For the first 28 years of my time on this Earth, my life had one central focus: horses.
When I married my husband, we were on the same page. We started our marriage with five head of horses between us. We both compete in the rodeo arena (him in the team roping, me in the barrel racing), and we only generally talked about having kids. We talked a lot about what studs we wanted to breed our mares to, where those colts would take us someday, and how we’d manage a thriving broodmare herd between our place in Colorado and his family’s ranch in Wyoming.
Fast-forward to about the time our first colt hit the ground from our very best mare in 2016. I was four months pregnant with our daughter. And I hadn’t given much real thought into how she’d change our horse life, really.
I knew about the time off the horses’ backs while I was pregnant, much to my dismay. I counted down the six-weeks post-partum until I could ride again, figuring out which barrel races and finals I’d still be able to squeeze in before winter. I could see a napping infant in a stroller next to the arena, a toddler bouncing in her Resistol RideSafe on the back of her gentle but fancy pony, and pictured myself leading my little blonde cowgirl with braids down the alley on my old barrel horse at the Little Britches Rodeos. Having never been around kids before, I (clearly) didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
So, for those moms and moms-to-be out there, here are five hard realities of motherhood in the horse world—toddler motherhood in the horse world, because that’s what I’m in the middle of—I never saw coming, but sure hit me like a freight train:
1. Most barrel races, rodeos, and horse shows are some of the least kid-friendly places on the planet.
I dream of a barrel racing arena with a fully-enclosed play area with padded walls and slides. Think Chick-fil-A, but with sand, an announcer, and a warm-up pen. But unfortunately, most of the horse activities in which I partake are far from my fast-food-play-area-style daydreams.
In my case, to take a horse or two to a barrel race, I require a savvy full-time sitter or friendly face who is willing to watch my 2-year-old while I groom, tack, warm-up and compete on my horses. And most of the time, that’s made more impossible by the fact that my 2-year-old is usually wildly unsatisified by any babysitter and wants her “MOMMMMMY” while I’m trying to warm up a green barrel horse.
As my mother often reminds me, keeping my tiny human alive is my most important job in this life, and that means time with the horses sometimes has to take a back seat, especially when I’ve got a wild toddler who isn’t afraid to square off in the pen with a mean mama cow.
2. Remembering to pack bridles, saddle pads, rubber bands, spare training tools, etc., is further complicated by remembering to pack diapers, a fully charged iPad, snacks (but not any snacks, the kind of snacks she likes that very day), ice for the Yeti filled with sippy cups full of milk, baby dolls and…
Y’all—this is harder than it looks. In the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve pulled into barrel races with only roping bits in the trailer. I’ve forgotten “that bit” that worked so perfectly all week, the one I couldn’t wait to try in competition, a mistake that resulted in another weekend of the same mistakes I’d made the week prior and that I’d worked all week to fix.
And then there are the days I remember all of my bridles and saddles and pads and manage to forget the right stroller that makes the good kind of naps happen, or I forget the jumbo tub of horse-show-friendly toys just perfect for playing in the dirt off the far end of the arena. Those are the days that I really might as well have stayed home, because the chaos that will ensue just isn’t worth it.
3. Training a colt is *nearly* off the table.
Being a toddler mom in the horse world means waking up to work a colt all week at 5 a.m. before the baby wakes up, closely checking the monitor every 30 seconds, or sneaking home for a ride before the kiddo is done at daycare. But either way, when it comes to competition time on the weekend, you’re left only to decide you don’t have the energy or the help to bother loading them in the trailer Saturday morning, no matter how badly they need the outing at that point of their training.
Consistency and wet saddle pads—what colts need more than anything—are hard to muster with a toddler who deserves and demands full-time attention. And getting on a colt, no matter how gentle he is or how solid I’ve got him at home, just doesn’t feel right when my head isn’t the whole way in the game.
It’s always easier to have a no-muss-no-fuss finished horse to hop on and go with, but—those finished horses are a) expensive and hard to come by and b) often the first and easiest to market and sell when daycare expenses and doctor visits get in the way of horse life. Sigh. It’s a brutal cycle.
4. Poopy diapers need changing, even when you’re up in the next drag.
My kiddo has a knack for filling a diaper at the most inopportune times possible—including right before it’s my turn to walk into the arena at a barrel race or just as I slip my boots with the spurs on to walk outside to the barn. There’s something about wiping a tiny human’s butt to really get you in the zone to compete—or not.
5. Fridays at the zoo, Saturdays at the Children’s Museum and Sunday afternoon birthday parties take up what was once prime ride time.
But let’s be honest—my kiddo is my top priority, and building a happy, functional tiny human is ultimately more important than building a winning horse. (I’m not going to lie: Sometimes, I have to remind myself of this.)
No matter how much my little girl loves her pony Tonto (check him out below, and stand by for a later blog post introducing him and all his greatness), she still loves being a little girl more. That means playing at the park, going to the zoo, watching Disney movies and snuggling with mom. Horse life will always be there—no matter how many cool colts I might end up selling because they are going to waste while I play with Barbies and slime after work instead of snaffle bits and German martingales.
I’m living life in limbo, ebbing between horse-mom guilt and real-mom guilt, feeling like I’m failing in both departments. But I’d guess I’m not alone. I think we’re all just trying our best to make it all work, and, as I’ve got to remind myself daily, that’s what counts. H&R