If I’ve learned anything over the past few years as a mother of two young children, it’s this: Horses make me a better mom. Despite the expense (a lot) and the time (also a lot) horses require, my experience with them has been worth every penny and every minute of my time. I’m a happier person because of horses, and that makes me a better mom.
I love my two children with every fiber of my being, but that doesn’t mean the daily ins and outs of raising a family are enjoyable all the time. It’s hard work. It’s emotional work. It’s easy to forget our own needs when caring for babies and toddlers. There’s always a diaper that needs changing, a mouth to feed, or a sibling squabble to put to rest.
The Lightbulb Moment
When my son was 4 and my daughter was 2, I was flipping through Horse Illustrated, gazing at all of the beautiful horses, slightly envious of the riders smiling atop them, and had one of those magical lightbulb moments: Why am I just looking at them, when I could be riding?
I’ve always loved horses and took lessons as a child, but life has its way of redirecting us, and I took a long hiatus from my equestrian hobby. College, marriage, career … you name it, I had made the excuse.
Now I had even more pressing excuses, two of them in fact, who needed constant care and attention. And yet there was something in me, maybe a 30-something birthday looming up ahead or a fleeting sense of carpe diem, that wouldn’t let it go: I’m not waiting another day. I’m going to find a barn now. I’m going to get back on a horse no matter what.
Locating a Program
Finding the right riding facility took some perseverance. Believe it or not, not every lesson barn is geared towards serving my rather unique profile of “green-but-eager new mother with very limited hours.” Little did the one riding instructor and barn owner who replied to my email inquiry know she would be stuck with me indefinitely. In fact, the owners have become like a second family to me.
I nervously informed my non-horsey husband I would be heading out on a Saturday afternoon to explore this new pursuit, and he was impressively supportive. His encouragement gave me the boost I needed, as I would have taken any hesitation as an excuse to back out. Putting ourselves out there and stepping out of our neat little comfort zones is scary, and my stomach swirled in knots during the 30-minute drive to the stable.
Fortunately, from my very first lesson on a senior Morgan horse named Leader (I asked for the most easygoing, bombproof horse they had), I was hooked. I was terrible, but I was hooked.
We started the lesson by walking and halting in a big circle; getting the hang of that simple exercise felt like a huge accomplishment. I tried not to do the math in my head because it made me feel ancient, but it had been close to 20 years since I’d been on a horse!
When my new instructor smiled and asked if I wanted to try a trot, I gulped and took a leap of faith. “As long as no one laughs at me!” I replied, feeling my face turn a hot shade of crimson. Side note: If anyone has video footage of my first attempt at a posting trot in 20 years, I’m offering my life savings to burn it.
Enjoy the Ride
As I bounced around the round pen with sweet Leader, I realized something: I was having fun! What a novel concept. As parents, we’re constantly focused on helping our kids have fun and giving them every opportunity to learn and grow. It’s our job to push them to bravely take on new challenges and to discover their passions.
But what about ourselves? In pursuing something I had wanted to do for years and pushing through those feelings of self-doubt and embarrassment, I was teaching my kids a lesson without saying a word.
I’ve stuck with those weekly lessons. By reserving just a couple of hours each week to do something I love, I’m showing both my kids and myself that we are worth it. I know without a doubt that I’m a happier mother because of horses. The mind-clearing, calming therapy they provide each and every time I head to the barn has to be cheaper than any therapist. The physical demands riding requires has helped me become fit and energized to care for my active family. I come home after a ride feeling refreshed, restored, and ready to devote time to my children and husband again.
Every time I brush a mane, clean a hoof, or get in the saddle, I’m reminded that following our own goals doesn’t mean forgetting the needs of those around us; it means we all deserve to pursue what gives us joy. In making ourselves happy, we are better equipped to raise happy children. That’s a lesson I’d rather show my kids than tell them.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!