‘People suffer in silence’: coach hopes to shine light on eating disorders in equestrianism

  • A coach who recovered from a life-threatening eating disorder has created a campaign to raise awareness of the illness and hopes to raise funds towards the launch of a training programme to help others in the equestrian industry.

    West Sussex-based British Horse Society-accredited coach Becky vanden Bogaerde launched the Hard to Swallow campaign to coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week (2 to 8 March). The campaign involves a bespoke programme written by eating disorder charity BEAT, which will be presented to groups of 25 on the subject.

    Becky told H&H she recovered from atypical anorexia, an ‘other specified feeding or eating disorder’ (known as OSFED), developing the illness following a series of difficult events.

    “I ran a yard in Surrey but it suddenly closed in 2014 after the land was sold to developers. I had a month’s notice and my world fell apart – I had lost my business,” she said.

    “I became depressed and suffered two family bereavements the following year and I just couldn’t cope.

    Becky said she developed restrictive eating behaviour.

    “I told myself I was stressed and it was grief. My behaviour became erratic and controlling, and it had a huge impact on my relationships and marriage,” she said.

    “In 2016 I received bad news from the vet about my gelding Merlin who was training towards advanced medium dressage and I snapped. My behaviour worsened 10-fold.”

    Becky was convinced by close friends and family to seek help and she was diagnosed with an eating disorder and started treatment as an outpatient.

    “Before treatment my health had deteriorated; I couldn’t work, I couldn’t ride. I was fainting and had no concentration,” she said.

    “I spent a year in treatment. I didn’t know anything about eating disorders apart from the usual things you see and hear in the media. It was the last thing I ever thought would happen to me – it was a coping strategy and about having some kind of control.”

    Becky said after she was discharged in 2017 she decided to “give something back”.

    “I wanted to help stop people slipping through the net – if I hadn’t had treatment it would have killed me. The important thing is about seeking help early on before things spiral – you have a better chance of recovery the sooner an eating disorder is caught,” she said.

    “I wanted to do something that linked to my work and I realised there are so many triggers in the equine industry making us a high risk group so I started presenting talks at equine colleges. As a coach I can spot people struggling and I wanted to help educate people on eating disorders – when I was suffering it was like an elephant in the room, people close to me knew something wasn’t right but they were afraid of upsetting me, or saying the wrong thing.”

    After spending two years touring equine colleges, Becky was invited to present on the topic at the BHS national convention in 2019, and this year has launched the Hard to Swallow campaign.

    “I want to do something with longevity and provide training days where anyone interested can attend whether they are a coach, a committee member, an official or an employer,” said Becky.

    “BEAT is going to write a bespoke programme and I have discussed what I want included so it is relevant to the equestrian industry – but it could also filter down to others.”

    Becky is trying to raise £3,175; £675 for BEAT to write the programme and £2,500 for the charity to present it once to a group of 25.

    “It costs £100 a head to attend which I know is a lot for people to pay, so I want to help subsidise the places by raising enough funds that they are only £50 to attend. I want to keep a rolling pot so we can look at running it twice a year, if not more,” she said.

    “The aim is to have the course CPD-accredited which I am looking into. I am also interested in individuals or companies coming on board if they are interesting in joining the campaign. I’m not a household name, and don’t have a huge competition record, but it would be amazing to have some kind of backing and we can offer the company exposure.”

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    Becky said she hopes to make more people comfortable talking about eating disorders.

    “If people understand better, they will be less scared to talk about it and we can help more people. We’re becoming better at talking about depression and promoting mental health but there isn’t enough education on eating disorders – and ‘how do I keep myself healthy?’,” she said.

    ‘ Eating disorders ruin lives and people suffer in silence, we need more understanding as they come in lots of different forms and they can all be equally dangerous.”

    Donations can be made towards the Hard to Swallow campaign via the Go Fund Me page here and for more information Becky can be contacted via email: info@bvbequestrian.com.

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