with flexibility – don’t stick to rigid plans…have a plan B and maybe even a C but do plan.
  4.   Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone little and often (reminding myself!)
  5.   Learn something new – whether horse related or not.
  6.   Rest (again…reminding myself) ‘you can’t have an on switch without having an off switch’ – reference: Charlie Unwin