At the barn this morning I was driving the tractor while holding two kids on my lap when I realized something: This is not what barn time used to feel like. Up until a few years ago, my entire world revolved around riding and being in the barn as much as possible. I got my first barn job at 14 and never looked back. I used to think that nothing would ever stand between me and my barn time, like never ever.
As a young adult I would hear statements like, “Noah has a dentist appointment and then we’re going to Chloe’s tap dancing recital, so I probably won’t have a chance to ride tomorrow,” or even worse, “I used to ride horses back before I got married. I miss it!” I always thought that would never be me; I could not survive without my all-day every-day barn life. But here I am, married with two kids, and I get it!
Riding when you’re young and single and free to do as you please is awesome. And guess what? Riding when you’ve got your hands full with a home and a job and kids and all kinds of adult responsibilities is awesome too. These are, however, totally different experiences. Here are just a handful of examples.
Before kids: How many of you can remember spending all day cleaning stalls and grooming and stacking hay without a care in the world? Working in the barn was always so peaceful. It was a time to be outdoors, getting some exercise and being productive. There was often no one around, no questions to answer or problems to solve.
After kids: Nowadays, I can typically be found in the barn with a baby strapped on my back, holding a pitchfork in one hand and my 3-year-old’s half-eaten peanut butter sandwich in the other. Barn time is often a balancing act of trying to keep two humans and eight horses safe, fed and content. On the rare occasion that I have a chance to sneak out to the barn without any children, though, it is even more peaceful and meditative than it was in my younger years.
Before Kids: Riding was my life. If I was not riding, I was working in the barn or reading about riding or watching videos of my favorite riders. I had a whole life planned out with an illustrious career as an upper-level eventer. As much as I loved to ride, all those ambitions combined with a lack of know-how and resources ultimately led to a lot of frustration. I wanted to be an elite competitor but in reality I could barely get around Training.
After Kids: When I have an opportunity to ride now it is without a doubt the most amazing feeling in the world, although “riding” these days often means tacking up for my kid and leading her around. The great thing is that when I actually have a chance to ride there’s no more pressure. I know I’m not going to Rolex and I couldn’t be happier.
I get on, do my best to ride correctly and enjoy every moment of it. It’s a time of freedom from all the juggling that moms do on a daily basis. The only thing I’m responsible for in that moment is riding. And not falling off. Speaking of which …
The Unscheduled Dismount
Before Kids: We all fall off, it happens. Most of the time it’s no big deal. We dust off and hop back on because why not, right? No harm no foul. I don’t ever really remember being scared of falling and I definitely recall riding through lots of scrapes and sprains and even the occasional dislocation.
After Kids: I just recently took my first dive since becoming a parent (I’m going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for making it nearly four years!) and as I was flopping through the air, not graceful in any way, the only thought in my head was “my kids!” That was it; only two words.
When there are beautiful little humans depending on you for all of their needs and wants in life, dangerous situations can elicit a very primal and fearful reaction. And it’s not only my own falls that worry me. Being a mom has made it so much harder to continue on after hearing about terrible falls.
Before Kids: Raise your hand if you’ve got some bailing twine and a hoof pick in your car. Don’t we all? The barn car is ever so recognizable: changes of clothes, gloves, ball caps, hay on the floor and seats, probably some horse and/or dog hair and likely more than one lead rope. Some people call it messy. I like to consider it being prepared. I can count half a dozen times when having some twine in my passenger seat came in handy.
After Kids: Well if I was prepared before, I am really, really, extra prepared now. Not only do I have all of the barn essentials but now also have managed to make room for changes of clothes for three people, diapers, snacks, toys, blankets and pillows in case there’s a nap emergency. You name it, I’ve got it in my car, from pacifiers to paddock boots.
How about you guys? How has growing up, getting married or having kids affected your horse life? While there are undoubtedly unique circumstances for each of us, let’s give hugs and high fives all around for the strength and dedication that it takes to persevere when life gets in the way.