Horse Showing With Kids

Cartoon by Dave Elston.

Cartoon by Dave Elston.

Bring your family along with you on the journey. Don’t feel like you’re somehow shortchanging them. They’re going to have a different experience than other kids do, but it’s not necessarily a lesser experience. You have to stop judging yourself by other people’s standards. Let go of the guilt and embrace the messiness of what you’re doing.” – Arlene Dickinson

I came across this quote in an article recently, stated by my favorite Dragon.

And I thought, “Wow! I can’t believe how applicable this quote is to being a horse show mom!”

For the purpose of this blog, by “horse show mom,” I’m not referring to the super-heroines who haul their kids to 4H and Pony Club and various other shows on the weekends. Toting grooming supplies, and helmets, and lawn chairs, and kids and their ponies to the competition ring. You ladies, are an entirely different group of super humans and my hat goes off to you! I’m just not quite there yet because my children are only 3.

So by “horse show moms” I’m referring to the ladies who – with children in tow – still get themselves out to the show arena in pursuit of their various disciplines and goals.

When my husband first approached me with the idea of getting back to the show pen last year, I thought he was crazy. I’d been out of the scene for so long, I couldn’t even remember what my saddle felt like. And then, I was overtaken by a hint of excitement.

How wonderful it would be to get my body back in shape after the hiatus of having children! It had been three years since I last showed competitively but how fabulous it would feel to once again run down for a sliding stop – that feeling comparable to a freight train melting into the ground at a breakneck speed… And the exhilaration of putting my mount face to face with a cow and mirroring its every move with great velocity. Reining. Cow Horse. Whatever. It would be so great to ride again!

Soon after, however,  those excited feelings were quickly replaced by anxiety and guilt.

“How can I possibly drag our children to horse shows, for me?” I thought. “They wouldn’t enjoy one minute of it…”

It’s one thing to go watch their Daddy at shows – but it would quite another for me, the Mother, to be in the arena this time as well. Especially since I would be out riding my horse and not including either of our twins in my fun. They love to ride horses! But our kids would have to wait on the sidelines until I was finished. There would likely be tears.

What if someone had a diaper that needed to be changed?

What if they ran to play under the bleachers?

What if they came back with gum… from under the bleachers??

Since my husband and I don’t have the luxury of a nanny and babysitters have been somewhat hard to secure (especially during shows), we would have to do things the old fashioned way. We’d have to take our kids with us and work together to get it done. And since we don’t own living quarters AND my hubby would also be coaching several clients during the same shows I would be riding in, we’d have to plan ahead, pack several key items, and basically just be prepared to take whatever the horse show days handed to us, in stride.

If I was serious about getting on a horse again, there would be no doubt – it would be difficult. But not impossible.

Me-and-B-(web)

After a year of showing again, there are several things I’ve learned. They go something like this:

• If you’ve got young children – from the toys, to the diaper bags, to the changes of clothes necessary when your kids become little dirt-balls from playing in an arena corner – lots of “stuff” must accompany you to the show arena. Get used to it. It is what is and although some people might give you a raised eyebrow here or there, having a content child on the sidelines is extremely helpful when you are trying to show. You likely have enough emotion to deal with in terms of show nerves.

• Show concessions get old really fast, so a cooler packed full of healthy foods that your kids are used to eating goes a long way.

• The long nights and early mornings in the barn sometimes make for sick kids. It happens. And when you’re out of the comfort zone of your house, having a family affected by the flu or something else is heartbreaking. Travel insurance (for when attending shows outside of Canada) is a must.  Children’s Advil, Polysporin, band-aids, a thermometer and soft, comforting blankets are additional don’t-leave-home-without items.

• There are so many great people involved in western performance horse sports that if you’re struggling, either with a kid, a horse, a pattern… someone will likely step up and help you. Heck, I’ve even had some ladies change a diaper, without so much as a word from me. If someone offers you help, take it.

How do you fit a set of twins on a horse?

How do you fit a set of twins on a horse?

When I made the decision to enter the show pen last year, I thought I was embarking on a fool’s mission. So did others, I know. Last year was a journey that saw Clay and I in shows spanning two provinces, working long hours, and climaxing with an intense trip to Texas. But in the end, I was so completely proud of what we had accomplished and the fact that we had done it as a family.

Stay tuned to My Stable Life! In honor of Mother’s Day this month, I will return with more installments of Horse Showing With Kids, with tips on what to pack, ideas for handling long road trips and advice from my trainer and (tor)mentor husband <grin> for mental focus in the pen.

Comments

  1. Mary Deiter says

    Great article! You are an inspiration, Jenn!

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