I’ve owned horses most of my life, but am also a mom, wife, daughter, employee, and pony mom — all the things, at all the times. The key to staying sane for me has been keeping my life very compartmentalized. Work goes in this bubble. Horses in this bubble. Husband in this bubble. Kids in their own bubbles.
I’ve been really fortunate (or blissfully unaware) to carry on for this long in a way that allows all my bubbles to exist, together but separate, so that any given day might go something like this:
- Get kids up, dressed, fed (if we are lucky), and off to school
- Check email and catch up on whatever I dropped the ball on the day before
- Head to the barn for a hack or lesson (or both)
- Call in to a conference call on the car ride home (thank goodness for a flexible job)
- Pick kids up
- Coordinate homework/office work/after school activities/more barn time
- Magically pull together some kind of dinner
- Collapse in an exhausted heap, ready to do it all again tomorrow
I grew up the horsey kid, in a non-horsey family, safely keeping that first horse bubble all to myself. My rockstar husband, who’s a great dad but works long hours and is often not home during all of the things, and I established rules very early on when we first started dating that the barn is my dance space and the golf course is his dance space (more bubbles).
Growing up in a small town that I still live in, it is really cool to go to shows and see the kids I grew up riding with. They’re now trainers, amateurs, and pony moms… see how that bubble stayed intact?
But in my own life, three of my bubbles have collided and mixed and hurled chaos all over the lovely system that I had all laid out. If there is nothing else that horse ownership and motherhood have taught me, it’s that planning is useless. Those four legged and two legged dependents will throw a wrench into any given plan at any given moment. Bubble burst.
My current wrench is trying to navigate the role of amateur owner, mom, and pony mom. Don’t misunderstand, this was my dream — the pony, the kid with the braids and the bows, the bonding hacks out in the field… and it’s amazing. Most of the time. Sometimes it’s hard. Like, really hard.
My parents whole-heartedly supported me, but neither of them had knowledge of anything remotely horse related, which did have it’s advantages. It didn’t matter if I blew a lead or chipped a jump at a show. As long as I came out of the ring on the pony, and the pony was still standing on all 4 legs, they thought I was fabulous.
They might have been at the barn when I was riding, but didn’t notice, or thought it was acceptable, for us to be in the field trying to canter… bareback… while standing on our pony’s backs. It never occurred to them that allowing the ponies to do some naughty behavior, might teach them bad habits. “But moooommmmm, Charlotte LIKES to stop trotting at this part of the ring.”
But as a kid, part of me so desperately wanted parents who would totally understand why I would NEED both a hunter and an equitation horse. Why having the right breeches really was that important, and what a rollback, counter canter, diagonal, the jog, handy, etc actually meant.
So when I found out my first child was a girl, I went a touch overboard with the visions of sugarplums. I could not wait for her to be big enough to ride her own pony. We bought her a pony when she was around 18 months old, and she wanted nothing to do with it. No matter that every little girl in the world would give their right arm for a pony of their own, and here I was hurling them at her. She wanted no part of that bubble.
At that point my horses were mostly retired, another baby who comes along, life happens, and then seven years later my daughter asks “Can I ride a horse?” The clouds parted, and the angels sang.
Yes, I am that mother. That mother who promptly dropped everything, bought the jods and the boots and the helmet, and signed her up for lessons before she could change her mind. We got her a pony before she could post the trot on her own, and she still loves to ride. All sunshine and rainbows, right? Well, sometimes. But more recently, I find that my roles of mom, rider, and pony mom are getting a bit blurry around the edges. Navigating this role with a decidedly tween-level-attitude-filled kid is challenging.
I think part of my struggle is unique to equestrians. In most sports (golf, tennis, and riding being the only exceptions that come to mind), if you are still participating in your childhood sport, odds are you are a professional. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that for the most part, as a 40 year old woman, you’re probably not still trying to nail that gymnastics floor routine you worked so hard on when you were 12. You certainly retain knowledge about it, but you’re not still actively working on it. At the same time, riding is one of the few areas where “amateur” doesn’t mean “beginner.” As an amateur adult, that leaves you in a bit of a weird space. You have tons of knowledge, are generally very skilled, but are not a professional.
Most of the time I can keep my amateur bubble and my mom bubble separate. I take lessons while the kids are in school, and while we do ride together sometimes, I really enjoy having my alone time at the barn without the littles around. When the kid has a lesson I never (almost never) correct anything. I can usually separate the roles at shows (I might help her get dressed or help tack the pony, but when they get to the ring, I am straight-up pony mom with camera in hand).
Where I struggle is when the kid is riding at home, not in a lesson, or when we are both showing. Am I mom? Amateur Owner? Pony Mom? All the roles muddle together and I end up doing a shoddy job at all three roles.
I’ve been cantering through a turn in my second trip, when I catch the sight of my kid going into ring three, completely forget to use inside leg to hold the green bean through the turn, fudge up the distance, and unravel things from there. I’ve caught myself, more than once, actually fuming because my kid is cantering around on the wrong lead at home (“can she not KNOW she is teaching the pony it’s ok to do that when he wants?!”) or on the wrong diagonal.
Then I remember she is a kid and should be a kid, wrong leads and all. I’m quite certain I did the same thing, and turned out just fine. And, god forbid, I tell the child to put her heels down or her eyes up – eyes have never rolled so far in the history of ever, but should the trainer stroll by and whisper “heels down, eyes up,” she snaps to so fast it would make your head spin. Clearly, she translates the word “amateur” a bit more like the rest of the world.
I suppose what I am saying is that I am certain I am screwing up a lot of things. Every day probably. But having ponies in our lives is not one of those things. My parents like to joke that the horses helped raise me, but they could not be more right. I am trying really hard to keep my bubbles separate, but maybe they aren’t supposed to be.
I know I will never take on the role of trainer (for anyone, least of all my own kid), but maybe mom, plus amateur, plus pony mom, makes a good combination. After all, no matter what happens in the ring, I will always think my child is amazing. But on the days when she knows she “could’ve-would’ve-should’ve,” I hope it’s nice to have a mom who understands what she means when she wants to replay how she drifted right in the outside line, or didn’t take the tighter turn in her medal class. Maybe I’ll keep my mouth shut the next time she is on the wrong diagonal…but if I catch her trying to canter, bareback, standing on the pony, I’ll put my foot down. Or maybe I’ll join her!
Either way, the magic of growing up riding, will work its way in. The struggles and the joys, the long hot days and the cool evening rides, the hard work and the rewards. The lesson that sometimes you deserve to win and you lose anyway; and sometimes you deserve to lose and still win. They are all there, no matter which bubble you’re in. It’s the magic that keeps us coming back for more. It’s what makes us get back on when we fall and what makes me want to share it with her in the first place.
Us amateur/mom/pony moms are a small club and we are pretty easy to spot: look for me at shows by the pony ring. I’ll still be in my show clothes from my own classes, standing funny because I am trying to SQUEEZE the pony for her from the rail, holding a camera, martingale, coffee/wine (depending on the time of day!), and all-the-things, and I will be grinning from ear to ear, loving every second of it.