~by Laura Gray~
I have an intense passion for horses and horseback riding. To me, horses are so much more than just animals. Many people consider them to be beautiful, graceful creatures. For those who get to experience it, riding on a horse can be an almost surreal experience. It can give you a sense of empowerment as you control an animal ten times your size. For me, riding my horse is not simply a fun activity. Horseback riding means improved mental health and judgement-free companionship. You see, horses are very accepting creatures.
I probably have to work harder than most to maintain good mental health. I’ve been bullied, and I often suffer from both anxiety and depression. Being around horses is like being in a safe zone, and it drastically improves my mood. I seek refuge in the barn if I am upset or coping with a tragic event such as a family member passing away. To me, the barn is a warm, friendly, and uplifting environment. My horse provides a shoulder for me to lean on if I am having a hard time. If I am upset over something, when I enter the barn, it seems almost dreamlike. At the first smell of the hay and the horses, I feel relaxed and at home.
I began riding horses when I was about eight years old. I soon developed a single-minded obsession with horses. Back then I read piles of encyclopedias on horses and horse care, and articles on just about any horse-related information I can get my hands on. I still do. Once I began attending boarding school, I competed intensely on the Varsity riding IEA team (Interscholastic Equestrian Association). I also competed as often as I could in competitions both on and off campus. I trained hard, riding five days a week while at school.
It may seem surprising, but horses are actually excellent at providing empathy. They will often reflect your mood and body language, whether you are riding them or not. My horse tends to reflect my mood and body language while I am riding him. Once I’ve been riding for awhile, I feel overjoyed and kind of warm and fuzzy inside. I walk out of the barn feeling refreshed, energized, and much more content than I had walking in.
My horse also offers me consolation when I feel nervous or depressed. Maybe that’s because horses are very accepting animals. It doesn’t matter how you look, what you wear, or what your size. They only care about how they are treated. Because I have autism, I find that horses offer a companionship I don’t usually otherwise find; my horse is my best friend.
The barn has always been a safe haven for me, especially during my first year of high school. It was the place I could go to just be myself when the going got tough, or to just get through the day. I was incessantly bullied in the lunch line by a couple of girls. They taunted me nearly every day about how my eyes looked. I didn’t have many friends in school. I only had one or two, and one of those relationships was toxic. I felt very isolated from the school community, and during lunch I often retreated to a corner in one of the courtyards.
My love of horses goes way beyond their beauty or companionship. Horses help me build my self-esteem, and they really do keep me mentally grounded. Just being around horses, whether I’m riding or caring for them, gives me solace during difficult times. Horseback riding provides a positive outlet for my energy. Over all, my experiences and interaction with horses leave me feeling empowered.
Meet the Author: Laura Gray
Laura Gray, while still a High School junior, started her own business selling her paintings and drawings. She also earned the highest achievement in Girl Scouting: The Girl Scout Gold Award. In her spare time, she enjoys art, archery and horseback riding.
You can check out Laura’s artwork here: www.redbubble.com/people/artworkbylaurag