Thursday, January 29, 2015

Equestrian Dads: How to manage non-horsey family members!

First of all, let me say that I am aware there are fathers and sons who participate in equestrian sport and I am envious of those families.  However, the overwhelming majority of us are more familiar with the mom and daughter scenario so that is the one I will address.

I myself have a husband and two sons who DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN EQUESTRIAN SPORTS.  I actually cannot emphasize that enough.  I require them to attend one show per season and I try to make it a show that is close by and exciting, usually a full event with some cross country jumping to watch.  This past summer I also made all of them volunteer at the horse trials our barn hosts which did not turn out to be a total disaster though my track running son sprained his ankle and blew much of his season!  Likewise, Elizabeth and I attend at least one Cross Country meet or track meet per boy per season.  Everyone seems pretty content with this arrangement.

In the typical situation such as ours, one must always be thinking about maintaining the balance and familial support for a sport that seriously skews allocation of resources.  My daughter's sport - eventing - takes a huge chunk out of both our family financial resources and my time since I am her groom, Pony Club sponsor and horse taxi driver.  While I drop my sons off for karate and they participate in sports at school, I take Elizabeth to the barn 6 days a week and sit there while she does her thing.  Eventually, and quite soon really, she will be old enough to drop off at the barn but the distance means there is little point in trying to go home and come back again.  Most weekend days we are out doing something with Pony club or off at a show so the boys are on their own and my husband drives them around, cooks, grocery shops, does a terrible job with my laundry.  And the cost of horses, board, shoes (horse shoes, known around the barn as Jimmy Choos because wishful thinking isn't a crime), saddles and lessons means I can never buy enough running or karate gear to make everyone even so I just let the boys have a blank check for running gear.  How much could it possibly be?

I work hard to keep up with Elizabeth's horse needs and to not absolutely neglect my boys and husband.  We have actually set up a routine that works really well for us.  Through all of it though, I never lose sight of what a key member of the team my husband is, even if he is an absent member to a great extent.  The reality is that I don't work, my husband hates horses, and he is paying enormous sums of money to support our daughter's passion.  My husband is successful but not so much so that we don't feel the pain of the expense of owning a horse.  We have to make other sacrifices in our lives in order to provide this opportunity for our daughter.  We are happy to make those choices.  In our case they aren't that terrible - we don't take big vacations, the kids don't go to private high school (they did go to private middle school), and we won't be redoing our kitchen or bathrooms.

So when I think about the horse Dads and how to get them to jump down the rabbit hole and then persuade them to continue throwing money into what is clearly a bottomless pit, these are the things that seem to keep my husband on board:

1) Our daughter never has a day she doesn't want to go to the barn.  She never complains about needing to go ride or lunge her horse, even when it is 20 degrees or when it is cold and raining or so hot she feels like she's melting.  How can you say no to a kid who wants to go get dirty and work hard no matter how unpleasant the day may be?

2) Horses are clearly Elizabeth's passion.  Our daughter works hard.  When it comes to the horse and Pony Club she is focused, determined, and tireless.  If she isn't riding she's cleaning tack or studying for Quiz Rally (see past post on Pony Club) or her next Pony Club rating.  How great to find your passion and have the ability to pursue it at such a young age!  

3) Horses don't engage in social drama.  Middle school is awful.  Our daughter transitioned from private elementary school to public middle school.  She got her first pony just before the transition and it saved her from extreme heart ache.  Everyday I pick her up from school to head to the barn.  Some days at school are ok and some are awful.  That's the scale.  So we head to the barn, she does her thing, and presto, happy adolescent child.  Any amount of money is worth it if gets her through middle school unscathed.

4) There are no boys at the barn.  Maybe there's a boy sometimes but it's not the same thing.  Having a horse puts off boys.  It puts off many social aspects of adolescence.  It takes a ton of time to be a responsible equestrian.  We spend Friday nights cleaning tack and braiding before a show.  No time for boys and parties.

5) The average horse girl is a better friend option than other average adolescents.  Elizabeth only cares about horses so she is happiest hanging out with her Pony Club friends who also care about horses.  And guess what?  Those girls also have no interest in boys and are too busy to go to parties on weekends.  Love the horse girls!!  And we love their parents because most of them are just great people who love their kids and work really hard to support them in their equine passion.

6) My adolescent daughter and I have become best friends.  This is something my husband was really worried about a few years ago.  He and our daughter have always had a special bond but we all know how awful girls can be to their mothers.  Now Elizabeth needs me.  Not only do I drive her to the barn every day.  I sit through every lesson.  I go to every show.  I help her make decisions about the care of her horse.  I helped her find the horse and convinced her father to buy it.  I am as interested in her horse and her achievements in Pony Club as she is.  Her school friends don't really get it so I'm the one she can talk to about all of it and I'm genuinely interested.  Once in awhile when I can scrounge up a horse for myself we go out for a hack together.  These are the best times of my life.  I love sharing this with Elizabeth and she welcomes having me along for the ride.

7) So this on isn't a reason to support our daughter having a horse but it's an important note to mom's working to keep the peace in a mostly non-horse household.  We never complain to Dad.  We also try - but we need to do better - to never be mean to Dad.  Elizabeth can get very stressed out and tired at times.  There are a thousand lessons she is learning from riding her horse, eventing and Pony Club and some of them come with anxiety and fatigue.  But we NEVER take it out on Dad.  His tolerance for his daughter being rude to him when he pays for her horse is very low.  So I take the brunt of it.  I get it.  I am there every step so I usually understand when she's lashing out because it's safe to attack me.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't put up with much and I put her right back in her place but I'm very careful to take note of her moods and head off any conflict before it reaches her father.  He would be only too glad to have an excuse to pull the plug.

8) I don't think I was dishonest with my husband when I dragged him into this whole thing but I wasn't entirely forthright either.  As we have progressed, things have gotten more expensive, complicated and time consuming.  I got him into it incrementally.  He was fine with my original budget and it has gone up slowly, so he hasn't noticed too much.  Although, just yesterday he told me he knew what I was spending.  His number was closer than I thought it would be though it was still pretty far off the real number.  There's a page in the Pony Club record book where the kids keep track of all their expenses - board, shoes, tack, training, shows, etc. - and they tally it up before a rating.  Dad is never allowed to see that page.  I try to keep the spending in check and I honestly think he'd rather not know the truth.

9) I know I could not do this for my daughter if my husband and my sons weren't super awesome, tolerant and independent.  I believe I taught them some of these qualities but still, I'm grateful that none of them happen to have activities which require more than I can give while supporting Elizabeth.

At the end of the day what my husband sees is that his daughter has passion, commitment, she works hard, has overcome fear, improves her abilities through practice and effort, has made friendships we as parents can embrace.  These are all amazing things.  And horses, the amazing creatures that they are, give us all of them.


  1. You are me in a few years I think. Except I have two horse crazy daughters! I do hope it will keep them out of the way of bad influences and trouble as they get older, plus I already see how much more confident they are as they gain new skills and get to know and understand these amazing animals.

  2. It sounds like your daughter has all the tools she needs to be successful! One of the most important things you're giving her now isn't just the riding boots, but also the support. Spending all that time with her at the barn can't be easy, but it's exactly what she needs. Good luck with everything! |

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  4. Hi Kristie, I really enjoyed reading this! I have sent you a private message :)

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    1. Typos it goes again....

  6. We just entered the horse world at a high level barn. It is a huge financial commitment. Sometimes my husband flips out, sometimes I flip out. We are both frugal and have no debt. This is the wildest expenditure we have ever made. We figured the costs will range anywhere from 12K to 15K a month, depending on how much she shows. Methinks we are crazy. However, riding has taught her how to handle failure and rise from that, how to handle her perfection problem and how to manage her stress. She has a big warm animal to hug and love during a time that can involve an incredible amount of serious teen hormonal flux. The school she attends is acutely stressful (i had no idea how bad). This past week an absolutely brilliant boy committed suicide at her school. I’ve cried every day over that beautiful young man. Frugal as I am, I’ll pay for the horse. Riding teaches you how to manage the waves of dark and light emotions, to enjoy the outside, to behold nature, to walk on dirt, to love and attach to something outside of yourself, and perhaps, just perhaps, to be a little closer to a creative, kind and benevolent God.