Business, Babies, and the Battle to Get “Back”
I sat down at my computer, prepared to write about life as a trainer with an infant. And as I thought about the hundreds of things I have learned since our daughter’s birth on October 3, I realized that I still don’t really know anything and I am just living day by day while we try to figure this all out! What I think about mostly, as I split my time nowadays between the house and the ring, is who I am and how to find the balance between this new identity as a mother and my lifetime identity as a horse person.
At 33 years old, I feel like I’ve “raised” a lot of children. In fact, I, myself was raised in the barn by my childhood trainer so it has always come seemingly naturally to play the role of parent to the students coming in and out of the barn doors through the years. And as I found my business taking shape, I began to realize that the kids were my bread and butter and that my stalls quickly became filled with first ponies and perfect children’s hunters stepping down from bigger jobs that rarely required a professional ride. This was both a blessing and a curse, as I went from riding as many horses a day as the daylight would allow me to finding myself teaching lessons every day but only riding couple of times a week, a big change from my junior years and never really what I envisioned when I decided to become a professional.
As much as I loved the business I had made for myself in Charlotte, part of the draw to partner with my now husband Nick was the opportunity to scale down the teaching and ride more. Finally, last fall, I found myself in that place. We had boarders with several nice horses that I was riding daily, I had gotten back into the show ring on customer horses as well as having a few catch riding opportunities coming my way. I was as close to “back” as I had ever felt, yet I felt a hole where my Charlotte kids had been. Although I always wanted children, there had never been a right time. As all of life’s other pieces had come together, this was the moment that I recognized that there had to be some way to fit a child of our own into this crazy horse business. The thought of this life change terrified me.
Fast forward to February of 2021, I found out I was pregnant and days later drove to Aiken to show at Bruce’s Field. Feeling seemingly normal, I barely had time to process the news that I had just shared with Nick. I drank sparkling water out of plastic wine glasses with unassuming clients, took naps in my car when I could sneak away, and then jumped around 3 classes on Friday before retreating to the hotel. I spent the rest of the weekend at the Marriott, unable to get out of bed.
That horse show in February 2021 was the last time I sat on a horse until October. Two weeks after our daughter Sutton was born, I ecstatically pulled my breeches on. Never mind the long shirt I had to wear to cover the fact that the zipper and button didn’t quite get fastened, I made the boots zip up and quite literally crawled into the saddle for 10 minutes of trotting and 1.5 laps of canter just to prove to myself that I could still do it. I even posted a video on social media in all of my glory, so proud that I had made it back on, and told my husband that I was going to do it again the next day. Insert the laughing face emoji here…. three weeks went by before I was able to crawl back into the tack again.
Now it’s January of 2022, I’ve ridden maybe 10 times. I’ve jumped two or three courses. I’ve chipped and pulled and missed and kicked and done all of the things that I stand on the ground and tell our clients not to do. I’m as far from “back” as I have ever been in my life. It is HARD! Not to mention the pieces that have to come together with childcare and scheduling to even get out of the front door. I’ve made it to two horse shows with the help of some wonderful client/parents and our newly purchased camper, which has allowed us to keep the baby alive and also be present at the horse show (a must have for horse showing with an infant.) Our friends and colleagues marvel at how we are doing all the things, but mostly I feel like we are still struggling to find a balance.
Now, I run from ring to ring with the stroller and the diaper bag. I stand on the hill and watch as Nick sets jumps in the schooling area and I feed bottles while he does night check. It’s a far cry from the shared training duties that we used to have.
As a business owner, my fear is always letting things slip through the cracks, or having the clients or horses feel neglected in some way as we tend to the needs of this baby or even ourselves. When Sutton was born, a wonderful trainer colleague and friend said to Nick, “she is your most important client now.” This resonated on so many levels. What I have come to recognize in the last few months is that the work-life balance is surrounding yourselves with people who understand that there has to be one. People who don’t expect you to be in the barn every hour of every day, and who understand when you have to cancel or move things around. This reminds me that I don’t have to get back in the saddle tomorrow and go find 8 jumps at 3’6” perfectly and that it’s ok to wimp out of riding on a cold, windy day. Horses will always be there and I can always “get back” to where I want to be, even if that goal is ever-
So at this point, if you’re like me, a new mom trying to find your way back to where you were 12 months ago, or even a professional who hasn’t quite found themselves “back” where they were at 18 years old, trying to come back from an injury, a fall, a hiatus…whatever! Just give yourself a little grace! Life is a balancing act and priorities are ever-changing. Yet still, we find ourselves with a barn that is full of wonderful people and more lovely horses to ride than ever as we figure out our new life as the Stewart’s, Party of 3!