‘I’m still here because of horses’: rider explains how eventing ‘fixed’ her mental health

A rider who faced serious mental health issues but was “fixed” by eventing hopes to help others going through similar challenges.

Becki Holmes, 27, from Leicester was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 18.

Becki told H&H: “Prior to being diagnosed I suffered with self-harm and anorexia, and I found it difficult to deal with emotions especially in my early teen years. I had always been horse-mad but my parents couldn’t afford lessons so I didn’t start riding until I was 12.

“A year later I got my first pony Tilley on loan who I had been riding for a lady at the riding school. When I was going through severe anorexia and things were really bad my mum would use Tilley to help me, she’d say ‘you’ve got to get out of bed and look after her’.”

Becki was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when she was 23.

“I knew it wasn’t just bipolar I had but I didn’t know what it was. One of my close friends has Asperger’s, and I thought it ticked a lot of boxes on how I was feeling,” said Becki.

“It explained a lot, there were things I was struggling with like change of routine, or meeting new people I found really hard.”

After jumping a friend’s horse in 2016, Becki heard about the Wobbleberry challenge for Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity, set up in memory of eventer Hannah Francis.

“I hadn’t jumped before but I thought ‘I quite like this’ and that was the point I thought I’d like to try the challenge. Tilley was getting quite old so I retired her and took a pony called Chelsea on loan for a year and we began jumping more and hiring local arenas,” said Becki, who still has Tilley.

“I did my towing licence and began going to local shows which got me out of my shell. With having Asperger’s I find it really hard to go to new places and meet people and getting my licence gave me that little bit of independence. I was meeting people around horses which gave me a common ground and something to start talking to them about – it opened a new world.”

In 2018, Becki bought 15-year-old gelding Buck.

“Buying Buck was a real turning point – we just connected. I wanted something a bit older who had eventing experience who could take me to the next step, he had had three years off after his owner went to university so this allowed me to downgrade him,” she said.

“I was still struggling with self-harm and my eating wasn’t great but Buck made me realise if I was going to continue with eventing, I couldn’t do these negative things. If I couldn’t compete then I’d be stopping Buck doing something he enjoys – he was sold to me as a competitive horse who loves his job and I knew I had to get better to let him do that.”

Becki completed her Wobbleberry Challenge in 2018 and went on to compete in BE80s and BE90s.

“We came second in the Hannah Francis One-day Event in July 2018 which was organised by Lesley Stewart who previously owned Buck with her daughter Emily. It was very special to them that we took part,” said Becki.

“Our aim this season is to move up to BE100. Buck would go round tomorrow but with the mental health problems I have my anxiety is really bad when I’m competing and I get nervous before cross country. Buck never plays up to it but he must feel what I’m feeling. I’m having coaching with Flying Changes which is really helping work on my performance anxiety and get in the right mindset.”

Becki dreams of riding at FEI one-star level and has a Facebook page, Wobbleberry to One Star, documenting her journey which she hopes will inspire others going through similar issues.

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“When I’d had been at my worst, if I had read something about someone who had done what I have done it would have massively inspired me. I didn’t have horsey parents, or horses growing up and I never dreamed in a million years I’d event – if I went over a cross pole I was thrilled,” she said.

“If you’d told me three or four years ago I’d be eventing I would’t have believed you. I couldn’t go anywhere on my own – I couldn’t go to work on my own, my mum had to take me every day. I’ve now been told my bipolar is in remission and I’ve been discharged from the mental health team. I’m still here because of horses, eventing fixed me,” said Becki.

“I’ve never been open about my self-harm before but I wanted to speak about it is because I don’t want people to be ashamed. It’s still a taboo subject and I hope the more I share, the more brutally honest I am, then more people might feel they can reach out. I’ve spent a long time covering up my scars, being ashamed and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I’d love to help and inspire people to take up the Wobbleberry challenge, or even just take up riding.”

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