Stall ‘in Time: Life Off the Clock

Photo © Emma Francisco


The calendar and clock shaped the schedule of my life as a parent of three and a former educator.  Likewise, the school calendar and the clock have traditionally governed “how families organize their lives, how administrators oversee their schools, and how teachers work their way through the curriculum” (National Educational Commission on Time and Learning, 1994). There was always a predictable rhythm and pace to life, and it caused me to mentally package segments of time into manageable categories: work, family, play, eat, and sleep (repeat).  

But when the pandemic hit in 2020, life, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt. Suddenly the days ran together, and the cadence of the week shifted—which was surprisingly freeing and joyous. Thankfully, the California shelter-at-home order had a few recreational exceptions including equestrian activities, and so our youngest daughter, Lily, and I leaned in further to our favorite hobby, making it an official business.  

While the rest of our family stayed home, Lily and I had to tend to our growing herd. As a perfect pony-size rider, Lily offered others who had lost their lesson kids, help with exercise and grooming. Our days were long and blissful. When things started to open again, we realized that we didn’t want to return to our former way of life. Life at the barn was the life we wanted! 

Photo © Kiri Baldi

Homeschool became a more viable option and so we dedicated our daytime hours fully to the horses: grooming, feeding, treating, training, and showing. Our immediate family witnessed our transformation. Though they quickly learned to steer dinner conversations away from the horses, I think they were secretly jealous of our newfound purpose and lack of schedule.  

Non-horse people don’t easily understand that spending an entire day at a show or at the barn is often not only necessary but also totally fulfilling and wonderful! When Lily and I recently stayed with my in-laws for an out-of-town show series, we left their house before sun-up and returned exhausted, long after the sun had set. My father-in-law, a former business executive and now an over-scheduled retiree, was baffled as to how a single “hobby” could keep us busy all day long. It was unfathomable to him that within the same block of time he had accomplished a work-out, played a round of golf, hit balls at the range, made numerous phone calls, checked his investments, supervised the handyman on a repair, read the paper, played bridge, and prepared and ate dinner while he watched the evening news… and that “all” we had done was go to the horse show. 

Almost nightly as we returned from the show, he asked for a recount of our day because he simply couldn’t believe that we had spent so much time there. It’s difficult to quantify time spent at a horse show to an outsider—especially one who has a clock-oriented mindset. As equestrians know, things don’t happen neatly or as scheduled within the horse show vortex. 

From the morning hack, to tacking, untacking, unbraiding, waiting, wrapping, feeding, and cleaning… our days are full and crazy. Yet, there are moments when time stands still. Oddly, I love mucking or taking our braids because it means spending time with our horses. When lingering in a stall, I completely lose track of time. I am the world’s slowest stall cleaner, the worst braid remover, and a total sucker for a horse who gently suggests that I scratch its withers or rub its ears. Hopelessly, I am pulled into meaningless conversations in “baby-talk” with our four-legged friends and before I know it, not a little amount of time has passed. 

It’s hard to explain the whole “hurry up and wait” horse show thing to our family. Even worse, when family members want to come watch Lily ride, they do not understand how I am unable to give them an exact time. Often the best I can provide them is an estimated time window, not until the evening prior once the add/scratch deadline has passed. They don’t get it when on Monday, there is no possible way that I can predict what time the derby will go on Friday. And yet, week after week, show after show, Lily and I march along happily, with little regard for the way things used to be when our lives were managed by the clock.  

As a horse dad, my husband is very adept at converting barn time into real time. He quickly interprets, “We will be home in an hour” to “Dinner will be enjoyed at least an hour, if not more, later than planned.” He has learned to be a concierge of sorts to family members who come to a show where the window of time that we gave them for Lily’s classes suddenly changes because a tractor breaks down in the arena or some other unpredictable calamity has occurred. He stands ready to provide distractions such as lunch or refreshments from the bar to ease their unexpected wait time.   

Photo © Lily Muzzy

Weekday connotations are totally different now too. Whereas Monday used to be the dreaded start of the workweek, it’s now a day off for our horses and a day in which I pack an entire week’s worth of errands. Tuesdays are for show hauling, move-in, and warm-ups. Fridays tend to be derby days instead of the end of a workweek. Saturdays and Sundays, which used to be days of relaxation, are now the busiest days of the week with full divisions usually taking place. 

When friends or family members ask if I miss my career in education and my former schedule, I quickly respond, “Heck No!”  I do not want to turn back the clock. Instead, I would rather “stall time” and spend it with our herd. Heeding the wisdom of the late John Lennon, “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

Dr. Catherine Muzzy is a wife, mother of three, and a retired elementary school principal who happily spends her time managing MZ Farms and consoling her husband about the money they spend on horses.


National Educational Commission on Time and Learning. (1994). Prisoners of time. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Education. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from