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Finding Solace in Horses

“My mind was finally just happy to hitch a ride along in the saddle with me.”

The author at age 14, finally finding a place where she feels serene. Photo by Kathleen Hardesty.

I have horrendous anxiety. Like so bad that sometimes I convince myself that everyone around me hates me and are all just talking to me because they’re playing a trick on me. I’m pretty sure I ask my boyfriend every single day if he still loves me, because I’m convinced one day he will just change his mind and not tell me. My purse is a testament to my anxiousness: it’s full of gum, headache medicine, floss, stain remover, extra deodorant, bobby pins, and candy (I have terrible anxiety regarding being uncomfortable in any situation; I must always be prepared!). I worry about basically everything: my relationships, my work, my finances, my position in life. If it’s happening, I’ve thought about it, and chances are I’ve thought about it a little too much.

I’ve always had anxiety. I can remember not going across the monkey bars backwards when I was in second grade because I was way too worried about how bad it would hurt if I just so happened to fall. Even in elementary school, my anxiety was all consuming and affected every part of my daily life. Anxiety seemed unmanageable to me… until I started riding horses.

I had gone on a few trail rides, but one day I just decided I wanted to start riding regularly and I wanted to do it now. I found a stable near me and started lessons immediately. I was 12 and I thought I was the height of fashion in my new too-big-for-me jodhpurs and my baby blue Troxel helmet. After only one lesson I was hooked, and I never stopped talking about horses. I slowly transformed into the weird horse girl.

Most importantly though, after I had had time to decompress and really think about my first lesson, I realized that the entire time I was on that horse, I wasn’t worrying about my life or the things going on in it. My mind was not focused on whether my homework was done, or if a certain boy liked me, or if my friends only hung out with me because I had a Wii. My mind wasn’t focused on these things because it had to be focused on what I was doing, which was steering a 1200-pound beast of an animal around a dirt-coated arena in freezing weather and asking it to step over some poles that were conveniently placed right in the way of our path. I couldn’t afford to think about all my worries when I was on top of a horse, because I had to concentrate too hard on what my position looked like, what the horse was doing, and where I was going.

This trend continued through every ride I had after that. I found that a sure-fire way to shut my mind up was to just get on a horse. Sure, I still had some anxiety, but it was horse-related anxiety. I was anxious about whether I would make a correct distance to a fence, or whether my instructor would finally say it was okay to jump the scary obstacle that I had been psyching myself up to do. It was different anxiety, and most importantly, it wasn’t earth-shattering, world-ending anxiety. It was just normal worries from someone who was passionate about their sport and wanted to perform up to the standard they knew they were able to. I felt like a normal person for that hour every week that I was on top of a horse. My mind wasn’t trying to convince me that my life was a scam — it was just happy to hitch a ride along in the saddle with me.

This has continued throughout my life as a rider. No matter what’s going on in my world, my brain slows down when my foot slides into that stirrup. Though my worries have changed, and I’m now anxious over money and college instead of boys and homework, the effect of my 1200-pound friends has stayed the same. I’m thankful that I finally found something that quiets my brain — now I just need to figure out how I can stay in the saddle 24/7.

Paige Hardesty is a small-town girl who loves anything and everything having to do with horses. She has a passion for reading and writing, especially when it involves her favorite four-legged creatures. Paige has an unconventional riding journey and hopes to prove to others that you can start riding late in life and still succeed as a horsewoman.  She hopes to one day own a successful breeding and training barn, but for now is content with dreaming of her future while she works to better her skills.

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