I’ve been around horses for over 20 years. I have seen my share of crazy.
If you immerse yourself in the equine world long enough you’re going to know what I mean when I say “crazy horse ladies.” Chances are you might even be one yourself even if only a touch. Non-horse people often refer to us as crazy horse women…especially men. But is this true? Is there an overwhelming amount of “crazy” in the horse world or is it all a myth?
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month this is a perfect discussion topic for us this week before we jump into June.
In my horse-life experience, I have met all sorts. People who yell at the sky, see four-leaf clovers as “purple,” and downright two-faced kind of crazy. People who really ought to be on anti-psychotics kind of crazy. People who will end a boarding contract by leaving your horse by the side of the road kind of crazy.
Pretentious crazies who think they know it all because they’ve been around longer. Back-stabbers. Thieves. Gossip queens. Users and abusers. Cry bullies. The crazies that praise you at 10am and loathe you after lunch. Multiple personalities. Bipolar disorder. The list goes on.
At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m a monster. “My Lord, lady, those people are ill and need help,” or “we’re not all like that don’t be ridiculous!”
Calm down. This is our discussion so hear me out and feel free to join the conversation in the comments below.
I am my own personal cocktail of crazy as well, I am no exception. I struggle through depression, anxiety, and an intense inferiority complex. This often makes me seem aloof, aggressive, judgemental, or oversensitive. You may not realize it right away but when you know me long enough you may see me on a day when I’m having a hard time coping.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health one in five people suffers from a mental illness. Twenty percent is a significant value, so how can we know the statistics are higher in the horse-world? We don’t. As far as I can tell there are no REAL statistics on this but the average horse and non-horse people tend to agree…mental illness in horse-people has a higher statistic than the national average. The closest I could find to such a study was performed in 2017 by the British Grooms Association. This study found that of over 1300 people responding roughly 83% suffered from stress or mental health problems.
It’s fair to say mental health issues are highly prevalent in the equine industry.
WHY is this population struck so hard by mental illness?
While we won’t get down any ONE root cause here are my insights on what might contribute to the issue…
Long gone are the days when horsepower was a common source of transportation and daily living. Today horses are a sport. A hobby. A lifestyle. Horses today are expensive (Revisit one of my very 1st articles at You’ll Never Get a Numerical Answer to this Question…). Those who enjoy it as a hobby are likely wealthy. Those who enjoy it as a lifestyle work hard earn every penny to provide for their horse(s). Though I can’t make sweeping assumptions it is not uncommon to see the wealthy horse owner carry a certain pretentiousness with them. Any average horse movie or tv show has your typical snobby rich white girl that either changes her attitude over time (Ashley Stanton from Heartland) or rivals the main character (Olivia Wheaten from Heartland).
The “typical” play in this situation goes as follows: Wealthy pretentious horse owners look down their noses at the other people on the farm, think they are above everyone else. Wealthy talks down to others and demoralizes them…criticizes…judges…brags. The less wealthy hard workers become used to being treated poorly. Some might developmental issues here. They might also partake in the judgment, gossip, and drama.
There are also several disciplines that are considered more “prestigious” and “for the wealthy.”
Not to mention a wealthy person has access to top-level training, top-bred horses costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and top-level veterinary care. That’s tough to compete with when you have limited resources and start from the ground up.
Equestrian Culture and Sport
The culture of equitation can also be mentally agonizing to some, especially our young riders. Classes begin with “You are now being judged.” Judging is very subjective and it’s not uncommon to hear remarks on rider appearance and weight. Competitors are always working to get tall and thin, stay clean, never let one strand of hair fall out of the hair net.
The culture also breeds a level of salty veterans that get to a certain level and stop growing. They feel that their experience means there’s nothing left for them to learn (The Cup Philosophy). Many times in my life I have heard the infamous “I’ve been in this industry for x years……” The phrase is often followed with some negative remarks to a less experienced individual. REALITY CHECK: That only makes you look like an ass.
There is always something new to learn and beauty to explore, and there is never a reason to cut down others with less experience. I add this to our discussion since this in a mask of mental illness itself…and it certainly doesn’t help those already coping with their problems to be mistreated.
Indeed there may be biological factors that tie mental illness so closely to equine life. This section has several working parts…
- People who care for horses daily as part of their main source of income are probably working every day, long hours, and aren’t making a large amount of money. They may be over-worked, underappreciated, and can’t afford to get out much.
- People who care for horses daily and also have full-time jobs understand the over-worked feeling in addition to a likely lack of sleep.
- People running horse boarding operations need to deal with a variety of horse owners that each bring their own cocktail of crazy. Meeting demands, dealing with conflicts, managing expectations, and caring for the physical well being of a barn full of other people’s horses can be tricky. In addition to overseeing the health and care of the horses, barn managers also need to be careful about liability and insurance issues. Many horse owners are quick to pass the blame onto someone else if their horse gets injured.
- Horses are delicate creatures. They go lame if they step on a pebble the wrong way. Horses get leg injuries, cuts, back soreness, horrendous hoof ailments, saddle fitting, dental issues, chiropractic concerns, the ugly ULCERs and of course COLIC. Some horses are more “accident prone” than others but many will say that horses find new and creative ways to hurt themselves. Worrying about our horses often leads to us neglecting many other things in life like ourselves and our own well being.
- Horses are dangerous to be around and accidents are not uncommon both in and out of the saddle. Injuries, especially head trauma can certainly lead to brain damage. Studies suggest that head injuries can increase the risk of developing mental illness by up to 439%.
I have another idea that perhaps those with mental illness are attracted to the horse on a deeper level. Horses are emotional beings and don’t judge; They are sentient creatures with open hearts and inherent wisdom. Perhaps those who are hurting are magnetically drawn to horses for healing.
Horses have been proven to aid in numerous rehabilitation programs. Programs like Saratoga Warhorse seek to help veterans with PTSD. Inmates with a troubled past find mental healing thanks to programs like TRF’s Second Chances Program. Other programs like Saratoga Therapeutic Equestrian Program help children struggling with physical and mental ailments.
There’s always the idea that perhaps our world has gone crazy and we simply turn to horses for sanity. Perhaps we struggle with our frightening reality that society may have lost ITS mind.
You know this is true at least SOME of the time.
Sure mental illness is a growing concern in the world and appears to be more condensed in the horse industry. What is the true root cause? We don’t know. It’s likely a giant melting pot of everything I mentioned above; we all have our own demons.
I want to finish up with what we can do NOW to help make the world a more happy place for everyone, including yourself and your horses.
- CHECK YOURSELF
- Know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Know what makes you tick and what your triggers are.
- OWN YOUR SHIT
- Everyone else is going through their own struggles. Don’t play victim to every bad thing that happens to you and don’t expect sympathy from everyone else. Don’t use your problems as an excuse to be rude, condescending, or malicious.
- SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE
- Be friendly and keep good company. Ditch the old friends that bring you into a negative cycle. Remove judgementalism from your life. Toss the negativity.
- OPEN UP
- If you find yourself bottling emotions inside this will affect the rest of your life. It affects your interpersonal relationships and it will affect the relationship with your horse. If you are going through a particularly bad time find someone who you can confide in and let yourself be vulnerable.
- GET A COUNSELOR
- Easier said than done but I did participate in counseling sessions for a short period of time in college. I learned a lot about myself during that time and the sessions stay with me to this day. A counselor may be able to provide a professional and nonbiased insight as to the major mental obstacle standing in your way.
- THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
- Is that comment or suggestion going to do anything good? Notice your emotional state before opening your mouth. Are you being judgemental? Do you have all the facts?
- CONSIDER ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
- Keep in mind that we all come from different walks of life. We have different backgrounds and upbringings; different education; different financial status; different family obligations; different values. The way we care for our horses may vary greatly. Arguments on whether or not to blanket, whether or not to stall overnight, whether or not the feed grain, are pointless. The only time a difference in opinion matters is when the welfare of the horse is in jeopardy.
- STAY GREEN
- “When you’re green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you’re rotting.” It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the horse world. Take some time to learn something new. Learn about how someone else does something and then learn why. Take the time to TEACH someone less experienced (that wants to learn from you) and you might learn from that.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
- Taking care of horses is a full-time job and we often fail to make time for ourselves. Even if your horse is THE ONLY reason, make time for yourself to get some exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep.
I joke about “crazy horse ladies.” We aren’t all that bad. My best friends are horse people. Yes, there are a few certifiable people out there. Yes, I have dealt with many crazies. In general, however, we are a genuine, down to Earth, hard-working bunch. We love our animals and we know how to embrace the beauty of the natural world.
Please, I want to hear from you. What is your take on “crazy horse ladies” and where do you stand?
- “Grooms Minds”: Spotlight on mental health in the equestrian industry
- Horses & Mental Health: Why Your Wellbeing Matters
- Study assesses female equestrian health
- MENTAL HEALTH: BRAIN INJURY & MENTAL ILLNESS (DUAL DIAGNOSIS)
- Can Traumatic Brain Injury Cause Psychiatric Disorders?
- Head injury can cause mental illness
- Why riders can be so susceptible to mental health problems — and how to take action
- MENTAL HEALTH IN EQUESTRIAN SPORT AWARENESS AND ACTION PROGRAM
- Under The Rug: Depression Among Equestrian Athletes Is Very Common But Still Taboo
- Mental illness and the equestrian.
- Kate at the In Gate: Body Image, the Show Ring & Why Something Has to Change
- Horse People Are Batshit CRAZY
- ARE HORSE PEOPLE CRAZY? OR JUST OBSESSED?
- Your Turn: Crazy Horse People
- The Horse World is Toxic and I’m Tired of it