Let’s take a few minutes to start a serious discussion between all disciplines (leave politics aside: within the sport and outside of the sport). I’m reaching beyond my hunter/jumper world here.
Look at your phone contact list, I guarantee at least three people on that list is an addict. Whether it be alcohol, pills, cocaine or heroin, it needs to be discussed. Now how many people on your contact list is a horse person? See, it’s scary.
My community in Central Virginia is heavy with sadness this week. We lost a wonderful young woman to heroin addiction. She was an accomplished rider who showed in the hunters and fox hunted with one of the hunt clubs. If anyone saw her ride, you could tell immediately she was blessed with natural talent. She was beautiful to watch. She could get on any horse and work through any issue. And she worked hard.
But not only was she a wonderful horsewoman, she was a mom, leaving behind a gorgeous baby. And she was a wonderful friend. I’ve spoken to many of her closest friends who have all reflected on the fact that you could just open your soul to her. She had that comforting way about her and so much charisma. Her smile could light up a room. The saddest part is that unless you were very close to her, you probably wouldn’t even know.
My Facebook newsfeed has been full of people reminiscing, people wondering why. Why did she get a bad bag of dope? The honest truth, is heroin does not discriminate. And even more, addiction does not discriminate.
Look around you, there are people functioning right under your nose who are addicts. Your trainer, your riding companion, your groom?
There is no reason for why an addict becomes an addict, as there is no reason for why someone is diagnosed with cancer. It’s a disease, and it is curable with professional help and rehabilitation. But an addict also needs support. From you, from me, from our entire community of horse lovers.
Our sport in particular seems to be riddled with this disease. Why? Is it the access to money, or the fact that it takes money to make money in this sport? Or is the stress of not knowing when your next paycheck is going to be? Or maybe the long hours that require you to have superhuman energy? Or is the back breaking labor that starts this disease? Any addiction to pain medication, naively dispensed by a doctor, can turn into another addiction and the user turns to heroin when s/he can no longer afford to buy Oxy.
The problem is a real one. And as a rider, trainer or owner, I can guarantee you have encountered the disease at some point, even if you didn’t notice. It may not have been apparent, the person may seem full functional. But as an addict there is no up, only down; rock bottom.
Part of a conversation started on Facebook recommended that the U.S. Equestrian Federation provide education and means to seek help. Part of that same conversation recommended that we, riders, be drug-tested, along with our horses. But is testing the riders really going to help? It might, but it would also increase fees even more and raise a lot of legal questions.
I believe education and a list of help options, from addiction hotlines to rehabs, is key. But most important is to reach out to your trainer, groom, or riding companion if you think he or she may be struggling. Offer your support. Provide an open ear and a firm shoulder.
So, here’s my dare to the USEF, and any other big governing bodies and registries—find a way to offer support to those who struggle with this demon. Provide education. Give those who suffer and those who want to help a list of resources. Take some resources away from dried up trainers offering water-logged solutions to problems, and give us something that’s really useful.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline number is 1-800-662-HELP
Eliza LaLuna is an amateur hunter rider from Virginia.