Pammy Hutton: Can horses aid our mental health? *H&H VIP*


  • Last month’s mental health awareness week saw me in trouble on social media. Maybe I asked for it by baring all about depression in my family and describing my own experiences? Or perhaps it was my suggested remedies that offended some, when I pointed out that you get out of life only what you put in?

    I don’t regret talking about the year in which I broke my back, got divorced, lost my one-year-old daughter to cot death — and contemplated driving very fast into a motorway bridge.

    I can’t say for sure that horses saved me, although I definitely threw away the prescribed “happy” pills that made me feel fat and lazy. So maybe riding did provide that motivation for self-improvement we all so badly need at troubled times.

    Following my online confessional, I’m grateful to those who found my posts “inspirational”; and saddened for those who found it offensive, especially when talking about “getting off one’s butt”.

    But the best outcome was that a good number of people are taking up my invitation to come to Talland to watch our horses for free. My mother Molly Sivewright was one of the key people in setting up Riding for the Disabled (RDA) — and now I want to establish a charitable arm to assist those with depression.

    A term used too lightly by too many these days, depression is not so much a state of mind but a disease, an illness. I speak from experience. And even if only watching or touching horses can help, count me in.

    Be constructive

    Despite a winter’s work, daily riding, losing a stone to feel my fittest for five years, competing at Keysoe Premier League at the end of April left me in despair. I’d sat there like a passenger. My piaffe went from Scotland to Cornwall, I missed my changes and was quite rightly hammered to a mere 60 small-something percent. The judges’ remarks on my sheet were almost spot on, but so harsh…

    Negotiating the 53 roundabouts driving home to Gloucestershire, I seriously contemplated giving up. Two pupils — one older who has competed internationally, one younger who has won up to prix st georges — both had an equally bad day and came close to the same conclusion.

    Next stop was Addington, where all the horses and younger riders in the collecting ring looked fab. I nearly lost my nerve again. Nevertheless,

    I kicked myself up the backside, rode better and managed a 6% improvement (although where the next 3% comes from, God only knows…)

    One particular judge had the best eye I’ve had assess me for decades. Giving me loads to work on, she finished with: “Little things to improve on slowly will make all the difference.” How much more helpful than: “Energy, straightness, self-carriage, some issues…”?

    None of us mind criticism. But please, judges, at least make it constructive.

    An obesity epidemic

    Equine obesity is being much talked about. Yet, on the ground, it’s an out-of-control epidemic. Some of the specimens in H&H’s showing pages look ready for the Christmas fat-stock show…

    Personally, I’m on a 24/7 diet with large chunks of the day designated “nil by mouth”. But whether it’s applied to people or horses, discipline appears to be a dirty word these days. So let’s stop talking about it and do something instead.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 6 June 2019