On the Right Track to Balancing Super Stardom with Motherhood

I imagine this post will likely go right up there with being of interest to only a very small percentage of the people who read this blog but I’d like to at least ask the moms in the crowd to hang back (after the stampede.) To everyone who loves horses, an important event occurred last week that had the Twitter-Facebook sphere “awwwwing” with even more frequency than usual.

And that was: Zenyatta had her baby.

Now, if you don’t know who Zenyatta is, that’s cool. And not everyone who wasn’t living in a cave or under a rock would know who she is. Zenyatta is an ex-racehorse considered by many experts to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse in history. Okay, so now aren’t you embarrassed that you haven’t heard of her? That statement would’ve been a tad more emphatic if she had won her last race—the only one in her entire history of racing BTW that she lost (she came in a very close second, so “lost” doesn’t really seem a totally fair assessment.) Anyway, she is, without argument from anyone, the all-time North American female money-earner. Like, ever. Okay, so granted she’s amazing.

She is also jaw-dropping beautiful. And monster-big, for a mare.

She’s also sweet. To say that about a racehorse is kind of a big deal. She is—get this—affectionate. She totally knows she’s the star of the show and she used to do a daft little dance before her races for the amusement and general delight of the equine media who, of course, adored her.

She retired at six years old after her last race—the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which she’d won before (the only female to do so)—and was paired up with a stud named Bernardini. (Her jockey was quoted on Sixty Minutes as saying that no stallion was worthy of her.)

In any event, on March 8, her bouncing baby colt—all 130 pounds of him—was born, a dark bay with a white star and polka dot markings on his feet just like his Mom. And the equine world rejoiced!

I think the thing that prompted me to do a post on Zenyatta was this little video clip that I saw of her loving on her new foal. While everyone always talked about how friendly and sweet she was, it still touched me to see her with her colt. She literally keeps the little fellow within kissing distance nearly all the time (not easy to do as you’ll see in the clip.)

As a mother myself, there was just something exquisite about seeing this amazing super-creature delight in motherhood to the extent she clearly does.

So that’s it! A little corny, I know but what with these impending empty nest blues I’m wrangling with, it doesn’t take much to get me all emotional about the parent-child bond! Just had to share.

20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being A Mom

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through a science magazine and came across the news that scabbing on a wound is now considered counterproductive to the wound healing quickly and with minimal scarring. I don’t know why the article surprised me. As an equestrienne, I’d been peeling scabs off my horse’s various cuts and scratches for years. The real surprise was that I hadn’t wondered, if it was de rigeur to do it for horses, why people didn’t do it too? My husband looked at the article, shrugged and said: “Kids always rip their scabs off.”

All of which triggered a burgeoning notion that being a Horse-Mom first before becoming a real one had prepared me for the job in many exceptional ways. Here are some of the things that owning a horse taught me about being a mother:

1. The Discipline Thing. This is a major issue in most relationship where you are outweighed by your charge by some 1700 pounds. If you can handle a truculent 1,800 pound four-hoofed, jerk-on-wheels (we all have our days), you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to handling a child of your own under the age of three. Except for the occasional sharp smack on the neck to get Sparky’s attention, the disciplining is amazingly similar: You set boundaries, you make the boundaries clearly understandable, you respond to infractions of said boundaries with immediacy, love, firmness and consistency. And a good thirty percent of the time your horse and/or child will behave accordingly next time.

2. The Ability to See Past the Discomfort of the Moment. It’s the memory of uncomfortable equine incidents, like walking in mud and rain, cold and dark, looking for my horse out in some hilly, hole-infested pasture that later helped prepare me to weather a tantrum, clean up a seemingly impossible mess, or endure the constant sleep interruptions from an over-stimulated child. You’ll find you’re better able to deal with the unpleasantness if you can envision the coming, happier time: the tidy room, the tear-streaked but calm face, the peacefully sleeping child.

3. Sweets Make A Great Reward. And you still don’t want them to have too many.

4. Patience, Patience, Patience.

5. Expect the Best and You’ll Get It. Expect the worst and ditto.

6. It’s Only Poop.

7. Take Your Time. Unless you have servants to do it for you, getting ready to ride takes a good deal of preparation. One of the first things most equestriennes learn is to slow down and—since you have to do the job right (or, like checking your instruments before a flight, you may live (or not) to regret it)—you might as well enjoy the process. I have spent many happy hours grooming my mare, cleaning my saddle and other tack, watching the mice scurry out of the feed room, and listening to the other horses in the stalls nicker and murmur to each other; enough to know that riding horses is only a part of enjoying them. In many ways, this is one of the most important lessons my horse taught me about mothering. Forcing myself to slow down and listen carefully to my son’s report on his morning at Sunday School, or really involving myself in a game of hide-and-seek with him, allows me to enjoy him more deeply than I would the paltry satisfaction of ticking items off a list or finishing another task.

8. Second Sight. I am not talking visions here. I’m talking about sensing danger before it’s present. Because of a horse’s skittish nature, it’s always wise to keep your wits about you and see—before your horse does—anything that might cause a problem. That red jacket hanging over there on the fence? Steer clear or prepare yourself. Rocket might just rearrange the order of your spinal column if he sees it and decides that, today, it’s a threat to him. With horses, you always need to be one step ahead. Same with kids. The habit of looking down the road while at the same time looking at what’s right in front of me has helped me keep my child from walking into eye-level sharp objects, swinging car doors, too-steep stairs, off the edge of decks and any number of what-are-the-odds-he’d-get-into-that? kinds of dangerous situations. Developing eyes in the back of your head is a skill you hone with time. Taking care of a horse who saw bogeymen behind every tractor, rock and bush—helps.

9. Don’t Play in Traffic. Enough Said.

10. Endurance. I don’t mean the kind of endurance that has you switching horses on a mountain trail at 45-miles an hour, with your crash helmet caked in muck from the last hell-bent hour of your 20-hour ride. I mean a smaller kind of exhaustion that can overwhelm your determination not to quit. For example: I don’t care how tired you are from a long trail ride when the weather turned nasty and RockStar took that spill that left him shaky but YOU with a twisted ankle and now it’s so dark you can barely see the rider in front of you. When you finally make it back to the barn you still need to untack him, check him out for any boo-boos, clean him, dry him, feed him and tuck him in for the night before you can even think of icing that ankle, stripping off your muddy clothes and collapsing into a hot bath with a stiff one. I once broke my arm jumping a coop in a field and waited while kind friends fed my horse and turned him out to pasture before driving me to the nearest medical facility. (Being in shock helped.) As a result, you’ll find that years later, you’re wonderfully prepared for the moment—at four in the morning Christmas Day—when you still haven’t figured out how the damn dollhouse goes together. Or when you know you’ll end up screaming like a mental patient if you have to read the “Cat in the Hat” one more time, and then you read it a few hundred more times without any loss of inflection or drama when “Thing One” and “Thing Two” show up.

The Final Ten Things My Horse Taught Me About Mothering will continue next Friday! I’d love to hear from you—is there a hobby you had before you became a mother that you think made you a better mother? I’d love to hear about it!