Diary of an Equine Mum

Monday, 27 January 2014

One Hand On The Reins and One Hand On The Cradle

How can you not smile and feel happy for Zara Phillips who became a mum recently to baby Mia. With the nation reading about another royal baby, it is no doubt giving us a lovely feel good factor. With Laura Tomlinson also announcing her pregnancy much has been written recently on how difficult it is to juggle motherhood with an equestrian career.

However what about the “every day” day rider? Zara and Laura will no doubt have a fool proof support network behind them enabling them to ride, school and maintain their horses and career. I have read many blog posts over the past few years where new mums have had to make a heart breaking decision whether to carry on with horse ownership or simply put their beloved hobby on hold while motherhood takes over. If you decide to battle on with having a horse then the so called “juggling act” becomes an impressive display from La Cirque du Soleil!

Having horses is exhausting at the best of times and also a huge financial commitment. Factor a baby in the mix and any normal person would question why you would have a horse in your life! Well it’s because we love them and to give up on our horses would be the absolute last resort. So what is the answer? What if you had to fit in working as well. It would all seem an absolute impossibility, surely? These mum’s are out there and struggling to keep all the juggling balls in the air! Trying to beg, borrow and steal childcare becomes an art and craft. When a few hours has been given then it’s a frantic dash to the yard, muck out, groom and then off on a high speed hack that Frankel would of been proud of… To get some equestrian help is always the answer but it can be difficult to try and find someone trustworthy and reliable to share your horse in time and money.

I decided to enter horse ownership when my boys were six and seven. It was a huge decision which I did not make lightly as I knew the arrival of my horse would make a massive impact on our family life. How was I going to fit in this 17.2 money machine and time taker into our already hectic routine? With two small boys and a business to run, I look back now and I must have been mad. I managed it but only just, with Olympic runs to the yard after work to muck out before rushing back to put a thrown together dinner on the table. My boys (who did not share my equestrian enthusiasm) spent many hours in the car parked at the yard when it was pouring down with rain in the holidays. The little money I had left was spent on magazines and games to entertain them and to stop their moans that they were, yet again, at the stables… I did feel guilty about it, especially exhausting babysitting favours when I had to sort out childcare in order to work or ride my horse. I also felt guilty about the amount of money that was spent on my hobby. It wasn’t just only the weekly requirements of hay, feed and livery it was also unexpected vets bills, rugs that needed replacing or saddles that needed reflocking…. Was I being selfish? That was a question that I did ask myself and I imagine every horse owner mother struggles with. But was it “the battle of the sexes” question, did the husbands or partners give up their hobby when the babies arrive? I imagine most did not. Controversial as it sounds, most woman are expected to give up their identity almost when becoming a mother. You become “Ben’s mum or Molly’s mum“ almost losing your individuality. By having some time away from motherhood and work doing the hobby that you love, works wonders for any frazzled mother psychologically.

So us every day horse owners who happen to be mothers too will battle on with our guilty pleasure. The years do pass by very quickly and my guilt has passed. My boys are now adults enjoying their own hobbies now. They sometimes ask after my horse, but it’s a rare occasion. I now have time to enjoy my hobby without syncing diaries with the school, work or my boy’s hectic social life. I have no regrets about fitting my horse into our family life. It has been extremely tough but worth it. You can continue to be a mother while being a horse owner too, it just needs some clever time and financial management and perhaps a crèche being opened at your local yard!

Please also visit www.hay.net.co.uk

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Harley and Me - The First Year With My Dog

Harley Age 16 Weeks
I was watching Harley scampering along on our afternoon walk and could see a family walking ahead with their children, one on a scooter. I called Harley and he came back to me, not instantly but he then came to heel. This time last year, my heart would lurch and mini panic would set in as I would watch my over exuberant terrier make a beeline for the tiny people, aiming to wipe them out with his excited greeting. Wow, we have come a long way in the last year….

Dad with Tyler his Border Terrier (2007)
I have had dogs in my life, but I have had a twenty odd year break from canine ownership. My dear dad was a huge dog lover, although my mum was yet to be converted. Eventually after nearly twenty years, she finally relented and “allowed” dad to have a dog. Within hours almost, Ross a ten week old black and white Springer Spaniel bounded into our lives. It was pure chaos and he was mad as a March hare, but a joy to have in our family. My mum then went on to have her own dog and bought Paddy a Cairn Terrier home to join Ross. I left home, married and had children but I always had cats to keep the family company as in my opinion, a home is not complete without some furry animal cohabiting! I bought my horse ten years ago who has had a huge impact on my life and as every horse owner knows the bond between you is one you can never replace.

Since moving to a more rural location in the last few years, my husband who was very anti-dogs shocked us all and said he thought it would be a good idea to have a dog live with us. Now "live with us" was in his mind, in a kennel in the garden, all year round. He was going to make our dog his new home complete with a run…or so he thought. We had long discussions about what sort of dog was going to fit in with us and we ruled out a rescue dog having two cats already. The dog had to be male and having two teenage sons, he had to be a “manly” dog, no fluff whatsoever! I don’t know what came over us, but we decided to get a terrier cross.

After much searching and researching, we decided on a black and tan Patterdale cross Jack Russell. Harley arrived in our lives about sixteen months ago now and what a whirlwind it has been. The day he came home and jumped on to my husband’s lap, was the day that puppy secured his warm bed indoors.... I had totally forgotten how consumed you get with a puppy and the first few months, my life seemed to revolve around his bowel movements or how many hours it was between pees! We were lucky with Harley that he cottoned on to toilet training well and within about 10 weeks of being with us, he had cracked it.

Harley's Favourite Place - With The Horses
Now walking him was a completely new challenge, mentally and physically. As he long legs grew…yes long legs (He’s parentage has been questioned as he almost has legs likes a whippet!) the more exercise he needed. Come rain, wind, snow and boiling hot sun my daily routine now is a 20 minute walk in the morning with a 45 minute walk in the afternoon. I find the people you meet fascinating when dog walking and how you can meet a total stranger and sometimes end up walking with them telling them almost your life story while watching your dog’s tearing around, doing laps of honour. It also has made me get to know my neighbours since moving to the area, as I’m always bumping into them when dog walking. I barely knew my neighbours in my previous home as I very rarely walked about in my neighbourhood. My fitness has improved no end and I love walking. There are days when I can do without it, but once I’m out I feel better. Harley in general is a super little dog and absolutely loves us to the point he is my stalker. I work from home, so I am around a lot and when I am not about he takes himself to his bed and waits…and waits. On my return I am greeted by him as if I have been to Australia and back!

He is generally a really good boy, but not an angel… We have had a few instances shall we say that left me red faced. Bounding up to a lady dressed all in cream when he has just tried to track a rabbit down in a quagmire of mud springs to mind. Taking a child’s football away and running like a greyhound on the winning straight is also makes the top ten whilst I’m apologising profusely to the parents of the screaming child. Hopping into the builders van at home when we were having building work and eating all their sandwiches – he loved cheese and ham by the way! He has managed to make some epic escapes that Steve McQueen would have been proud of. Thankfully we have blocked these escape routes so he is well and truly locked in his dog proof garden now. Another one of his favourite tricks when meeting other dogs is to literally high five the ones with a stick in their mouths and then hot foot off with the said stick as fast as his long legs will take him. Again the “I’m so sorry” routine comes from me when the pitiful dog looking at me as though Harley has taken food from their mouths.

Harley's First Trip To The Beach
You are probably reading this thinking I should of done some dog training to teach him some canine manners – I did! Honestly I did! His manners have improved and I have learnt to be one step ahead of him, almost knowing what his next move will be when I spot a rabbit ten paces ahead or hear the cluck of a pheasant in the distance. Yes he is gone…. I could have a whole cooked chicken in my pocket but that “value” treat will not stop my errant terrier on a mission!

Life would be extremely dull without him now and I cannot imagine our family with no Harley. I totally understand that dog/human bond and how bereft an owner feels when they are sadly taken from us through illness, accident or old age. I hope that day is many, many years away and I imagine I will have many “tails” to tell about my life with Harley. I look forward to thousands of miles of dog walks and being his companion.