Juggling Babies and Horses

I’ve survived my first winter juggling horses and babies, and it is possible! So I thought I’d share a few hints and tips for anyone about to undergo this challenge.

I have two major tips.

Firstly, get a baby carrier. We started with the Baby Bjorn and now have a Little Life on loan. It makes things so easy, plus lugging a toddler round burns off some serious calories! With them in a carrier you can catch or turn out, groom the body (nothing below the elbow else you risk toppling over), feed, muck out, poo pick, lunge. Rugs are tricky though. This means that when they’re clingy or the pushchair isn’t cutting it, you can still do a few chores. And get some you time. This is often how I get her to sleep too, so it’s a useful strategy to have.

Secondly, get a great support team! I honestly feel so lucky with who I have supporting me. The girls on my yard are very good at keeping an eye on the pushchair for me whilst I turn out, or muck out, so that she’s never unattended. If I’m riding in the school and she’s fussing, someone usually comes along to borrow her, and entertains her on the yard watching the farrier, watching the guinea fowl or stroking the dogs. Plus I’m always having much appreciated offers to babysit so I can hack. The other week we had a bad night, just falling asleep as my alarm was about to go. After cancelling my alarm, I sent a message to the yard Facebook group pleading for someone to turn out for me, and instantly I had messages of “of course, now get some rest” which I was very grateful for.

Then of course is my chauffeur slash babysitter, who manages to multitask (he is a man, remember!) and looks after her, whilst mucking out for me! I’m so lucky! It does mean less video footage of lessons, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice.

In terms of managing chores and routine, sharing catch and turn out duties with a friend makes life so much simpler. I usually do the mornings because evenings are a race against the clock to get home for tea.

I’ve used wood pellets for bedding, as I’ve used previously for Otis and Matt, which means that if we’re having a bad day, or a clingy one, I can skip out. Then on a child free day, I can put in the new bedding and do a thorough job. Phoenix is very clean, which means her bed is dustier than I’d like, and she’d probably be better suited to shavings. But as I never muck out with her in there I’m not too worried.

A hay bar means it’s quick and easy to give her forage – again helpful on those clingy mornings. Mixing dinner and breakfast and leaving them in her stable and ready for the morning round respectively, and having one feed of fibre and balancer means less faffing with measurements.

I think it’s also important to have a flexible routine. Plan when you hack, because that requires childcare, but if you’re planning to ride and baby isn’t playing ball, don’t beat yourself up that you haven’t ridden, just lunge. Or if you suddenly have some time to yourself, jump on board. Even if today was supposed to be a non riding day. Or if you’re having a bad day and the baby’s tired, jump in the car, do a bit of rocking in the pushchair at the yard, and use this nap time to ride. I still feel very smug if I’ve managed to time my ride to coincide with a nap. It’s a longer, more peaceful schooling session and I feel like I’ve had a break. And if you haven’t managed any saddle time this week, guilt trip the other parent into babysitting.

A few times over the winter I got up at 5am and went to ride under the lights. In the summer I’m hoping to squeeze in an evening ride or two in the week. This is only really an option with a yard that’s nice and close to home so you don’t waste precious baby free time in the car.

I also take a few snacks and toys to the yard, after all you know what a time warp yards can be. And you don’t want your chat, or ride, cut short because of hunger or boredom!

Yes, horses and babies can both be done, but be prepared to relax your mucking out standards, bend your routine, and get yourself some amazing, supportive friends!

The Two Legged Project Arrives

Many of you readers will know that we’ve been eagerly/impatiently/nervously awaiting the arrival of our baby.

When the Beast from the East hit the UK at the beginning of March I was put under house arrest … just in case. But we crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t have a middle of the night rush to hospital in all the snow.

We didn’t. And I filled my time writing blog posts and scheduling them over the next couple of weeks.

Six days after the due date, with us both getting increasingly impatient, we welcomed the arrival of our little girl, Mallory Jill, who bounced into the world at 6.29am on Sunday 11th March.

It’s safe to say that I had my comeuppance for having the world’s most straightforward pregnancy with a long and painful labour. But everyone likes a good story don’t they! I won’t divulge the details for those of you of a sensitive nature.

Anyway, we’ve definitely got our hands full, as Mallory is already very alert, very hungry and not very sleepy!

I will be off work for a few weeks, so may well be lacking in blog inspiration, let alone time to write, as we find our feet as parents, so I’m afraid readers, the Rubber Curry Comb will be a bit quiet over the next few weeks. But don’t worry, there will be a Phoenix update when the saddler has been and I’ve ridden her! And of course some photos of when we introduce the horses to little Mallory.

2017 in Review

Happy New Year Followers!

Yes I know, I’m a bit late, but we’ve had visitors today (well, my parents to utilise their carpet laying skills in the nursery) so you can read my review of 2017 and my plans for 2018.

At the beginning of 2017 I was still hoping for Otis’s recovery, and planning my Intermediate Teaching Test in the interim. Work and daily life were pretty stable and predictable. We had some DIY plans in the pipeline for the house, having just decorated the hallway and landing.

I guess the first big event of 2017 was the BRC Dressage Championships in April. Matt went back to Mum in January, and when my entry was sent off in February I was in half a mind as to whether I bothered going or not. It seemed like a lot of effort to move him back to Reading for three weeks in March and then travel two hours to the Champs. But I’m very glad I did. It was morale building, given that Otis was still not very right, and gave me a focus. As well as making my Mum very proud, watching us ride our dressage test, winning our class and doing the lap of honour. And then finding out later that day that we were the overall winners! Unfortunately I need to organise getting the silver plate engraved and returning it in the next few weeks.

Next up, I think, it was some DIY. Well, new windows for the front of the house – the old windows were over thirty years old! – and rebuilding the front garden wall. Then a bit later in the year we painted the garage door and redecorated the living room. Now we just need to save up to redo the kitchen and dining room, which is going to be a big job if we knock through … I think this will be an early 2019 project though.

In June I successfully took my ITT exam, which was a big tick off my list and hopefully will stand me in good stead for more riding club and pony club work. I’ve looked at the next BHS exams, but as they’ve recently changed the system and renamed the levels of instructor, I think I’m better off leaving the exam until it’s all settled down and the syllabus is clear, and there have been a few guinea pigs to iron out the creases. On this note I should now be identifying myself as a BHS Stage 4 Senior Coach instead of an II. However, this new name means very little to the majority of horse owners at the moment so I’ll keep going with the II label for a bit longer.

From here, 2017 took a bit of a turn and we started our rollercoaster. Firstly, there was the life changing news that we are expecting a baby. Crazy I know. We are adult and responsible enough to be in charge of another life. Look after them, keep them safe, and teach them the way of the world and most importantly, to be a nice person.

Since that news broke we’ve obviously had to change our plans for the future and make changes, like changing my daily workload, baby proofing the house, and buying the multitude of things that a baby needs. Obviously a goal for 2018, or several goals, is to pull off this baby-raising thing.

Then of course, was the fact that Otis is very unlikely to come sound, which is gutting to me. One of my favourite films of all time is the Sound of Music and one of the lines in it is “when the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”. You don’t need to be religious to realise that the meaning of this saying to understand that even when things seem like they’ve all gone wrong, something good usually comes from it in the most surprising way. For me, it was buying Phoenix last month. I hadn’t quite realised how down I was not having my own horse to ride and, we’ll just be me with. Yeah sure, having more free time on the weekends has been useful with baby preparations, but I was definitely in a bit of a hole. So yes, I wasn’t ready to stop my journey with Otis, but now I’ve got something to look forward to, a friend to plan adventures with, and also to get my own downtime.

I’ve got plans for Phoenix. With the baby on it’s way I don’t want serious time frames in my plans, but I’m aiming to be riding again in April and over the summer would like to start doing dressage comps – mainly prelim to begin with but we will see how she takes to it and the important thing is that shows are a positive experience for her. Then I want to take her to some jumping clinics and give her experience in that area. The extent to what we do will of course be dependent on all the other factors in life, but those are my general aims. I think that is enough of a resolution in the equine department for this year.

The downs of 2017 have been Matt fracturing his stifle and having months of box rest and rehab, but hopefully he can restart his working life.

Then was the sudden loss of our lovely Willow cat, who we still miss hugely, but the window that opened for us was adopting Grizabella, who is a totally different character and it’s lovely seeing her playing with Penny. We will always remember Willow, and have a lovely portrait of her to remind us.

There’s no resolution to be taken from the low points of 2017, except not to take everything for granted, and to appreciate every second spent with family; four legged or two, furry coated or smooth skinned.

In a nutshell, 2017 was full of surprises and whilst 2018 is going to be quiet in terms of my career, it is going to be full of it’s own changes and challenges. By the end, I can only hope to be a better person, to have laughed and to have learnt something from it all.

Here’s to a successful 2018, and to finish this post let me give you an insight into the result of our DIY weekend.