Stress. We all talk about it, but it is a serious issue with lasting effects. Last edition, we discussed some measures to control the stress levels of our equine partners. In this issue, I would like to focus on the stress levels as equine owners and discuss ways to alleviate the stress. As we all know, owning horses can be very stressful. From unforeseen injuries to the everyday tasks at hand, working and owning horses are not for the faint at heart. With the shorter days and the cold weather, riding can be limited and that is a major stress reliever for me. Your stress can translate to your horses and riding abilities. When you are stressed, you have less patience, are often hurried about chores and tasks, and you may forget important things. I reached out to a dear friend, Victoria Presnal, who is the Family and Consumer Science Agent in Carrol County to gain an insight on general stress management.

Victoria: Benjamin Franklin wrote, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when it comes to stress. Stress can affect our health, our relationships, our jobs, and our families. Stress can also affect your entire body, mentally as well as physically. Some common signs include: headaches, trouble sleeping, jaw pain, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, and feeling overwhelmed.

As we continue into a world of unknowns, coping with your own stress will make your barn time even more enjoyable. Utilizing a task list, I find that I have more time to spend at the barn and unplugging from the phone screens. I find simple joys in brushing my horses and the repetitiveness of cleaning stalls. When things seem to fall apart, it is important to start prioritizing yourself and keeping your mental health in check. Taking her advice, I translated it to owning horses. Here are 5 ways that you can manage your stress:

Create a “No” Phrase

Victoria: We all know that saying “no” can be a very difficult thing to do. Especially when the person or thing means so much to you. However, it is important to think ahead about the outcome when saying yes, and whether it will bring on unwanted stress. Saying no to some things gives you an opportunity to give your 100% to things you want to say yes to. Try not to stretch yourself thin to please everyone. Find a phase you can say when you feel pressured to do something you do not want to do.

Ashley: “Sorry, I have to feed and care for my horse. I don’t alter their feeding schedules.” You could also say, “I don’t skip barn time and caring for my animals.” By saying “I don’t” it allows you to own the affirmation and solidify the time you have set aside for your horses and yourself. You could always offer to do the task at another time or date but ensuring you set boundaries and are keeping time for yourself will allow you to work more effectively in other areas of your life.

Get Moving

Victoria: Many people find being active is a great way to manage stress. Try using physical activity as a way to manage your stress. It does not have to be anything vigorous. Just a simple outdoor walk will boost your mood and energy levels. You could also schedule some time to bike or join a local dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun! Exercising daily produces endorphins which are stress relief hormones.

Ashley: We expect our horses to stay in tip top shape through longeing and exercise, so we should expect the same from ourselves. Some activities around the barn to get you moving include cleaning stalls quickly, carrying water buckets and stacking hay. To ensure a more satisfying way to elevate your heart rate, consider creating a barn tailored workout program. Horse Illustrated has a great “Barn Aisle Workout.”

Manage Your Time

Victoria: Prioritizing your daily activities can help you use your time well. Make a to-do list or write out a schedule to help you accomplish everything on your list that day. This will help you feel not so overwhelmed by deadlines or everyday tasks.

Ashley: By creating the tasks lists for other areas in our lives, we can ensure we are staying on target so we can get to the barn and have those special relaxing times. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the allotted time and remain focused. Prioritize your list. Is it a want or is it a need? You may want to reorganize the tack room, but you need to visit with your friends at a much needed dinner date. If organizing the tack room will lower your stress levels, then that becomes a need.

Eat Well

Victoria: Eating foods that are unprocessed like: whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is the foundation for a healthy body. Building a healthy food prep habit into your daily or weekly routine can greatly improve your overall diet, and eventually lead to reduced stress levels.

Ashley: We spend so much time analyzing the best feed and supplements for our equine family. We feed them the best we can and have high quality hay. If we spent half the effort of feeding our horses on ourselves, eating better would be easy. We carefully monitor the water intake for our horses in the winter, and we should monitor our own water. Eating the correct amount for calories and proper nutrients, our energy levels will increase to do more of the activities that bring us joy.

Limit Screen Time

Victoria: Consider adding time in your day that does not involve social media or screen time. Taking time to unplug and disconnect from your device will help you be more mindful and present where you are. This could look like taking a walk outdoors, spending some time with your family, or finding a hobby that brings you joy in the present moment.

Ashley: It’s easy to get sucked into scrolling on social media while you wait for the water trough to fill or chat on the phone while cleaning stalls. Remove yourself and disconnect a bit. Try to keep the barn time just that, barn time only. Keep your phone handy for safety measures, but break those habits of checking it or looking at your smart watch. Spend more time in the quiet and bond with your horse. Horses will thank you for taking the time to brush them while the water trough fills up rather than scrolling Instagram.

Ashley Best, Newton County Extension Coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent