Suicides in the Equestrian World

I just wanted to comment on a recent article published in Eurodressage by Adriane Alvord “The Pain that Lives Behind the Barn Door” referring to the tragic death of Teresa Butta in the US.


We have lost three professional riders/trainers in the last three-month and many more I know, who were contemplating taking the same action. We can’t ignore this anymore and something needs to change.

I have been involved in the equestrian industry as a professional rider, a trainer and a mindset coach. I know from my own experience what it is like to work your butt off,  just to have a chance to get a ride- to get to that competition, or where you can prove yourself to start your career. 

 I know what it is like to work long hours, muck out stables, ride 10 horses a day, fall asleep with your riding boots on, and to drag yourself out of bed the next morning to do it all again.

 I have experienced the pressure where trying your hardest is simply not good enough. Where being on that roller coaster one minute you give it all you can, and the next you just want to lie down and give it all up. It’s a constant emotionally challenging career, especially for our younger riders. It’s a way of life that cannot be sustained, no matter how tough you are!

 I also know what it is like to try and make a living, doing what you love doing only to find that sometimes it seems simply impossible. The constant worry about money, the pressure to sell a horse and lose money, only to turn around once more, in search of that special horse that will break your bank but that keeps your dreams alive.

I know how riders and coaches feel when they sell their soul just to please. I know the inner struggle, when you know what you should be doing, yet instead do what others may expect of you. 

Even the strongest struggle..They simply learn to hide.. Hiding behind a mask that says “I am ok.”

But are they?

I know there were plenty of times I used that sentence, only to walk away and cry. I know what it feels like when you drive down the road and the next tree calls you......

I know because I have been there.. I remember these feelings and I recognise those thoughts.. I am also able to feel the pain of others.

Now working as a mindset coach, I am constantly surprised as to who opens up to me. Often they are riders, coaches, judges, parents I have discovered behind the mask. People I would have initially described as strong or confident role models to others. The ones you wouldn’t approach and offer a hug.

As a sport, we have to change the way we support our people. It is not only the riders who need lifting, it is everyone from coaches, trainers, grooms and judges. Everyone is looking for their place and their value. A desire to fit in and be accepted. An opportunity to prove themselves and make their dreams come true. 

 The equestrian sport is such an unforgiving environment. We are quick in tearing each other down, especially in dressage. There is always a different, or better way to train and someone else is always wrong. 

 Unless we start to change we will have more tragic and senseless deaths in our midst. 

 It is time that we learn to be kinder -to ourselves and to others. Most of all, we have to start supporting each other. If we wait for people to reach out for help it is too late. Most of the time it is a family member, a friend or a concerned coach who rings me up and asks for help on behalf of someone else. 

What can we do?

It is our federation and Riding/Pony Clubs who need to make the first step. Lets bring more mindset coaches into our clubs and squads who look after the emotional wellbeing of members. We need to support our riders, coaches and officials in the situations where the stress and intensity is high. At competitions, clinics, selection events......


Our young riders need to learn important life skills as well as important riding skills. Let us teach them in their younger years, before the pressure is on how to deal with stress and whom to ask for help. Learning that asking for help resembles strength instead of weakness is one of the greatest lessons they can learn.


Get to know your friends beyond the mask. Don’t be buffed off by a shallow “I am ok”. Make time to ask some deeper questions, give the gift of a hug and create a safe place for someone to break down and cry if that is what they need. Pick up the phone and ring someone else if you don’t know how to help.


Paying attention can save a life. 


What I have learned is that my head is not my friend, instead it often tried to talk me into things, tried to reason with me. It created stories that were never true. Whenever I resisted listening to my head I also gave my heart a chance. It is my heart that knew the truth, it is my heart that found the way forward and that gave me courage to go on when my head was telling me to lie down. 

So if you are the one who is breaking apart, know that there is a tomorrow. Give tomorrow a chance and listen to your heart, it is there where you will find the courage to take just one more step.

1 comment

Brilliantly written Tanja and so true to so many, thank you.

JM March 21, 2023

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published