Motherhood & Horses
Motherhood is a full time job. Keeping up with the diapers, dishes, meals, laundry, bed time stories, piles of toys, muddy shoes, skinned knees, and tickle times all while running on less than ideal amounts of sleep. It's a constant practice in the art of patience, loving, multi tasking, minimalism, prioritizing, time management, and forgiveness; and even more so when attempting to be both a mom and an equestrian! It can be done though. It just may look a little different than you're expecting, or what the life of an equestrian with no kids looks like, but don't loose hope or put off having kids just because life will be different or challenging. It's all worth it.
I'm the mother to three beautiful human children. My oldest (at the time of this article) is six going on sixteen! She's full of life and fire, incredibly driven, clever, and intense perfectionist. She has a heart of gold that feels emotions very strongly, and with that heart she cares deeply for the horses.
My second born is quite different from my first, more free spirited and sensitive. He's only two, but I can tell he's more emotional and intuitive with an incredible capacity for love. He's still very much a boy, rough and loud, but he has a soft side too. He's also absolutely obsessed with the horses, in a way my daughter isn't. It can be unsafe, as he's very confident and feels no fear, but he loves nothing more than to be in the saddle or grooming a horse. It's the highlight of any and every day.
Lastly is my third born, who's only four weeks old as I write this. Only time will tell the person she will grow up to be or if she will like horses, but so far she's had the most exposure to horses as an infant of any of my kids. And though all of my kids are growing up around horses, I know this doesn't necessarily mean they will continue their love of horses as adults. It's important to me to remember that they may have their own goals and dreams, and that I want that for them even if it has nothing to do with horses. I will support them to the fullest, just like my parents supported me in my passion for horses growing up.
With three lively children, one dog, and five horses... as well as teaching lessons, starting up The Willing Equine, and educating my kids at home.... I have my hands full to say the very least. Some (most) days I feel absolutely overwhelmed and like I've gone crazy trying to manage everything at once, but then there are those magical days where everything just seems to "click" and my heart is so full and happy.
I'm hoping that by sharing the "details" on how I manage to find time for it all I will help support other mothers or potential mothers in their dreams. But before I get into this subject any deeper I want to say one thing.. I am far from perfect. My kids are not perfect, my life is not perfect, and I make mistakes. There have been many times where I've stretched myself too thin, or regretted decisions I've made later. With each passing day I learn more and improve on how I handle daily situations. What I do today, may look different tomorrow. I have no idea where each day will lead, we take every day one step at a time.
Please also keep in mind that everyone is different. What works for me may not work for you. I'm just hoping to share a little of what motherhood and being an equestrian looks like for me, and how I make it work.
Priorities and Minimalism
I'm going to attempt to not ramble on during this article and present all the details in a categorical way. It is going to be long though, since this is no simple subject....
To begin with, I want to address priorities and subsequently minimalism. Surprisingly, these two are very closely related and have so much to do with how much time you have for both your kids and your horses. I've learned over the years that in order to allow myself to focus on my priorities I have to minimize other parts of my life, and that minimalism allows me the freedom to spend more time on my priorities.
Not long ago I read a book called "Do Less" by Rachel Jonat, and it helped me free up so much of my time for the things that I really cared for. I highly recommend you buy a copy as soon as possible (click here), or check out her website (click here). What I took away from her book was to become a minimalist in all areas of life, "doing less", so that you could "do more" in the areas that are a priority to you.
First, this requires you to really be honest with yourself and decide your top priorities. One way to help narrow down your priorities is to recognize what can only be done by you and what can only be done right now, meaning you can't hold off doing it for later on down the road. For example, nobody else can be my kids' mother and they will only be young for so long so I can't put off being their mother. So taking this into consideration, my major priorities (thinking broad spectrum here) are my faith, family (kids), and my horses.
Once you have your top list, start narrowing it down to a more detailed a specific list. For example, it's a priority to me to spend time reading with my kids, and spend time talking with my husband at night. Those would fall under the "family" category. It's also a priority to me to spend "x" amount of time working with the horses each week. So, in order to make those happen more often I eliminated time wasters in my life and redirect energy that was being spent on side hobbies to those priorities. Allowing me to do more of what I loved and "do less" of what was taking me away from what I loved.
Some of the ways I became a minimalist in my life were to
Create a modified capsule wardrobe, so I could minimize the time wasted deciding what to wear each day and also minimize the money wasted on clothes I never wore. This allows me to dedicate more money and more time to my priorities.
Pintrest less, I'm seriously a sucker for awesome projects... I want to blog, scrap book, garden, thrift shop, organize, redecorate my kids rooms, throw amazing parties, cook gourmet food, start a kids fashion blog... I'm like a hobby collector. It's ridiculous and I could spend all my time running around doing all these beautiful awesome things, and if that was what I really loved and wanted to prioritize then that would be great! But it's not.. I like those things, but I don't love them. Starting a giant scrap-booking project is great, and a lot of fun, but it takes me away from what I love, so when I sit down and weigh the pros and cons realistically I end up telling myself to close that pintrest app and go read to my kids or go ride my horse... because at the end of the day I will feel the best about that, not about starting another project that I may or may not have time to finish.
De-Clutter, everything! Over the years I've become really good at this. My home consists of what's regularly used, what's important, and what's practical and that's it! This includes the kids rooms and toys too. If you haven't used it in the last year, donate it or sell it or throw it away. Unless it's a special item (like a childhood memory item) you don't need it and it's taking up not only space but your time. You wouldn't think it, but items that you never use actually take up your time. Every item in your home (or car, or work space) requires maintenance, cleaning, effort to move around, that's wasted energy and time! Every time I go into my kids' messy rooms I'm immediately reminded of this fact. Every time I have to pick up that toy the kids just dumped on the floor to get to the toy they really wanted it's time spent. So I ask myself, do they really play with this toy anymore? If not it's time to pack it up to bring out at a later date for future kids or to donate. Don't get hung up on the little things.. literally.. let them go, keep only what's important.
Prevent Clutter, this is HUGE. Our culture is obsessed with "stuff". Toys in kids meals, party favors, little nick-knacks bought at the gas station, flyers, advertisements, magazines.. the list goes on! Unless the item is of quality and will last through months/years of play or is an important document it does NOT come into the house. This saves me time later on having to purge my kids' rooms or sort through piles of paperwork. I also try not to buy any kids items that have many pieces or that are of cheap quality. Toys with lots of little pieces are just a nightmare and get destroyed quickly. This is both a waste of time (having to keep all the pieces organized) and a waste of money.
Buy Quality But Not Luxury, Save up for items that will last you forever and ever and ever and ever... but don't buy luxury items that you'll be heart broken if it get's a little "rough love". Having kids teaches you that things get damaged, they just do. And it's not worth the energy to be constantly stressing about and controlling every little thing your kids do around that brand new pearly white luxury carpet you just bought. Personally, I've found it to be less stressful and less expensive to find a pretty good quality rug that's a more kid friendly color. I'll just have to wait until they are grown up to buy that beautiful white rug. Certain items will be more worth the money to buy higher quality, like a quality crib that will last through multiple kids or a dresser that will match any room and survive many years. But again, try and avoid luxury because it's inevitable that things will get a little "loved" looking over time. You'll save yourself emotional energy and time if you're not constantly reminding the kids how expensive that couch was! You'll also save money in the long run buying quality that doesn't need to be replaced constantly, which will also save you time spent shopping to replace it.
Social Media & Tv Less, I'll be honest.. still working on this one and really this belongs in both this section and another section, but I'll mention it twice since it's really such a huge part of our lives these days. Becoming a minimalist with social media and with the television is huge in saving time. The less social media apps you have, the less television shows you watch throughout the week.. the more time you will have. Pick your absolute favorites and stick to those, don't waste time on anything but your favorites or the best. For example, quite a few years ago I deleted my personal facebook and just kept my Instagram. I have never regretted it. I've saved so much time by only using one app to share with family and friends.. and share what I feel is most important, which is pictures and videos of the kids.
Time Management and Multi-tasking
Managing what time you have is a critical part to being able to be both an equestrian and a parent. Some times we are also trying to time manage a job into those limited hours as well, making it all seem rather impossible sometimes. Becoming a minimalist in all areas of life other than our priorities helps free up a lot of this time, but it's still very important to maximize how we spend our time in order to free up even more time for priorities.
One of the ways I do this is to multi-task. Certain things you can not multi-task as you might loose quality of work or it might not be allowed, but in many areas you can find a way to "combine tasks" without sacrificing quality.
For example, while writing this article I've nursed an infant, rocked her, and held her while she slept. I could have done each of those things individually but I saved myself a lot of time by combining them and I haven't sacrificed anything. If I hadn't been writing this article I would have been Instagram surfing or watching TV.. both of which are just wasting valuable time. Instead, I'm doing something that I've wanted to do for a long time and is important to me while doing another task that requires very little from me.
Another example would be having your kids read to you or do their homework while you fold laundry. My daughter and I were doing this just yesterday. She read to me while I folded laundry, a mindless task with my hands while I listened to her sound out her words. Both tasks that needed to be done that complimented each other well, freeing up time later in the day to do something I want to prioritize... like spending time with my horses or playing outside with the kids.
Being aware of wasted time is another way to utilize more of your day. TV shows, games, and social media are some of the ways that time gets lost throughout the day. I'm terrible at getting lost on my phone, surfing through Instagram or watching YouTube videos. I'll sit down to watch one video and end up watching twenty. Before I even know it a whole hour is gone from my day!
Of course we need down time. Rest is a priority for everyone's lives. You can not go at 100% all day every day without taking a break, sometimes you may even need a break that lasts multiple days at a time (a vacation), but you can eliminate time wasters that aren't useful or aren't truly restful to get far more out of your day. If watching a television show is your preferred form of rest, then by all means watch your favorite show for the ideal amount of rest time you would like, but don't let yourself binge watch an entire TV series on a Saturday morning only to feel guilty later because you really had wanted to go on a trail ride. That's time wasted. If you're going to look back later and wish you had done something else instead then you'll know you wasted time.
Social media is also the great time waster of our generation. I'll be honest, this is my weakness. You don't have to completely eliminate social media to cut down on the time wasted, but in some situations deleting the app is what's best. Like I mentioned before, I deleted my personal Facebook account quite a few years ago and I have never ever regretted it. However.. I still had Instagram, which is a huge distraction for me. I could spend my whole life on Instagram (I know, sad), but really what do I get from scrolling through the explore page all day? Honestly, Nothing. What's important to me on social media is connecting with friends and family on my personal account and connecting with followers on my public account. Other than that it's a time waster. So I try to stick to what's important, limit my time, and avoid getting lost in the pointless.
One of greatest things I've ever gifted myself is the gift of quiet times and helping my kids learn to play safely on their own. There's just only so much you can get done with three kids running around whether at home or at the barn, and they rarely all nap at the same time, so it's extremely helpful to set up a way for your kids to have "play on my own" time in a safe environment. Just remember, I'm not a specialist in child raising, this is just what has worked for me.
At home this is either in their cribs or in their rooms, they have plenty of toys and safe activities to do while being on their own and this allows you to get some work done or just have some time to yourself for once.
At the barn this is really the only way I can manage to work with the horses. Without play areas the kids would be running all over the barn like wild creatures, potentially getting hurt and most definitely stressing me out.
Here are some photos of the types of quiet/safe areas I've set up for my kids at the barn. The first picture is an area for the older kids, it's a large enough space that they can freely move about while still being safe and I can easily see/hear them from the arena or from the stall area. In this area they can have snacks, lay down, play with toys, puzzles, listen to music, watch a tv show, and really whatever they would like to do... but they are safely kept away from the horses.
The second and third pictures are examples of a play yard for younger children. I find this is a good place for children under the age of two (or until they need a little more space). The same thing applies in the play yard, we keep special "barn only" toys for the times we play at the barn to help make it more exciting for them and I try and provide them with everything they will need for the time they are there.. such as a sippy cup, a snack, any soothers they may like (paci, blankets, etc), and usually we play music or a special audio book too. Also, if you're worried about insects you can cover the top of the play yard with a fitted sheet or a specialized netting to keep them out. We also set up fans during the hot months to keep the kids cool.
If you've never done quiet times with your kids before, or designated play areas, it may take some time to get them used to this idea. It's important to make the environment fun and enticing, but also for them to learn to be self reliant during this time. The goal is not to jump on and off the horse every five minutes to have to fetch toys or hold your child, but start off with small increments and build up to longer times. I recommend to start practicing at home first. Focusing on rewarding content good behavior by only letting the kids out of their play time when they are happy, but set them up for success too. If you feel your kid will only last a minute before they start wailing, start off with half a minute of play time. Set them in the play yard, don't wait for them to get upset and them praise them while removing them from the play area. Try again in a little while for a little longer, building up a minute at a time if you have to.
It's very important to not get them out of the play area when they are upset, this only encourages tantrums and separation anxiety. However, if your kid does by chance become upset, stay right next to the play area and talk to them soothingly and encouragingly, as soon as they pause their crying even for a second you can take them out and try again later.
Nap times at the barn can be difficult for some kids, and not so difficult for others. If you have a dark cool area to lay your kid down in a portable bed this is the best (if they like sleeping in a bed), but sometimes strollers and baby carriers are the way to go.
Strollers are excellent for keeping even the smallest baby safe and contained during times at the barn, especially if they don't mind sleeping in them and even better if you have a friend that can push them around in the stroller to keep them asleep longer. One of my favorite strollers is the Bob Revolution stroller (click here), because it easily goes off-roading if I need to take it into the pastures or have it around the arena. I got mine second hand and absolutely love it, but really any stroller that your kids and you like will do.
Sometimes I use a baby carrier like the Becco Gemini (click here) (or here if you live in a hot area) when I need two hands so I can't be pushing the stroller and when my youngest wont sleep in he bed. It works well when doing barn chores such as supplement filling, feeding, water bucket filling, cleaning.. etc. but I don't recommend handling horses while having a baby strapped to you for safety purposes. You just have to remember even the safest, oldest, calmest horses are still prey animals that get frightened.
Some other ideas for containing young kids are infant swings (click here), bouncy seats (click here), activity centers (click here), walkers (click here). At home these play areas can allow you to get other things done, and at the barn they can free you up to be able to work with your horse while keeping your kid safe. Just please make sure your child is never in a place a horse can get to, accidents do happen and horses do get loose or spooked.
What To Do If You Can't Do "Everything"
At the end of the day, it can be a reality for mothers that they just wont be able to do "everything". You may need help from time to time, which is completely okay. What kind of help will look different for everyone and will probably depend a lot on your financial situation. Here is a list of some ideas I've used in the past or present.. or hope to use in the future. You may not be able to utilize all of these ideas, but hopefully a few of them are practical for you.
Mother's Helper, someone who will come help you out during times that work for you. Usually mother's helpers are there while you are there and basically act as a second hand. Whether that's folding laundry, helping pick up the house, holding the baby, or playing with the kids while you do what you need to do. Sometimes even just a couple hours once a week is enough to keep you sane and free up time later on in your day/week to get out to see your horse. Or, you might even pay someone to help you out at the barn if you take your kids with you. Especially if you have a young baby you can't leave alone or stray very far from, it's nice to have an extra pair of hands to help out.
House Cleaning, I think everyone loves a clean house and everyone loves to have someone else do it for them. I can't possibly be the only person that would consider house cleaning to be the perfect birthday or mother's day gift, especially if it's for more than one time. Or, if you can afford it, regular house cleaning throughout the year.. even every other week! Trust me, of all the things you can spend your money on to free up time.. this is it. Especially if you have kids, house cleaning is a never ending time sucker.
Hobby Exchange, this sounds funny... but if it works then it's amazing! If you have a significant other that also has a hobby or sport that they want to spend more time doing you could switch off times watching the kids and doing your hobbies. For example, let's say your husband likes to go fishing. Find one day per week where you watch the kids and he gets to go fishing and then one day per week where he watches the kids and you get to go riding.
Kid Swap, another funny idea.. but a brilliant one. Find another mom that is willing to watch your kids and you're willing to watch her kids and swap times/days evenly. For example, every other Tuesday you watch her kids while she gets the day to herself and the opposite Tuesdays she watches your kids so you can be kid free. No money needed for this one!
Nanny or Babysitter, this one is pretty obvious, but gets expensive fast. If you have the money though, setting up regular times for someone to watch your kids is very very helpful. It's a little different than having a mother's helper though, since usually in this kind of situation you leave the kids with the sitter and are gone from the house.
Horse Friends, often you can find horse loving friends that will help out with your horse, you may have to teach them though. Even if it's just to stop by the barn and check on your horse when you've had a long day and can't make it to the barn or maybe you're at home sick. In some situations you may even be able to have your friend groom or exercise your horse in between the times you can make it to the barn.
Partial Leases or Full Leases, sometimes we go through seasons in our lives where we can't dedicate as much time to our horses as we would like. In a moment we are going to talk about why you shouldn't feel bad about this, but there are also solutions to keeping your horse exercised/trained/fit when you can't be there. Partial (usually the owner and the leaser trade off days throughout the week with the horse) and full lease (the leaser has priority time with the horse) options can be ideal for many horse owners, as it takes the pressure off of needing to be at the barn all the time and you know that your horse is being regularly taken care of. This is also ideal if your horse is living in situation where they don't have free access to turnout, as they will need more exercise outlets than a horse that is pastured with companions would. You could even consider a "free lease" (no money is exchanged and often the horse goes to live with the leaser) if you're really unable to care for your horse but want to maintain ownership of the horse.
Training Rides, sending your horse off to the trainer or just having your current trainer ride your horse periodically can really help keep your horse "tuned up" if you're struggling to keep up with regular rides and training. Again, this is not something that is necessarily for the benefit of the horse (more on that later), but if you're wanting to jump right back into show season this may be ideal for you.
Change of Care, if your horse is currently at a self service boarding facility or on your own property and you aren't able to keep up with regular care it might be beneficial for you and your horse to move the horse to a facility that will help you take care of your horse. Even if it's just to a friend's barn down the road, that's better than your horse not having regular care.. and better than you pulling your hair out trying to make it happen.
Many facilities offer full maintenance for horses, taking care of their hoof trims, dental routine, medical care, etc. When I was young I used to board my horses at a facility that would check the horses in the middle of the night, which was a God send one evening when one of my horses coliced and had to be rushed to the vet. I didn't even have to lift my twelve year old finger (though you better believe I did! haha) and my horse was fully cared for by capable professionals.
On a side note, I don't personally care for the idea of owning a horse but never seeing it or caring for it. The idea of grooms always tacking up for students bothers me, and when owners only ride their horses when they feel like it and never spend time with them otherwise is a no-no for me. So I'm not recommending these solutions long term, but they are fixes that have the horse's and your best interest in mind during those times in life where it's just not possible to do everything. Plus, I would rather see a horse well cared for by staff at a facility than sold off during a difficult period only to end up in a bad situation accidentally. If you can afford to keep the horse and keep them well cared for, please do.
Don't Feel Bad
I once heard an interpretation of a quote by Gary Keller (who actually got it from James Paterson) at a business conference "Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls- family, health, friends, integrity- are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered." The point of the quote is to express that some areas of life are more fragile or more important than others, and if you drop those balls they will never be the same again. Other areas of life bounce back without so much as a scuff, they may even appear to be very important at the time but in reality they are rubber.
When you're in the process of juggling a bunch of different balls you may need to drop one occasionally to keep the others from falling and breaking, but you can always add it back into the mix later on. As both a mother and an equestrian, life looks a lot like a juggling act. Some people might say "balancing act", but really I believe it's more like juggling. With all of the different areas in your life you're going to have to recognize what's a glass ball and what's a rubber ball.
In my experience, my children and my family are the very obvious glass ball in my hand. I can not drop the ball on being a mother, but really as long as your horse is allowed to live like a horse (with free access to pasture and buddies) and is receiving regular medical and physical care, your horse doesn't need you as often as you think. We ride and train horses for our own gratification mostly. Horses can enjoy the mental stimulation and socialization that comes with training, but as long their physical and mental needs are being met they are normally quite content to enjoy being "just a horse". So.... being completely honest here, more often than not horses are a rubber ball.
Please don't hate me for saying that, trust me.. many a tear has been shed when I haven't been able to see my horses in awhile. I live and breath horses, they are in my veins.. but the long and short of it is, horses do not require the same things your children require from you. You are not your horse's mother but you are their caregiver, where as you are both the mother and the primary caregiver for your children. Your children rely on you for everything! From learning how to eat and sit up, to how not to play with knives or touch hot objects! You are the one responsible for turning your child into a capable and confident adult that will one day "fly the coop", going off into the world as a functional human being (we pray at least). Your horse on the other hand doesn't need you to teach it to be a horse, horses are excellent at being horses.
Horses are born knowing how to be horses, and what information they don't have already through instinct their own horse mothers taught them. Everything else is information we teach them for our own purposes, (even if those purposes are for safe handling and emergency situations). We ride for our own pleasure, we lunge our horses to get them fit for our own purposes, we even blanket and bathe horses for our own satisfaction (unless it's medical). That doesn't mean it's wrong, not in the least, but what it does mean is that you shouldn't feel bad if you can't do those things as often as you would like.
This is not an excuse for neglect or to not care for your horse's basic needs, not in the least! It's not even a reason to never visit your horse, but the truth is your horse is perfectly content being left to be a horse as long as he's given the lifestyle where he can be just that.. a horse. He's not going to hate you for skipping his weekly bath, or not being able to ride regularly. In fact, he may be happy to have the time off! I know from recent experience that four weeks of no training did wonders for one of my horses, she was a little fresh but her mind was sharp and eager to try for me. So don't beat yourself up, and stop making yourself feel bad for leaving your horse in his green pasture with his friends.. he's doing just fine, trust me.
One thing my own mother is always reminding me of is that this is just a season in my life. I will always be a mother, but kids do get older and life does change. What's reality today may not be reality tomorrow. What's not practical today may be practical tomorrow. At the end of the day love is what's important, even if you are just barely making it through this season in your life and things aren't going quite as planned. Love your kids, love your family, and love your horse... but certainly don't blink, because today is gone before you know it.