Guest blog: How Horses Helped me Get over my Eating Disorder

I have always been a perfectionist, anything I do I will give it 110% effort. This is one of my greatest strengths and one of my greatest weaknesses. My brain is always working in overdrive, I must be constantly busy and I worry, a lot. 

My family have always ridden (my mum, dad and sister) and growing up it was something I just did because everyone else did it. I was never a talented rider like my sister and instead always won the attendance and condition and turnout awards. Things that I could work hard at. 

I think my eating disorder started to manifest when I initially became depressed after severely breaking my leg during a fall XC training. The break was so bad that it took 18 months to heal and I had to spend a lot of time in a wheelchair due to me having a large fixator fitted. I was 16 at the time and felt isolated from my friends. I decided to throw myself into my schoolwork and became an A* student.

It was after recovering from this and a week before my 18th birthday that my horse of a lifetime Buzz Lightyear came into my world. He gave me my first taste of success riding. And my confidence grew so quickly, we started competing and then eventing. 

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However I then left for uni, returning at weekends to see Buzz. This is where my eating disorder grew stronger. I did not enjoy uni life, it was not for me. When you have good grades, this is the path that you are almost told to take by teachers and schools. I missed my home, my family and my horse. My days were spent starving myself. Following by period’s of binging and purging. My confidence and my health deteriorated quickly. The hair on my head thinned, my skin was dry and sore, and my periods stopped. 

Towards the end of the first year, I confessed to my parents that uni life was not for me and I would take my exams and then leave. Of course, I worked hard and scored top results. But my decision had been made and my parents were so supportive and understanding. 

I then went to work in a saddlery where I was so much happier. I could ride Buzz every day and buy lots of pretty things for him. But my eating disorder was still as bad as ever. Not only that, I was now lying to my family a lot. I was throwing away my lunch at work, hiding food, saying I had already eaten or saying I was meeting a friend for dinner, but the truth was I was sitting by myself in a car park wasting away time before I could return home. 

The day that I knew things had to change was my last event with Buzz at Pulborough in 2009. He had carried me around and we had got placed. But I had been so tired, surviving all day on a pack of Haribo. I was so relieved to have not fallen off as I knew that my bones would shatter. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore, I was not strong enough to ride Buzz. I had become a horrible person, I was constantly tired, cold and short tempered due to being underweight, weak and lacking energy. Buzz was then sold to a young girl to take her eventing. I knew it was the only option, as he was fit, strong and loved competing. I needed to get myself better and my life back on track. 

With time, help and a lot of love from my family and my then boyfriend (now husband), I started to get better. It wasn’t over night and there were a lot of step backs and re-lapses. But I finally realised that if I didn’t want to be hospitalised or die from this illness, I had to change. 

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My sister has always worked with horses and she would have horses and ponies in to sell. She would encourage me to have a ride on them. I remember how happy it made me. After a couple of years, I decided to look for a new horse of my own. And with that decision, I determined that I had to stay healthy and happy for the sake of this horse. As I wanted to give the next horse I had a forever home. 

In 2014, I found Tigger, a 7 year old, 15hh Connemara who was an absolute godsend. I had initially bought him as a happy hacker as I was far too nervous to even go over a pole on the floor and he was so well behaved on the road. But he was so kind and trainable that my confidence soared. And I now compete him at Affiliated dressage and unaffiliated show jumping and eventing. 

Then in 2017, we got an email from the lady who we sold Buzz to, saying that they would be selling Buzz as the daughter was now off to University so would no longer have the time for him. This felt like fate, as my mum had been looking for a horse for herself to hack. As soon as we saw the email we knew we had to buy Buzz back. 

He arrived home and settled straight back into his old stable (which still had his nameplate on). He has always been a happy pony but he looked like he was beaming. Buzz had his own challenges as a youngster. Having been misdiagnosed with wobblers syndrome and narrowly avoiding being put down. 

Within months I was back competing Buzz and it felt like life had finally fallen back into place. The cherry on the top was us then being placed 4th in an unaffiliated one day event. I crossed the finish line with tears of happiness. 

Now whenever I am feeling stressed or down, I go for a ride and suddenly my world is okay again.

By Lizzie Robinson.

Be sure to follow Lizzie on Instagram @ponies_and_prosecco and check out her blog

If you are suffering or know someone else suffering with an eating disorder there is loads of information and support online at Beat Eating Disorders.

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