I'm Lydia. Hello. I'm also alive, and smiling tonight.
Horses are and always have been part of my dreams. As a kid, I was sure that the ultimate happiness in life would be getting to have a horse and ride. It was a big dream of mine. But I didn't get a horse as a kid, or a teenager. I still don't own my own horse. However, now, I most definitely have felt enormously, ridiculously happy while riding and caring for a horse, and it happened right here at Bridle Up Hope.
My mom found Bridle Up Hope. She asked me if I wanted to try coming through their program. It was vaguely funny to me, the chance to pursue a childhood dream because at the time, I felt like I had lost my ability to live out anything besides nightmares.
Bridle Up Hope rescues horses, and they rescue people. If you’ve heard some of the horses’ stories, you’ll know that it’s amazing that they’re even standing. Bridle Up Hope rescued me.
One of the basic tests for depression is called the HAM-D. It’s used to determine the severity level of a patient’s depression from 0, none, to 4, severe. When I took it, I got a 4. Severe. Last year, 2018, I ended up in the hospital three times due to suicidal ideation. The second time that I ended up in the ER, I had a panic attack so intense I struggled to breathe during a talk with the doctor. A diagnosis of anxiety was added to my charts.
That’s a brief, clinical way to describe what was going on inside me. Smiling made my stomach hurt. Making myself laugh felt like being stabbed. I would go about my everyday life while locked inside my head, something or some part of me was screaming itself hoarse. By January of this year, I felt like I was a walking black hole. Weekly therapy kept me out of the hospital, but I felt like I was constantly running on empty, and it was exhausting, and excruciating. I didn’t feel like I was constantly, silently, screaming anymore, but I felt extremely lost, like I was drifting apart. I felt like I was so messed up that I couldn't come back from it. When my mom asked me if I wanted to try Bridle Up Hope, I shrugged. What could it hurt?
Bridle Up Hope did the opposite. It healed. For an hour a week, I was out in the fresh air, the beautiful surroundings, with my instructor and a horse, and it was like sunlight after a long winter. The black hole inside of me didn't drag me down when I brushed down the horses. My doubts in myself didn't screech nonstop when I managed to get my horse to turn, to trot, to canter, to stop, to listen. Bridle Up Hope is a foundation in more than one way because the lessons that are offered are foundational for beginner equestrians, and the habits that are taught and explored are foundational for people struggling but trying to restart their lives. Like me.
I felt safe with myself here. I was glad to be alive here. Every week that I took the course, I had something to look forward to, something to hold out for. I was able to smile and laugh without it feeling fake, and I really talked with my instructor, Whitney, about life without feeling like I'd drowned. Even when I was focused and even anxious, I never had a panic attack up here. It was the opposite. I felt like I was relearning how to breathe.
Whitney pushed me to keep being brave, to not let the dark parts of my mind take the reins. "All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage," she'd say, and that's what I lived by any time I was nervous about getting in the saddle. But then, once I was up there, I'd be so happy I couldn't keep myself from outright grinning some days, and I'd think, “This is what I need to do in real life. Be brave. Just keep climbing into the saddle and doing my best to be my best." The 7 Habits and the lessons I learned bled into my life outside of Bridle Up Hope.
Looking through the journal I wrote in after each lesson, I found my goals from the start of the program. I wanted to:
1. Get out of my head
2. Experience something happy and good
3. Have something to look forward to
4. Make my own adventures
Those might sound simple, but they felt almost impossible when I wrote them down. And yet, I absolutely achieved every single one of those, and more. After a lesson where we talked about “Being Proactive” and “Putting First Things First,” I signed up for the GED. The courage I found at Bridle Up Hope enabled me to go in and pass every single test after months of anxiety and fear. It was the encouragement I found here, the motivation I found to take ahold of the reins of my life.
After a lesson on “Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood,” I did better at my job, did better with my family. Those are still works in progress, but I have the tools to progress now. I have a hundred more examples, but I only have five minutes here, so trust me when I say that Bridle Up Hope rescued me.
I think the most important thing that I learned is this: You don't have to be perfect, but don't give up. Keep trying. Keep working. Keep learning. Take a deep breath, adjust your grip on the reins, and try again. Find and keep your balance. Each lesson, each time I trusted myself, trusted the horses, trusted Whitney, tried again, each time I laughed and cried or talked and rode, each experience I had working and hoping again—each of those were the fulfillment of childhood dreams and the foundation for my adult dreams. Bridle Up Hope led me to recovering happiness, and recovering my life. From these people and these horses, I figured out how to be a better person.
Bridle Up Hope is a beautiful, hopeful place, and I am not the only person who started to feel beautifully hopeful again here. Bridle Up Hope is a safe place, and I feel safe here. It is a kind place, a wise place, a great place, and I am kinder, wiser and greater for being here.
Bridle Up Hope is somewhere that taught me real life is better than dreams, and that's indescribably incredible. This is a place of horses, habits, and healing, and I am happier and more hopeful because of it. So let me say again: I am alive. But this time, I'd like to say thank you. Thank you so much.
(Names changed to protect privacy)