My furry therapist

September 11th, 2010

I have had my horse Fiero “Fi” since he was 2; he is 14 now. For the past 12 years he has been the one constant in my life. Boyfriends have come and gone. Friends have come and gone, but Fi has always been there for me. Horses have always been a big part of my life. Since I was a little girl horses mesmerized me. I read about them; drew them and dreamed about them. After many years of pleading, at 14 years old my parents let me start taking riding lessons. I was hooked.

When I was 23 years old I bought Fi. I had saved up $5000.00 from working 2 jobs. $5000.00 was A LOT of money to me, but I wanted to get a horse that would have the movement for dressage. I went to look at Fi Christmas Eve. He was totally furry, had crazy long legs and was at a bit of an ugly stage. When I saw him trot I fell in love. He floated. This was going to be my dressage horse.

He was such a sweet heart on the ground and I taught him to lunge, long line etc. He was going to be a big horse (he grew to 16.3 hh), so I didn’t break him until he was 4. He nearly broke me. I ended up having to take him to a western trainer, that was fair with the horses, but most importantly he wouldn’t get bucked off when Fi thought he was trying out for the Canadian Finals Rodeo. I had anxiety for the first year of riding him. He really scared me when I started him and I was well aware of the safety concerns. I just “sucked it up” and rode him 5 times a week. I still got bucked off a couple of times, but mostly I could stay on.

In 2005 he was going really well and I finally felt like we clicked. In hindsight his spookiness and hot temperament while riding was probably due to my undiagnosed bipolar. Horses are highly sensitive animals and he was probably feeding off of my differing moods. I was always patient with him and loved him to death, but he knew something wasn’t “right” with me. In 2007, I declared it was going to be “Year of Beth”. I had planned to take my riding to the next level. In reality I was just in a hypomanic episode and by June I would come crashing down. My major depressive episode was actually triggered by Fi. He had a minor injury, but as a person with a mood disorder knows what seems minor to the average person can feel very major.

By August I was planning my exit. I did seek out help from my GP, but at that point I should have been in-patient. My GP put me on antidepressants and for someone that has bipolar, without a mood stabilizer antidepressants are a recipe for disaster. The antidepressants triggered a mixed episode (mania and depression at the same time). It was unbearable. I felt I couldn’t see Fi and thought he was better off without me. My suicide note was mostly about him and directed my family on how I wanted my pension and RRSPs to be spent on paying for his care for the rest of his life. Luckily I was found and was taken to a Psychiatric hospital where I would stay for 6 weeks. By the second week, my Psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar. During my stay friends and family would take me to see Fi. He was the highlight of my day and I think he knew I was terribly unwell. He normally can be a bit hot at times, but during those few months he walked slower and his temperament was similar to a 30 year old horse.

In the horse community if a person is diagnosed with Cancer, horse shows and trail rides are organized in your honor. My experience when people found out I was diagnosed I would get the “deer in the headlights look” or the sideways glances of how fat I had become from the bipolar medication. There wasn’t any horse shows organized in my honor, but there were a few of my horse friends that were very supportive.

I had gained over 50 pounds in a very short period of time. In about 3 months I tried riding again, but got bucked off. I’m not sure if it was because of the weight gain or if it was just a fluke accident, but it scared me. I tried over the year to try riding, but the anxiety had come back with a vengeance and I couldn’t handle any extra mental stress, so I stopped riding. I still enjoyed being around Fi and went to the stable 6 times a week. No matter how crappy I felt he was always happy to see me. When I felt worthless, he was the one being in my life that made me feel I mattered to someone.

I have tried on and off to start back into riding, but I just can’t get past the anxious feelings. In the past 3 months I have finally come to terms that I may never ride him again. Some of the boarders at the stable can’t imagine keeping a horse that they couldn’t ride and every couple of months someone makes the comment on how lucky Fi is to have me. In reality I am the lucky one. He is what gets me out of bed and to work, so I can afford him. The times when I felt too high, he calms me down. The times when I want to do the unthinkable, he is what keeps me hanging on. I owe my life to Fi.

Thanks for reading.