Thursday, January 9, 2014

If I buy or lease a pony for my child, what will our time commitment look like?

So I'm kind of excited that a total stranger found my blog and asked me to give her the low down on what a week of my life as a horse mom really looks like.  I'm happy to share but caution you not to be scared off by what I tell you.  I've just been proof reading this post and warn you that it's seriously boring.  This one lacks entertainment value.  However, I think it's a pretty full and honest account of what I do as a horse mom.

The degree of insanity is, to some extent, up to you and to another extent dependent upon which discipline your child rides in and the culture of the barn she rides at.  But I will say that having a pony can give any other sport on the planet a run for its money in time and financial commitment as well as required parental involvement.  Downhill ski racing kind of comes close as does ice skating but when skiers and skaters are done they don't need to spend an extra hour caring for the animal that enabled their competition.  If their equipment gets damaged, they can buy new skis.  Not so with a pony.  Just saying.

A major factor in the amount of time I spend engaged in Elizabeth's pony activities is that she is too young to be dropped off at the barn on her own.  Sometimes I leave her there for a couple of hours to clean tack but for the most part if she's there, I'm there.  She will be so happy when she's old enough to hang out at the barn on her own and she can spend every day all summer long with her pony.  I suppose it's also fair to say I love being Elizabeth's horse mom and I like taking care of Pumba so if you really aren't into horses yourself, I'm guessing there is some lower maintenance way to go about all of this.  It may not give your child the depth and breadth of experience Elizabeth is having but that might be OK.

This time of year, being a horse mom in New England is kind of miserable.  My daughter only rides 4 days a week in the winter but most of those days I sit watching bundled in in ski pants, a down coat, mittens with hand warmers and a ridiculous but warm rabbit fur hat.  Sometimes I ride at the same time she rides which is definitely better.  Elizabeth has 2 one hour lessons per week and we have her trainer ride her pony one day per week so he works 5 days per week.  We ski with our family every weekend of the winter so this is a nice time of year in the sense that riding takes a bit of a back seat in our lives.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I pick Elizabeth up from school at 2:30.  Wednesday and Friday she has a lesson from 3:30 - 4:30.  They usually alternate between jumping and flat lessons and this time of year they focus on correcting problems by doing drills and exercises targeted to help both Pumba and Elizabeth fix whatever isn't working.  The other days she rides on her own or with a friend, often reinforcing what she does in her lessons.  Sometimes I set up jumps for her on non-lesson days but we do less of that in the winter.  Once in awhile we go for a walk through the woods and fields.  Riding in the indoor for months on end gets pretty monotonous.  We usually get home around 5:00.  We go away for Christmas and February break and have other people ride the pony or give him time off.  Going directly from school is the only way I can make this work.  Elizabeth has two older brothers.  I am very fortunate that they are independent, do their sports at school and have other means of getting home.  After I get home from the barn I am often back on the road taking them to karate, attending track meets and of course cooking dinner.  But I'm grateful that I have found a way to support Elizabeth while still taking care of my boys.

Winter grooming is pretty low maintenance since you can't bathe your horse.  We clipped Pumba in
October, shaving his entire body, which took me a few hours one day while Elizabeth was at school.  It took longer because I clipped a fun design onto his butt.  His coat has now fully grown back in and we just keep his chest and belly shaved during the coldest months.  We do this so that he doesn't sweat during a workout.  If Elizabeth finishes riding and he's wet and sweaty, it can take a very long time to cool him down and dry him off.  He needs to be completely dry before we blanket him for the night.  We keep a close eye on the weather and change his blankets or call the barn and ask someone to do it accordingly.  Sometimes he needs to be changed multiple times a day.  Keeping him clipped helps reduce the amount of
cooling down time needed.  I'll likely clip him more fully again in late February just before he starts to shed out his winter coat as the weather gets a little warmer.  We let his mane go a little raggedy in the winter but I do spend 30 minutes pulling it every few weeks just to keep it manageable.  You can also "roach" the mane which means to just clip it off.  If you do it early enough in the winter it will grow back in time for braiding during show season.

Pony Club is also a little quieter this time of year.  I have one parent's meeting a month in the evening.  Elizabeth has 2 unmounted meetings per month which I attend with her and where she learns about tack, horse health, safety, vet care and other horse management topics.  There are a few bigger events as well but generally a much lighter load than in the good weather.  Meetings run about 2 hours and the bigger events, being further away, take up the better part of a weekend day.

Whatever the time of year, a pony still needs visits from the farrier.  Our pony is shod every 6 weeks.  I don't have to be there but I do have to remember to leave money for the farrier and to organize lessons around his visits.  I do like to be there when our vet comes.  She generally comes out to give spring and fall shots.  Once in awhile something goes wrong and you need to bring the vet out.  We saw too much of our vet over the summer when we were borrowing the world's greatest pony from a friend.  She had some eye problems and they never resolved so we ended up sending her back to our friends' barn where they cared for her. Our vet also comes out if we are doing some type of joint treatment.  Many if not most eventing (and for that matter any other discipline) horses get some type of anti-inflammatory, joint injection or other treatment for stiffness or soreness.  The treatments range from IM injections of Adequan - which I now do myself - to IV injections of Legend or Polyglycan - which I have the vet come do - to more major procedures such as having hocks injected or blistering stifles.  (Did you read that and think what the heck does any of that mean?  Don't worry about it.  Hopefully you won't need to know any time soon and then suddenly you'll know more than you want to!) The costs and efficacy also vary but what you need to know is that active horses get sore.  Sore horses don't perform well and aren't happy.  We ask so much of our equine partners I'm pretty liberal with veterinary care to keep ours comfortable.  Of course there are a thousand other reasons for the vet to come out so make sure you maintain a good relationship with yours.

Sometime in March the ground will thaw and we will again be able to ride outside for more than just a hack in the snow.  We stop skiing and focus on riding by mid-March.  At that point, Elizabeth rides 6 days a week.  Our plan this season is for her to stick with 2 lessons per week.  As the season progresses the lessons start to focus on whatever Elizabeth has coming up the following weekend.  Shows start in April and she will likely have either a show, pony club mounted meeting, pony club rally or an outing to go XC schooling somewhere every weekend from April through October.  She competes in both dressage shows and eventing 2 and 3 phase shows and so far all have been schooling shows though one of her goals for the end of this season is to go to a rated show.  After a big outing or show the pony always gets a day off.  In August her pony club hosts a camp at a nearby barn and she rides twice a day with different instructors.  We plan to bring the pony with us to Maine for vacation weeks this summer.  We have a house there and found a barn nearby where we can rent short term stall space.

During a typical week in the show season I will pick Elizabeth up from school everyday at 2:30.  She will ride on her own or in a lesson.  If she has a show or pony club rally (I'll explain in my pony club post) we will stay at the barn late the night before to bathe the pony, clean tack, prepare the trailer.  I braid her pony for her but soon she will learn to do it herself because it takes me 1 - 2 hours, I get faster as the season progresses.  If she just has a pony club meeting or is going schooling we don't have as much prep work.  Once we get to the summer, Elizabeth likes to wash her pony pretty often, at least once or twice a week.  We hose him off after every ride in the good weather and let him graze while he dries.

On show days we get to the barn at least an hour before we need to depart.  I hook up the trailer while Elizabeth gets her pony from his paddock.  We check him over to make sure he didn't roll and get filthy or lose a braid.  We usually have a plan so if her first event is at 10am we want to be at the show before 9am to park, unload, check in, change, warm up.  Our shows are usually pretty close by and I always leave a significant time cushion so for a 10am start 20 minutes from our barn we will leave our barn around 8am.  A show day starts early and ends late.  That's all there is to it.  But at least we are usually home for dinner.  When competing in eventing and dressage, riders are given a time slot for each phase or test so you have a pretty good idea how long your day will be before you get started.  Hunter shows are more like swim meets making for a really long day with classes sprinkled throughout the day.  A pony club rally starts even earlier and ends much later.  We only rallied once last year but I don't think we got home until after 10pm.  In addition, rallies usually warrant a separate rally prep meeting so the kids can work with their rally team to make sure they have everything they will need on rally day.

Pony club mounted meetings are the best!  These, along with pony club camp, are Elizabeth's favorite.  She gets to ride in a relaxed atmosphere with all her friends.  I get to hang with the other moms and total time in for a mounted meeting is really only about 3 - 4 hours with trailering and everything.  Camp was a big time commitment but so worth it.  Monday morning of camp week we trailer over with everything Elizabeth owns and set up her stable for the week.  Parents take 2 - 3 half day chaperone shifts during the week.  We took a turn feeding one morning because Elizabeth really wanted to do it so that day we arrived at 7am.  After feeding all the horses Elizabeth took care of her own pony and tack.  The kids all participate in a Wednesday night jumper show the week of camp so that day we are there late.  Friday afternoon is all about packing up and returning to our home barn, unpacking and going home exhausted.  This year I'm in charge of camp so I'll be spending even more time there which is fine with me!

Our pony club does a fundraiser in the summer.  We run a concession stand during the Wednesday night jumper shows at the barn that hosts our camp.  Every family is responsible for 4 three hour shifts during the season and the pony clubber is expected to work as well as their parent.

Pony Club ratings are a big deal and take serious preparation.  For the most part they are a test of the things you should be doing every day, a rider should not be rating above their everyday activity level.  However, there is still a good deal of time spent preparing for both the horse management and riding sections, cleaning tack, calming nerves.  A pony clubber won't necessarily do a rating every year.  Elizabeth did 2 last year and hopes to be ready to do another in the fall.  We organize study groups and focus some lessons on the standards.

Last summer we engaged in 2 pony hunts so that was a MAJOR time suck.  Now that we are settled in with a great pony, things are very manageable.  If your pony gets injured, all bets are off.  There may be no riding, there may be visits from the vet or trailer trips to an equine vet clinic.  There may be a search for a short term lease to get your rider through their season if they have become very competitive.  It's difficult to predict life with horses.

I think that's it!  I suppose there are other things like a million trips to the tack shop trying different blankets and saddles until you find the right one, buying new show clothes every season and just checking out what's new because it's super fun and we love the people who work there!  We spend time at home reading about riding and Elizabeth puts a ton of time into studying her pony club horse management.  In all honesty the pony has come to dominate my life as well as my daughter's but I've never been happier.  We have so much fun doing this together.  Instead of going through adolescent mother-daughter angst, we are a team.  I'm right next to her to share in the highs and lows (there are plenty of both).  I am so lucky to be doing this with my daughter and even more blessed with all the friends we have made at our barn and in our pony club.  I wouldn't trade this for anything.

So, in a nutshell, we spend about 10 hours a week riding in the winter (including driving to and from the barn) in addition to a variety of minor maintenance and grooming activities.  Late March through mid-November we spend closer to 15 on just riding and probably another 5-10 hours a week on prep and outings.  So, this is my job.  In fact, I quit my job as a pattern maker - my dream job I might add - in order to be able to support Elizabeth's interest in horses.  It was a tough decision but one I would make again.

I hope this helps.  If you had 10 other horse moms tell you about their weeks you would get 10 different answers.  Some kids go to schools with equestrian sports so that's often much simpler.  Some barns don't mind you dropping off kids younger than 14 - though I do think there is often an insurance issue.  I know many kids who had to wait to get their first horse until they were old enough to be at the barn alone.  If your child is interested in horses and you are willing to give it a go, you will find the right approach and balance for your family's life.

Best of luck!


  1. Wow I wish I were your daughter! Sounds like she has a very supportive family, and a solid financial cushion for equestrian sports.

  2. Haleigh I have already called dibs on coming back in my next life as my daughter. Her life is pretty great. But I'm also pretty lucky to have her and blessed that we share this passion. Thanks for reading!

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