Rider Success Podcast Episode #8 - Show Notes
In today's episode I'll be talking to Georgia Gardner, an incredible young rider who tells us about her struggles with mental health as a child, and how today she competes and rides whilst coping with chronic fatigue and with long term pain conditions. She is an inspiration to us all, and her story is especially important to hear for anyone who may have their own mental or physical health problems. She tells us about her journey with horse, Junior, how their struggles mirrored one another and how her relationship with this special horse has been so vitally important in her recovery.
Georgia is 20 years old and lives in Cornwall, she has been riding for almost 15 years and in that time she has done almost everything you can name with horses! From learning to ride at a riding school and since working freelance with horses, including being the breaking in dummy - as a lightweight rider! She has ridden dressage, showjumping and cross country mainly. She bought Junior as a project horse to then sell on, almost 6 years later he is still part of the family, with no plans for him to go anywhere!
When she got Junior, Georgia was 14 years old and still in secondary school and suffering from social anxiety. School was not the ideal place to be, she struggled with attendance and learning fell behind in subjects that she struggled with because she was so shy and scared. Most of her time outside of school was spent at the yard, so having Junior gave her something else to focus on apart from school. Georgia did most of her work from home and when she went into school she was in the area for kids who like her struggled or had disabilities. She found it really hard to be in a classroom so did most of her work there or at home which was hard.
Georgia tells us how “it was a tough time just to be me, being so young, struggling to find myself as well as battling all these mental health problems, that at the time I didn't really understand. Junior really was my rock... many people at the yard I was on, thought that I was skiving, and didn't want to go to school, or I was homeschooled or my parents didn't care... and that's not what it was at all. My Mum really, really helped me when I dropped out of school, she would encourage me to do as much as I could, but obviously she would encourage me to be at the yard as well, because she knew it was that mental release.”
Like Georgia, Junior had his own troubles and they used to bounce off of one another. At the time Georgia didn’t understand his problems, but at the same time they were able to work through their issues together and have since come out the other side. He was always the horse people said would never get anywhere, people would tell her horrible things and this lit a fire inside of Georgia who wanted to show people and prove everyone wrong - it took a long time and they have had their ups and downs but they got there!
They have now done so much together and he has taught her how to be a better rider, and her view of riding has changed a lot. Georgia has learnt to ride tackless and done liberty riding with him. Looking back the horse she bought would never have allow her to ride bareback. He has been Georgia’s saving grace and they have grown up together. As Junior has improved, so has Georgia’s mental health. When she was in recovery Georgia tells us “it’s hard not to slip back, it’s easy to do...junior was always there to life me out, I don’t think i’d be here without him...we kinda pulled each other out of it, it’s sweet really.”
Georgia’s advice to any teenager going through the same thing “If i could speak to myself as a 13 or14 year old i would say, it's not going to be easy, you're not going to wake up one morning and going to be better. It'll take a long time, but you need to stick with it. You will cry you'll feel hurt, you want to get better and you can be a better person. It's just going to take a little bit of hard work and that hard work will be minuscule compared to what you'll get out of it. You don't know life until you get through it, life is amazing, and I think when you're in that mindset you take it for granted every single day. The feeling of being suicidal is horrible. It is like tunnel vision, but now..as myself as an adult I wake up out of bed every single morning and i’m so thankful to be here. Speak to someone, whether it be your parents or friends. Go to your doctor or even get your parents to ring for you, that was my help. Mum helped me my speaking to the doctor for me when I couldn’t and that got me the help I needed, so please reach out to somebody, do not give up, you are brave, you are strong, just need to work a little bit harder.
Mental health is so important and it's now becoming less taboo to speak about it. Parents should support you and no parent wants to see their child hurt or upset.
Georgia tells us that her drive now is realising there is more to life now and how amazing it is to see the light on the other side. We discussed how important it is to be kind to ourselves and how quick we are to be our own worst critics. Imagining the reactions or words from a friend or parent is always a good way to get perspective on your negative thoughts.
This describes all social media, but particular instagram - you can see this fear of being imperfect. Georgia has always said how she never claims to being perfect and is openly ‘not perfect and doesn’t claim to be’. Perfect isn’t real.
Georgia has her own Instagram account (@bandmastertales) she created to simply post about her horse ‘life’ and has recently grown rapidly as she has focused on her story as well as providing support for others and give people understanding of living with long term conditions.
Georgia now has to contend with ME (Chronic Fatigue), Fibromyalgia and Endometriosis which are long term conditions which affect her daily life. Her instagram focus changed from just being about her horse to being able to help people. Being honest with people and telling her story meant a lot of people started to follow her journey.
Diagnosis with Chronic Fatigue was first, she thought she just had low iron levels but it was in fact ME. This means that sometimes she will have a shower and wash her hair and then have to sit down for half an hour, as she is exhausted and can’t do anything else. This has meant she needs to plan what she needs to do in a day, as one day she will be fine and then the next day, she may only be able do one thing and then need to sleep for the rest of the day.
Later she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, always having had a problem with her hips, she then developed chronic pain which progressed from her hips, to her back and into her neck, even her jaw and ankles, she felt she was too young to be experiencing this pain. Eventually she was suffering with so much pain and taking stronger and stronger pain killers. As there is no definitive test for Fibromyalgia she struggled to get a diagnosis from doctors. Georgia has pain everywhere but her arms and walks with a walking aid at times, she felt embarrassed with that to begin with but has had to gain the mentality of ‘this is me’. She has got more comfortable with this over time. The diagnosis was relieving but also hard hitting, as Georgia did not fully understand it, especially as everyone does not suffer in the same way with Fibromyalgia.
Georgia has had to fit studies, work and riding, ‘It’s a very fine balance’ she says. Pacing herself is important and when she isn’t able to ride, she looks at doing different activities such as lungeing or liberty work, which helps manage a highly strung competition horse alongside chronic illnesses. Competing and busy days will leave Georgia drained and need to stay in bed the next day with exhaustion. After an initial phase of staying in bed and wallowing in her situation, she now makes a real effort to get out of bed and make things happen. Having a structure to what she does is important, competing is hard, especially when it's all day, it can be stressful and stress will give her a flare up for her condition.
Georgia still has to cope with anxiety and can spend the night awake before a competition. You learn how to plan your life and you have to fail at it to get it right. When you go from being an able bodied person to someone who is then hit with a diagnosis such as this you have to learn the hard way what works for you.
Georgia has adapted her way of working with her horse to include more vocal and seat cues and found new ways to keep him busy and to achieve things. Junior wasn’t interested in this and took some time but now is voice trained and doing liberty work has really strengthened their relationship and understanding of one another. Georgia explains that when she has days of ‘I can’t do this’ she has to ask Junior and say ‘you need to do it for me...he’s got my back when I need it’.
Georgia has changed the focus on her riding goals from becoming a top event rider and dreams of Badminton and Burghley and international event riding has been replaced with wanting to help other people and inspire others.
Riding is also a great way to relieve stress for anyone and after a bad day, Georgia says that ‘seeing Juniors face she cant remain sad for long. Going for a ride makes you feel so much better as you get away from the stuff that’s getting you down - it's a great release.
‘You don’t always have to have validation, but that feeling of not being good enough again’ is something Georgia experienced, after her diagnosis she lost a lot of confidence and getting back to jumping was an amazing point in her journey which helped boost her confidence and self-esteem. When your identity changes, and your life is limited by a disability, getting back an important part of ‘who you are’ is crucial in regaining your sense of self.
Georgia’s goals have changed although she still wants to move up the ranks in eventing, aiming to affiliate soon. With para riding, Fibromyalgia is not easily graded, but hopefully in the future this is something she can participate in. Whilst Junior can still compete, he is getting older, so Georgia will soon be on the lookout for a new ride to help her accomplish her future goals. Her aims include working more on liberty work, completing teaching qualifications to coach riders, as well as doing talks and demonstrations are all on her to do list.
We wish Georgia all the very best with her future goals and dreams and you can follow her journey on Instagram at @bandmastertales
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