Guest Blogs

Guest blog: How Horses Helped me Get over my Eating Disorder

I have always been a perfectionist, anything I do I will give it 110% effort. This is one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. My brain is always working in overdrive, I must be constantly busy and I worry, a lot. 

My family have always ridden (my mum, dad and sister) and growing up it was something I just did because everyone else did it. I was never a talented rider like my sister and instead always won the attendance and condition and turnout awards. Things that I could work hard at. 

I think my eating disorder started to manifest when I initially became depressed after severely breaking my leg during a fall XC training. The break was so bad that it took 18 months to heal and I had to spend a lot of time in a wheelchair due to me having a large fixator fitted. I was 16 at the time and felt isolated from my friends. I decided to throw myself into my schoolwork and became an A* student.

It was after recovering from this and a week before my 18th birthday that my horse of a lifetime Buzz Lightyear came into my world. He gave me my first taste of success riding. And my confidence grew so quickly, we started competing and then eventing. 

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However I then left for uni, returning at weekends to see Buzz. This is where my eating disorder grew stronger. I did not enjoy uni life, it was not for me. When you have good grades, this is the path that you are almost told to take by teachers and schools. I missed my home, my family and my horse. My days were spent starving myself. Following by period’s of binging and purging. My confidence and my health deteriorated quickly. The hair on my head thinned, my skin was dry and sore, and my periods stopped. 

Towards the end of the first year, I confessed to my parents that uni life was not for me and I would take my exams and then leave. Of course, I worked hard and scored top results. But my decision had been made and my parents were so supportive and understanding. 

I then went to work in a saddlery where I was so much happier. I could ride Buzz every day and buy lots of pretty things for him. But my eating disorder was still as bad as ever. Not only that, I was now lying to my family a lot. I was throwing away my lunch at work, hiding food, saying I had already eaten or saying I was meeting a friend for dinner, but the truth was I was sitting by myself in a car park wasting away time before I could return home. 

The day that I knew things had to change was my last event with Buzz at Pulborough in 2009. He had carried me around and we had got placed. But I had been so tired, surviving all day on a pack of Haribo. I was so relieved to have not fallen off as I knew that my bones would shatter. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore, I was not strong enough to ride Buzz. I had become a horrible person, I was constantly tired, cold and short tempered due to being underweight, weak and lacking energy. Buzz was then sold to a young girl to take her eventing. I knew it was the only option, as he was fit, strong and loved competing. I needed to get myself better and my life back on track. 

With time, help and a lot of love from my family and my then boyfriend (now husband), I started to get better. It wasn’t over night and there were a lot of step backs and re-lapses. But I finally realised that if I didn’t want to be hospitalised or die from this illness, I had to change. 

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My sister has always worked with horses and she would have horses and ponies in to sell. She would encourage me to have a ride on them. I remember how happy it made me. After a couple of years, I decided to look for a new horse of my own. And with that decision, I determined that I had to stay healthy and happy for the sake of this horse. As I wanted to give the next horse I had a forever home. 

In 2014, I found Tigger, a 7 year old, 15hh Connemara who was an absolute godsend. I had initially bought him as a happy hacker as I was far too nervous to even go over a pole on the floor and he was so well behaved on the road. But he was so kind and trainable that my confidence soared. And I now compete him at Affiliated dressage and unaffiliated show jumping and eventing. 

Then in 2017, we got an email from the lady who we sold Buzz to, saying that they would be selling Buzz as the daughter was now off to University so would no longer have the time for him. This felt like fate, as my mum had been looking for a horse for herself to hack. As soon as we saw the email we knew we had to buy Buzz back. 

He arrived home and settled straight back into his old stable (which still had his nameplate on). He has always been a happy pony but he looked like he was beaming. Buzz had his own challenges as a youngster. Having been misdiagnosed with wobblers syndrome and narrowly avoiding being put down. 

Within months I was back competing Buzz and it felt like life had finally fallen back into place. The cherry on the top was us then being placed 4th in an unaffiliated one day event. I crossed the finish line with tears of happiness. 

Now whenever I am feeling stressed or down, I go for a ride and suddenly my world is okay again.

By Lizzie Robinson.

Be sure to follow Lizzie on Instagram @ponies_and_prosecco and check out her blog

If you are suffering or know someone else suffering with an eating disorder there is loads of information and support online at Beat Eating Disorders.

Guest Blogs

What is Confidence and Why Does it Help Us as Riders?

It’s ‘Mindset March’ here at In Due Horse and to kick start a month dedicated to rider mindset and confidence I am delighted to share this guest blog by Jane Brindley from Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland.

We hear so much these days about rider confidence, or the lack of it, as if it is something
which you either have or you don’t…and if you don’t have it then how on earth can you
enjoy yourself as a rider or hope to fulfil any goals?

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There are many different definitions of confidence but I like to define it as having a belief that one has the skills and experience to handle a given situation which leads to a feeling of strength and comfort. Confidence enables a belief that one will cope with the vast majority of unexpected occurrences and leads to an ability to tackle new situations willingly and without overwhelming self doubt.
Confidence isn’t a static thing throughout life, both riding and general life, in contrast it can vary greatly at different stages of life and when riding different horses or tackling different horse activities. Many riders are super confident as teenagers and then struggle once the responsibilities of adulthood kick in. Other riders may be totally comfortable when riding one horse but full of doubt when they get a new one. Some people are confident in their work life but find riding, which is supposed to be “me time”, a real challenge. Then, of course, we probably have all come across those lucky riders for whom confidence never seems to be an issue at all. Some riders keep their feelings very much to themselves and may cover up very strong emotions, either because they feel they are the only one who is finding things difficult or perhaps they have a sense of shame about how they are feeling about riding.

It’s hard to make assumptions but in general a confident rider will have most of the following characteristics:

They will ride willingly and often.
They will be prepared to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
They will tend to say “yes” to new suggestions.
They will ride in all sorts of different situations.
They will ride alone and in company.
They will enjoy riding at whatever level and in whatever discipline they have chosen.
They will accept challenges and be prepared to work hard to achieve their goals.
They will generally use positive language to describe themselves and their riding.
They will find positives and opportunities for learning when they have a bad day.
They will accept praise with grace and without need for excessive reassurance.
They avoid unhelpful comparisons with others.
They will usually look physically comfortable, even if they are an inexperienced or novice rider.
If they don’t want to do something then they will say “no” for a genuine reason.
They will be aware of danger and avoid putting themselves, others or their horse in a
situation for which they are unprepared.

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A rider who is lacking in confidence will exhibit the opposite of most of the above.
So, looking at the list of attributes of a confident rider it is easy to see how they will enjoy
themselves more, will make more rapid progress in learning new skills and generally have more fun and, if they choose to compete, more success.

If you are reading this and feeling that you are lacking in confidence then please do be
assured that it is absolutely possible to learn lots of techniques which will help you to feel more comfortable. Find someone to help you who is experienced in working with anxiety and who has skills and knowledge they can share with you allowing you to develop the tools which you can apply in different riding situations. By learning to challenge thinking processes, you will change how you feel and therefore change how you act. Ultimately this can change your life. Learning positive visualisation and the use of breathing and relaxation will help considerably. There are many useful techniques to help recover from traumatic incidents and accident which, when used correctly, will enable you to leave that trauma in the past where it belongs. A loss of confidence can happen to any rider, I know I have certainly has many periods of self doubt over the years but now, putting into practice all the things which I teach my clients, I find that anxiety no longer escalates to a level where it spoils any enjoyment. I know that there are always going to be times when I experience anxiety and that it is simply part of the human condition but I no longer “fear the fear”.

 

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If you would like to know more then please feel free to contact me via
http://www.horseridingwithconfidencescotland.co.uk

Guest Blogs

Rider Biomechanics Why Is It So Important?

Welcome to the first guest blog on In Due Horse. 

Over the past few years the topic of rider biomechanics has become more popular and lots of people are turning to it to help performance issues for them and their horse, but do you really know what it is, why it’s important and how it can help you and your horse? 

What are Biomechanics?

Let’s take a closer look at biomechanics. If we break down the word into its ancient Greek origins, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, bios means “life” and “mechanics” refers to the study of the mechanical principles of living bodies, particularly their movement and structure.  During sport, the laws of mechanics are applied to how a body moves in order to help us understand what is and isn’t working, and how we can change it for the best to improve performance and reduce injuries. 

Now we’ve got that little nugget out of the way, let’s put this in the horse and rider scenario: Rider biomechanics looks at how the horse and rider move, both by themselves and in relation to each other. It looks at the tilts, twists and wiggles we all do and how they can be worked on to create a much better harmony between each other’s bodies, improving balance and flexibility. If we improve balance and flexibility, we can encourage better movement and directly influence performance. 

Why are biomechanics important?

The short answer is that biomechanics can help us make sure our horse is as comfortable as possible when being ridden, and that they have a long and healthy ridden career, as well as ensuring that us riders are as balanced and easy to carry as possible.

Let’s put that into an example: If we sit more to one side when we ride, or if we alter our posture from the idea of “perfect posture” we significantly change how the horse has to carry our weight. If we ride a bicycle and we wobble to one side, we will topple to the same side until we correct our posture. Thankfully for us, our horses are very adept at compensating for our poor posture and balance. Our posture and balance can cause such significant problems for the horse that we can contribute towards issues such as shorter stride lengths and flatter jumping techniques, right through to influencing injuries and degenerative changes, just by forcing the horse to work in a posture that isn’t normal for it.

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 Let me just say at this point that despite it sounding horrific, most of these changes happen VERY slowly and there is a huge amount of other influencing issues that need to be taken into account in each horse/rider combination’s unique set of needs. We all spend money on physical therapy and saddle fitting for our horses, but we are one of the biggest influencers as to how our horses use their bodies, so we need to take time to look at ourselves too. 

When both bodies are working at optimum performance, and that has to be optimum for the individual combination, whether simply hacking out, or doing 5* eventing, we can minimise injuries, train more effectively and correct poor performance before they ever become a big problem.

How will looking at biomechanics help my horse and me?

The horse carries 60% of its weight on its front legs and when we ride, we add to that weight load, so the muscles that hold the horse’s front legs to its body, the Thoracic Sling muscles, have to be pretty tough. But as we’ve discussed earlier, if we sit out of balance, we will have a bad effect on our horse’s posture and performance.

When we ride, there are 4 main areas we need to look at to potentially make changes to:

  • Seat
  • Legs
  • Arms and Hands
  • Head

Maybe you sit to one side, drop your chin forward, have a wayward hand or a leg that likes to grip up, maybe you lose one stirrup or constantly battle to keep your reins equal lengths: These are all signs that you have biomechanical issues going on that can be changed. 

A biomechanical assessment as a rider will look at little niggles like this and try to work out where they are coming from to then make positive changes. Surprisingly, most issues can be linked to our seat and making subtle changes to how we sit in the saddle can correct a variety of other issues! 

On that note, it’s worth talking about saddle fit. It’s a topic of hot debate, but a saddle that is out of balance from pommel to cantle, too big or small for either the horse or rider will imbalance the rider and cause pain for the horse. 

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There is such a huge array of fun exercises that can help riders and with the added use of gym balls, therapy bands, small inflatable balls and the like, that everyone can enjoy exercise, so we improve our overall balance and posture. This can also help any niggly aches we have in day to day life and help us to combat repetitive habits we have; Yes, they also affect your horse!  

We owe it to our horses to be fit enough to ride, but that doesn’t mean we all have to take up running! By changing repetitive habits, making sure little things like stirrup length and saddle fit are right, having the occasional lessons to work on us rather than the horse and keeping up with our overall body strength we can make enough subtle changes to help our horses work to the best of their abilities and with as little discomfort as possible – an all-round win! 

About the Author:

Georgina Bull is a registered Osteopath in the UK who, alongside treating horses and humans, takes a special interest in the relationship between how horse and rider move together. Georgina is a rider herself, owning 2 horses and competing in Endurance riding and she has worked with the Team GBR Elite Endurance Squad travelling with the riders to European and World class competitions. Georgina runs her own clinic in Northamptonshire and regularly runs rider biomechanics workshops.

To find out more about Georgina and what she does head to her website  and be sure to check out her blog.