In The Saddle with Anita Marsh: Reaching out to cope after my dad's death

As you may remember, earlier in the year I sadly lost my dad to cancer. It has been the single, biggest life changing event I’ve ever had to endure and it has changed my life irrevocably.
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It has been the single, biggest life changing event I’ve ever had to endure and it has changed my life irrevocably.

I’ve gone from being out competing in dressage, showjumping, showing, arena eventing clinics and cross country training to completely stopping. I only hack and play around at home currently.

My zest for life with horses, and indeed life itself has changed as grief put me into a tailspin of darkness.

The Bearded Fishermen offer help with mental health and coming to terms with grief.The Bearded Fishermen offer help with mental health and coming to terms with grief.
The Bearded Fishermen offer help with mental health and coming to terms with grief.

Whilst I am glad we were able to hold my father as he died, the pain of doing that has left a footprint of trauma on my heart.

My horses throughout my grief journey so far have been both my saviour and my downfall - struggling to negotiate the balance of motivating myself into riding like I did before.

Like I said earlier, I’ve not stopped riding completely. Just competing. When I’m actually in the saddle peace washes over me and I feel present.

They stop the overthinking, the anxiety and the sense of disconnection with the rest of the world.

Horses and nature are a great combination for mental health and well being. I always feel better afterwards, even if I had to push myself.

Whilst horses have been helping me and I’ve had a lot of support, there are still dark days. I’ve known I’ve needed help and more than my lovely friends and family could offer.

I hate the term ‘reached out’ but that’s what I did - to my doctor. They recommended ‘The Bearded Fishermen’ who are a mental health and suicide prevention charity not far from me, and with whom they’d experienced good feedback.

My initial appointment via the telephone to Theresa, from the charity was good, but it’s hard opening up to a complete stranger.

She suggested we organise a face-to-face appointment and immediately she put me at my ease when we met with her kindness and honesty.

Over the weeks, Theresa and I have built up trust. She enables me to work through things by listening and exploring coping techniques for my situation. I guess a way of describing it is that life can feel blurred, and Theresa helps it come back into focus.

She undoubtedly helps me make sense of everything, allows my grief to soak through and face it head on rather than run away from it. She doesn’t judge me, I can cry or laugh. She’s an incredible woman. The whole team though are a true beacon of light and I’m so grateful to them.

When I walk into my appointment I’m never left alone; someone from the charity comes out and says hello if I’m early for my appointment. They know my name, they know about me and immediately I feel enveloped in a warm, caring environment.

I’ve met most of the team, and the two lovely founders of the charity - Rick Roberts and Mick Leyland and yes, they do both have beards and yes they do fish.

The charity was initially set up as a support group, after the tragic loss of their friend, also a fisherman, to suicide. This has now grown into a place which supports people in their mental health, including suicide prevention.

I take my hat off to them - they’ve turned something awful into something positive to help others. Whilst they both love fishing, (and that’s a place where they are able to relax from life) I’ve had lots of lovely conversations with Rick about the horses he’s owned throughout his childhood.

He totally gets the enjoyment equestrians get out of being around these beautiful animals. It’s always good to chat about horses, as every equine will know. We do love to share our passion.

In fact the charity are hoping to set up a podcasting network in the future, and have asked if I’d talk about horses and the important role they play in mental health. This is something I feel very strongly about and look forward to discussing this.

You’ll probably be aware of how I’ve spoken before about the release of endorphins and the positive influence horses have on people. Ask any equestrian and they will all tell you anecdotes of how happy they are around their horses.

It takes courage to speak out when you are struggling; when the days feel dark and you don’t know how you will get through them. But you are not alone, there are many of us out there trying to find away through what can feel like walking through tar.

If you need mental health support, night or day, you can call The Bearded Fishermen on 0300 365 0019. You do not need to live in the area to call them.

Alternatively you can give them a like on their Facebook or Instagram page and check out their fundraising events and activities. Their website also gives information about the charity and how to donate.

In the meantime, thank you for following my equestrian column and for also supporting my Facebook page. I’ve found many followers have been lovely and have sent private messages and best wishes. This is much appreciated. I’ll be back soon to share more horsey antics from my horses April, Mara and Sully.

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