Harried Holidays? De-Stress With Horses

Looking for a way to chill out during the holiday season—or any hectic time? Let your four-legged friend unwind you!
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A smiling young woman hugs her horse’s face.

When holiday stress strikes, a quick moment with your horse can put things to right. 

“No matter how stressful my day’s been,” says reader Lisa Wingebach of California, “when I brush my gelding’s face and he drops his head…I relax completely.”

Lisa was responding to a question we asked awhile back about de-stressing with horses. Can you relate? I certainly can. Especially at this time of year.

Because, let’s face it: As horsepeople, we’re always busy—barn chores, house chores, family chores, work chores. Finding time for a ride or any other activity with our horses can even begin to feel like a chore.

Add to that the stresses of the holiday season, and it all becomes crazymaking.

But! That’s exactly why it’s essential to keep carving out at least a little time with our equine friends, even at this busy time of year. Science has acknowledged what we already knew—that being with our horses relieves stress and promotes a blissful feeling of wellbeing.

Science, you ask? Yes. A study at Washington State University found that youngsters who spend time handling or riding horses have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as indicated by saliva samples, than do youngsters in a control group with no horse time.

A girl’s hand strokes the neck of a bay horse.

The feel of your horse’s warm coat under your hand will calm and refresh you.

So—horses are proven stress relief.

My own experience confirms this. I recall the calming effect my good gelding Granite had on me during a particularly hectic holiday season when my daughter was young. Here in Northern California, we’re lucky to be able to ride year-round. I would drop Sophie at preschool, then go on to the boarding barn and the relaxation would begin.

Stepping out of my car, I’d notice how appealing my gelding looked as he lifted his handsome head and pricked his ears at me.

As I led him from his paddock to the barn, I’d never fail to notice how the haircoat on his neck (he was a fleabitten gray) resembled creamy vanilla-bean ice cream. Mmmmmm.

Grooming him, I’d take a moment to press my nose into his coat or the side of his velvety muzzle. Breathing in that warm, horsey scent was—and still is—intensely relaxing, conjuring up as it does happy horse-memories from childhood.

As I longed him, I would admire his sweepy movement and think how glad I was he belonged to me. By the time I swung into the saddle, my worries of the day had faded and I was ready to concentrate on this creature that added such beauty and richness to my life.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. The tales you’ve shared attest to it.

“Yes, librarians get stressed, too,” confesses reader Kristi Pierce of Iowa. “And when that happens, my husband banishes me to the barn for horse therapy. Scratching my big Paint gelding’s bum (his favorite spot) as we listen to a book together makes all the worries go away.”

Californian Karen Luckett agrees. “Just hugging my 34-year-old mare melts my stress away and resets my biorhythms within 15 seconds. Better than any tranquilizer out there.”

Who can argue with that?

So, remember…when the holiday crazies strike, carve out 15 seconds—more if you can manage it—to relax, refresh, and recharge with your four-legged best friend.

(Then take a moment to tell us all about it!)

[MORE: Readers share how they de-stress with horses.]

[RELATED: 11 ways to get maximum horse enjoyment on a limited budget.]

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