Sarah & the Painted River: My Story

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    I was first introduced to horses at a young age, 8 years old, when my brain was still ripe enough to be easily molded. My older sister started riding lessons first at a local schooling barn a year ahead of me, which would later prove to be one of my many obstacles. From the start I was fascinated with the creatures. Such power, and such energy, contained in such a subtle frame that made everything look as though they rolled off of each curve. I knew from the very start that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted others to look upon me in awe that not only could I control such a beast, but that we could become one as a team. But what I learned along the way was how understanding them, ended up helping me better understand myself.

     I began taking lessons in hunter/jumpers alongside my sister, as well as many other girls relatively close to my age. Every horse or pony taught us something different and I learned that they were more than just horses and school ponies, animals. But individuals. Each one had such a different light about them. Something different they had to teach you. If you only let them that is. As I aged and the days of pony shows and 4th place ribbons seemed like a thing of the past, I had already had my moment in the ring. I’d won countless blue ribbons and even a grand champion and I thought I was the bee’s knees. But things back home had started to crumble. My grandmother fell ill and shortly passed, while my mother’s mental health began to disintegrate. It was a hard blow for her, she was the glue in our family, and when she could no longer hold it together everything fell to pieces.

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I was 12 years old when my mother had her first suicide attempt. I don’t remember much, other than my sister found her with a note in the bathroom. She had gotten into her antidepressants and took too many. She didn’t feel like she was strong enough to be the mother that her 3 children needed, or a good enough wife to her husband. Soon following my Mother had been in and out of the hospital ever since, and it became something of a norm to me. I didn’t know how I felt about it, all I knew is there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

534949_10150717313338409_272991079_nBut that’s where horses where always there. They never knew what you had going on, they only knew what you put right in front of them. An outstretched hand, or a carrot in your pocket. A shaky stance or a frightened glance. But you could forget about everything and get lost in them. All you have to do is focus on the horse. They always need you, they come first.
  My mother and father’s divorce was a shock, but I can’t say it wasn’t expected. They’d been sleeping in different rooms for weeks. Once my Dad moved out it was just my Mom and us kids. My older sister, and younger brother. I was the in the middle. By then we’d moved barns. My mother even during her darkest hours always wanted us to do what we loved, be with horses. She herself owned one and knew of their power to motivate people. We started working at a barn further into the country from us in exchange for riding lessons. There were a lot more advanced horses and experienced riders in this stables training program and my sister and I had our chance to progress from horse to horse with each its own particular set of skills. It was a time I will never forget.

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   It was there that I met him, Mr. Spooky, Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Unrideable. But everyone at the barn knew him fondly by Rio. River. He was a spunky little Arabian cross, no papers on this one. By the looks of his high head set, as well as his elongated nose (he did not have the traditional “dish” in his face as most Arabians do) we guessed Saddlebred. But one thing was certain, his hot temperament and high set tail screamed Arabian. And he was flashy. Black and white pinto. Extremely talented jumper, but he was known around the barn for refusing fences if you weren’t sure of yourself. And spooking at anything and everything in site. But it wasn’t his fault, my trainer bought him off someone who rescued him from a bad situation. He was raised for show jumping but abused at a young age. They yanked on his mouth so much he falls under the category of “hard mouthed”, and whipped him when he didn’t preform. They said he was unrideable… but obviously that was complete “horse pucky”! Since years later Rio went on to compete and win in countless shows including Eventing.

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 As a timid 13 year old I looked up at the lesson board to see my name next his that day I was instantly anxious. I could feel his anxiety bouncing off of mine as I brushed down his deep drown patches. He was small, 14’3h, but hardy with a springy jump once compared to a jackrabbit. And soon we were in the arena, my trainer had me start with double reins for more control, but then we took them off and moved up to jumping. So far so good. Then it happened. Rushing to the first fence, Rio’s stride a quick, almost frantic pace, hungrily tearing at the sand leading up to the jump. And then it was over, like a feather we glided to touch down on the other side and I knew it. I knew he was mine.

Sad to say a short month or two later that barn’s business fell under. The horses were up for sale and it was our chance to buy the horses that my sister and I fell in love with. Or see them go off and be gone forever. My mother, as ill as she was, made it happened. We moved to a horse property nearby and moved the horses over. I thought all of my wildest dreams were finally becoming a reality. But it was indeed too good to be true, and my mother’s depression got the best of her.

393745_10150404287278409_447498363_n She continued to have multiple suicide attempts sporadically over the years that I was in high school. Not long after having the horse property my Mother lost custody of us 3 kids, and we moved back into our old home with my Father and his new girlfriend. Becoming so sick, my mother could no longer care for the horses and a property of that size alone. And had to sell it along with the horses.
       Feeling the loss of my horse, and what felt like my Mother too I soon fell into a deep depression. I’d lost my one outlet from all the negativity in my family. I’d lost the thing that could never hurt me, it I didn’t allow it to. All I could see was what was happening right in front of me. My mother becoming someone that I no longer recognize. My sister constantly trying to get away and moving out by the time she was 18. My brother taking out all his aggression on his drum set and not caring about anything else. And I saw myself, and I saw nothing. A shell.

Self-harm was a coping mechanism. I wanted to feel something, anything, other then what I was feeling. Depression and anxiety surfaced by the time I was a freshman in high school. And dealing with the other kids at school was unbearable at times. They saw what they wanted to see in you, not what was there. I took up skipping as a hobby, if I wasn’t at the nurse’s office. I’d also taken up napping in class. It was a great way to catch up on the extra hour or two of sleep I wasn’t getting at home, even though I’d go directly to bed after school.

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But with help of therapy as well as a good support system of friends and family members I was able to push through. I was way too stubborn too let my Dad stop me from horses just like that, even if his heart was in the right place. And by this time, my Mother was almost a thing of the past. Against my Father’s better judgement my sister and I continued with horses through an old friend, and with her help we made the impossible happen. We tracked down the new property owner in hopes maybe by some miracle he held on to our two boys. And he did. He was willing to sell them back to us for a fair price hearing our story. And it was then I got it back. I got my motivation.

11200813_10153322492003409_6965816459593639754_n But, the horses were not in the same condition they were in before. They’d gained some weight, lost some muscle. They were ridden lightly by the new owners but coming from regular exercise to the almost extreme at times in preparation for showing, it was nothing like they were used to. After school every day you could find me at the barn, shoveling manure to get money off my horse’s boarding. What did you think my Dad was going to pay for it? Then on the weekends I got a job at the local movie theatre. It was easy money, easy hours. Worked around my school and around Rio. But it took a long time to get Rio back. I wasn’t as experienced and the first horse I bought became a problem horse. Almost like he reverted back to his old mentality after I’d left. I felt like he thought I abandoned him. It killed me… But after moving barns a handful of times, countless hours of training and patience, and many tears, Rio and I were a team again.

376354_10150404286918409_789827649_nBut a lot had changed since the last time we were a team. My mother lost her residence and became homeless. She remained so for the next 5 years while using heroin, and although she is clean she is still homeless to this day. I graduated high school and went on to work full time. My Father retired and moved to his home state to settle down with his girlfriend. And I had moved out to my own place, to start my life as an independent woman. 
They say your 20s is the time you find yourself, and they are right. But when you’ve seen so much already, it’s hard to know how to react when things start to change. Which path to take. How to cope with the issues you’ve picked up along the way. But if there’s one thing I’ve picked up along the way, it’s Rio. He’s taught me that I am my own motivation. That sometimes the right path isn’t the easiest path. In the 10 years I’ve been riding horses I’ve gained such a knowledge and passion for them and the miracles they can bring people, and I want to use that knowledge to help others who struggle through the same issues that as I was and I am still to this day. To know that there is hope, and that you are not alone. So if anyone feels the same way please read, each post will address a specific issue with horses or people, and how they can help each other. I hope that in some way my experiences can help others.

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I keep Rio a short 10 minutes away from where I live at a private retirement facility where he is kept with my sisters’ horse Tonka. Although Rio and I are 23 now 10 years later and we are definitely not 13 anymore, the lessons we’ve learned together along the way will last us forever. And it’s time for us to share them with others.

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13 Reasons Why: Raising awareness or glorifying teen suicide?

**WARNING** Spoilers ahead

I recently jumped on the binge-watching bandwagon of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. In just the short few months since the show’s release it has already gotten rave reviews, gone viral all over the internet, and despite only having been released a few short months ago people are anxiously awaiting the announcement of a Season 2.

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But despite the show’s popularity, many parents are having a difficult time deciding whether or not its an appropriate show for their kids to watch. They’re raising the question is this really how we want our children to view suicide? Is this okay? That despite the horrific outcome they play out for you in the show, you catch your angsty teenager scrounging around for your old Walkman cassette player? Maybe that’s just a horrible thought that runs through any parent’s mind at one point or another… But as sad as it is, this issue is more present today then ever before for today’s youth.

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Here you have Hannah Baker, the new girl in school. She’s beautiful, and almost too smart for her own good. With such an artistic mind and a way with words, something a lot of us lose between the years of teen to young adult when most parents are piling on the college applications. She has a charm that allows her to put on a brave face no matter what she’s feeling. She’ll spit a snarky comment right back at her well-off, slut-shaming counter parts. But she has a fixed fate… We all know what the show is about.

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But what is the flaw in this? Yes, Hannah Baker went through some horrible things… Things no one should have to go through. But where is her support system? Her friends leave her merely out of pressure from their peers, her parents discount her feelings. There is still no recognition to this day of the effects of your mental health in comparison to your physical.

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The ever diminishing department of Health Education in our country has no set or cohesive course on mental health between states. Although our Sexual Health Education department is getting better, is a better understanding of how your brain is maturing needed just as much as how your body is? The correlation between mental and physical health is not so easily focused. Many to this day discount the ever present effects of coping with an illness such as anxiety or depression. Where is the fine line between a cry for help and a cry for attention?

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Enter Clay Jensen, also a handsome young man with bright eyes and a bright future. Seems to be the athletic type, but between his hands-off Father and cut throat lawyer Mother, some how his creative side blossoms in every bunny rabbit note he slips into Hannah’s compliment bag. And some how, with everything going for him, he is lost. The pressure to succeed in something “acceptable” is becoming ever so heavy. So much so that his parents think he needs a pick me up, as they toss him a pill bottle full of anti-depressants. Get him back on track right?

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But in Hannah’s story there are many other factors. There are rumors, pictures, rape… but where such harsh situations as these do still exist in our world what does it take to get to this point? What happened to the line between right and wrong?

Our youth need the resources to better understand what is going on in their own heads. That its okay to not know at times. That its okay to ask for help, and you wont be shunned for it. That sometimes you feel the way you do purely out of circumstance or the actions of others, like Hannah Baker. But that its also okay to feel that way, even if you seem like you have everything going for you, like Clay or Zach.

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Sometimes depression and anxiety are present when there is no reason at all. And that’s okay too. What we really need to do, is strengthen our children’s coping mechanisms before it reaches a level no longer under our control.

Counseling services and medication aren’t always needed and should be used on a purely case by case basis after first consulting with a Doctor or Physician. But open conversation and acceptance is an issue we need to stress. Deciding when you need to seek out help for yourself or your child is a difficult process, but in doing so does not show weakness. It shows strength. Now that is awareness.

*All rights reserved to Netflix

Depression and Anxiety: Do I need medication?

Journal Entry 1:                                                                                                     10/01/2016

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“Depression. To most it’s a word without much meaning. An invisible word with no substance. Problems that could be easily fixed. Issues that are made up, that are cries for attention. They could all be solved if you would only try. Well, I’ve been trying.
I’m sitting here in the bedroom of my Father’s beautiful home on a pretty little slice of land in North Carolina. It’s only the second day of my visit here, but I cannot for the life of me just breath. Why cant I just relax? This is suppose to be a vacation right? A time where you’re suppose to do nothing and it is okay, and it is lovely. What is so wrong with me that I can’t even do that? What is so wrong that doing nothing and enjoying each other’s company is so hard? Not without a substance am I allowed…
Medication. That’s another word. Medicated. It is also only the second day of mine. They say it’s good to admit when you need help. I just haven’t quite accepted it yet. It’s hard when all you want so desperately is to feel normal. That’s not to say I wont have good days here. Some days are just tough, and some are a bit easier. Today it seems, may just be tough.
But I cant stop thinking about how all of this is making me feel so incredibly selfish. I just want to spend time with my Dad, but it’s like I cant focus. It kills me that I may be giving them the impression that it’s just because I’m bored, or I don’t care enough. Or even that I don’t like it here. Honestly I wish I could be bored. That’s much better then feeling everything all at once. How can I feel comfortable when I know I’m not in the  best place, and I feel like everyone knows it. Everyone is coddling you and trying to help, when you don’t even want their help. All you want is them to be proud and see you as a success, and not as someone who is broken. All you are trying to do is get away from your problems, but even flying across the country they become ever so apparent when you open your mouth. I want so badly to try and get better, but sometimes it’s almost like walking through mud. Every step you sink a little further, and even if you come out of it you are never clean on the other side.”

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Dealing with depression and anxiety is never a quick fix. Despite the wide variety of antidepressants and antianxiety medication out there today, there is no magic pill that will cause all of your problems to magically disappear. But as many continue to discount the disease and its long term lasting effects on a person’s everyday outlook, there are also many more tools and resources available to us today then there has ever been before.

Accepting the fact that you may need an antidepressant is not always a bad thing.  But it is definitely not always easy. Sometimes taking the first step and admitting your not feeling like you once were, is the bravest thing you can do. You are taking your depression into your own hands, and making a choice in how you are better able to cope with it. If you’re thinking about trying an antidepressant or antianxiety medication, always consult with your Doctor or Physician first. Medication isn’t always the answer. There are many other ways of coping.

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“I am now sitting on my Daddy’s porch overlooking the little dirt road he lives off of. Its surrounded by multiple different types of brush, plants, and trees along all sides. All the different kinds of plants make me think of my boyfriend back home, and is affinity for nature.
Some how it’s better out here. The humidity may seem muggy and uncomfortable to most, but I quite like it. It’s like being wrapped up in a warm blanket and you don’t need to wear a jacket. The quiet out here doesn’t seem as sharp as inside. It’s filled with the quiet buzz of cicadas, the small chirping of birds. The trickle of the creek as it runs through the backyard and pools into the pond.
I know my family means well, they are just unaware. It just took me a bit to realize that maybe we just relax differently. While others are content inside plugging away at their laptop, it seems I am most comfortable outside. Amongst the lizards, dragon flies, and snakes (among other things) that roam about these parts.”

Sometimes finding an outlet or a way of coping that works best for you can take a simple change of perspective. It can take minutes, other times days.  But putting your energy into something positive instead of focusing it all on the negative, your outlook is instantly brighter. You will feel inspired and motivated to get better when you are doing something you enjoy, even if you haven’t found that something yet.

Not everyone deals with depression and anxiety the same. Whether you think you need to try medication, or just need a change of pace, find your best coping mechanisms and work on strengthening them! Soon you’ll have the tools to tackle your life’s next big obstacle, and you’ll find that sometimes even the simplest tasks, can be the best outlets.

The “Problem Horse”

Anybody who has been around horses has always heard around the barn about that one bad horse. The kicker, the biter, the one that will dump you in the corner quicker than a flick of your crop. The “Problem Horse”. But do many people stop to tell you why these horses are the way they are? Or was the first thing out of their mouth “Watch out this one bites!” or “Don’t get kicked, this one’s extra ornery,”? Most of the time once a horse is labeled as a problem horse, it sticks. Suddenly the things they need a bit more help with become their characteristics. That horse that everyone wanted with such spirit suddenly becomes the horse that is hard to handle. What many people do not realize, is that these are the horses that need our help most.

Most people think a horse’s way of thinking wouldn’t be much more then that of a cow, they are both large livestock that we breed and raise for a purpose of our choosing. For a profit. They believe that in buying the most expensive, well-bred horse they’ve secured their success in the show ring. But are in shock and awe when their $10,000 show pony is spooking at the fences, and no amount of kicking and whipping will get them over one. They are ready to write them off and move on to the next bigger, better, prettier horse to get them that first prize ribbon. But where do those horses go? Their price is reduced with each sale, on  and on to the next handful of trainers and riders who will give them a go until they lose their patience, then its on to the next one until their value is considered that of dirt.

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But not all trainers and riders are like that, we are all human. But that is a benefit of the doubt not given to the horse.  People don’t realize that like we are human, they are just horses. Any problems they have on a day to day basis, is a result of an event or occurrence in their past. A result of how they were raised. Remember when you reached up to touch the stove as a child, only to find the painful burn that came along with touching the red hot surface? Years and years have passed and even as an adult you remember never to touch the burner. Well so do horses, they remember.

Over the years of owning my own particular “Problem Horse”, I came upon a particularly disheartening issue one day. I had just gotten back from an eventful weekend at the local state fair and rodeo. I knew Rio had some western training and speed was something he excelled in. Gaming was an obvious choice for us at the time. I walked into the barn feeling inspired and eager to start working with him using a different approach, and had brought my black Dallas cowboy hat along with me that I’d purchased at one of the rodeo’s sponsor’s stands. I figured I’d wear it while riding, just like the real cowboys do!

Without thinking I shoved my feet into my boots and buried my head in the big black hat going for Rio’s halter. And as I reached out and opened the stall door, speaking to him as I usually do, he lifted his head up just enough to see me walk in. In an instant his hind quarters were against that back corner, ears pinned, the whites of his eyes much more visible then before. “Whoa!” I let out, my instant reaction. Rio had always been more of a hot horse, he had gone through a “catch me!” phase to avoid coming in. But this was something  totally different. He has spooked before, but never at me. This was fear.

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It was then I realized I had never ridden Rio in a black cowboy hat before. We guessed he may have been roughed up by a cowboy wearing a black hat. But even though it was something we eventually worked through I still continue to wonder… What happened?

There is no way of knowing what a horse has gone through, so there is truly no way of knowing why a horse does what it does. But ask yourself, do you know why you do the things you do? As you age, don’t you learn from your experiences? Then you know first hand that sometimes learning is not always a smooth process. But that does not mean it’s not worth trying. But it helps when you have someone by your side who wont give up on you… They wouldn’t give up on us, we cant give up on them.

A horse will always have that problem until someone feels he’s worthy enough to take the time to try and fix it. However much time it takes. But I’d like to ask you this, aren’t we worthy enough?