It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, so we wanted to explore the connection between horse ownership and mental health.
Thankfully, in more recent times, the conversation about mental health is more open and honest than ever. Members of the Royal family have spoken out about their own mental health issues and act as patrons to dedicated charities; celebrities and public figures talk about their struggles; and the medical profession is more educated and understanding than ever.
We hear advice on how to keep our mental health strong, and how to deal with negative mental health experiences in terms of physical behaviour but what about external factors? Here, we’re looking at how owning a horse can have a positive effect on your mental health.
A well-known cause of low mood and depression is loneliness. The companionship provided by a horse can help to reduce feelings of loneliness by having ‘someone’ to talk to. In extreme cases, horses have been attributed with saving people’s lives’ by giving them a focus and something to live for. Horses are great listeners and never talk back, grateful for attention and always appreciative when you feed them! They give unconditional love, which can be essential for people who feel alone.
Studies have shown that stroking a pet, such as a dog, can regulate breathing, lower blood pressure, relax muscle tension and slow heart rates; all signs of anxiety and stress. It can release serotonin and dopamine – happy hormones – which relax us and improve our mood. We believe this is true for horses too.
Structure and focus
Horses don’t care if you’re tired, miserable or don’t want to get out of bed – they need feeding, walking, and general looking after. Owning a horse can give the structure needed to get through the day when you’re feeling troubled. Caring for a horse can also remind us that we need to care for ourselves too.
Exercise and fresh air
If exercise is good for mental health, then owning a horse might be the push needed to get out and about. Horses require regular exercise and maintenance, which encourages their owners to exercise them even when they may not themselves feel like it. Owning a horse is a big responsibility, which needs to be thought about before making a commitment, but it’s a great way to stick to regular exercise all year round.
Be more social
Owning a horse can help people become more social too. With multiple horse owners on each yard, there are always plenty of other likeminded people to talk to. But all horses provide a commonality with friends and strangers; it gives us something to talk about and share stories about. With the love of horses on social media, isolated people can develop new friendships and relationships through a shared love of horses by sharing photographs and joining in conversations on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please reach out to a registered charity or medical professional for help, support and advice.