Below is my winning entry for the Time To Ride contest, highlighting one woman’s battle with clinical depression.
Not Your Standard Medication
Depression is like a dark hole, and there are days that you struggle just to see a glimmer of light. For some it can be crippling, but others find a way to fight through. They might do it on their own, with medication, or with the help of angels around them.
For Marlise Langenhoven, her angels just came in the form of horses. Riding horses has been a lifelong dream for Marlise, but it was unreachable in her early years. Growing up in South Africa, horses and riding were for the more privileged. Marlise grew up moving around a lot with her family moving to the United States when she was 28 years old. She struggled through abuse as a child and multiple moves until she became an adult and married her husband of 20 years, Mark.
Then came her first child, and the stressors of being a new mom and the new challenges the dynamic change brought about led to her diagnosis of clinical depression. “I was very depressed, on medications … having a hard time coping with life in general,” Marlise recalls.
Then one day her daughter suggested riding lessons. “When she said that, my heart kind of sunk a little bit because where I come from, riding is a very expensive hobby, and my family couldn’t afford it at all,” she says. Still, she looked around her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for a place to just take one lesson at the age of 38.
“I can remember the first time I got on and started riding,” she says. “I was just on a lunge line going around in a circle, but I can still remember how it felt to just be on a horse and to do something I have always wanted to do.”
Expecting to only take one lesson, Marlise was hooked from the very first step and continued her lessons, even though she was one of the oldest riders at her first trainer’s farm.
“When it comes to riding as an older adult, it’s very intimidating…at least it was for me,” she says. “You’re surrounded by all these young kids who are much better than you are.”
Ending the Victim Cycle
Marlise found that with every lesson, every little thing that she started getting right during her lessons, as a rider, pushed her to want to do more. She felt accomplished after every ride, no matter how small the gains were. After about a year, Marlise and her daughter moved on to their current trainer, Lauren Romanelli in College Grove, Tenn. In one of her early lessons, Lauren said something that hit home to Marlise.
“Lauren would say, ‘Stop riding like a victim.’ But I had no idea what she meant,” she says. “I had my shoulders back, my chin was up, and heels down.”
Then it hit Marlise that she needed to let go of all the negativity and early struggles, and just live in the moment.
“Dealing with horses really taught me that I had to deal with my stuff and that I had some unpacking to do, instead of keeping it all boarded up,” she reveals. “I just needed to leave it alone and move on. Go forward.” Her new life mantra was to no longer look back: “If you want to accomplish anything with riding, you have to move forward. You don’t achieve anything by looking back.”
Now Marlise and her daughter share a leased horse together. It’s wasn’t long before Marlise was learning about more than just counting strides between jumps, but other horsemanship skills. With each stall she mucked, each hoof picked, each horse groomed and fed, she discovered more of the beauty and the strength that radiated from horses. “
One of my favorite charges, Chance, would give me big hugs and nibble my back pockets whenever I picked his feet,” she says. “And with every perceived show of affection, or evidence of trust earned, another little piece of me would fall back into place. My time at the barn was the joy of my life.”
Marlise has also learned that life, like jumping, is about making adjustments as best you can as you go. Some days you ace it and other days not so much, but tomorrow, you tack up again, take a deep breath and try all over. It’s enlightened her and given her a new lease on life, a life without any more depression medication or extra weight. While her depression isn’t totally in the rearview mirror, she continues to manage it with exercise, riding, and therapy when needed. She attributes it all to her time spent in the saddle and in the barn, looking up and moving forward.
Marlise enjoying competing at her first three-day event with a fellow adult rider in 2015.
“I do think there is something to be said about riding and being around horses. That has really, really helped me,” says Marlise. “For me, at the barn it’s all about being in the moment—you focus on just you and your horse. There’s always something you need to focus on when you’re at the barn, and because you’re focusing on these little things while you’re riding, you shut out everything else going on. For that time, I am not a mother, I am not a wife, I don’t have responsibilities … all I have to worry about is in that barn—me and my horse.
“For that time, I can just be me, I can just be that young girl that has always wanted to ride, but never had that opportunity. For that time I can be living my dream. It’s like the only real selfish time that I have, and I’m really, truly selfish with it—I don’t care about anyone else, I don’t think about anyone else, it’s just me and my horse and riding, and our connection.”