Parenthood in the Horse Industry
By Kathy Smith
Being a parent in a demanding horse industry career is challenging and incredibly rewarding at the same time. Many horse industry parents are making it work, but no one really knows what it takes and how they’ll balance the concurrent demands of parenting with the obligations of their career until they’re actually doing it.
We launched our family business in 1991. It started as Pacific Horse Journal and grew into a national multi-media company. Working together during that time, my husband Steve and I raised three children: two sons and a daughter, the youngest of whom was eight years old in 1991. Growing up on a family farm in Ontario, I came equipped for life and business through the example of an incredibly strong, hard-working, resilient, resourceful, brave, and loving mother who raised four children and steered our family farm through good times and bad. Growing up on that farm, I learned life lessons that I still use every day. Although I am by no means an expert in parenting while operating a horse business, I do feel somewhat qualified to share my thoughts on the subject.
You’ve started a family now. As a new parent coping and adapting, learning about diaper rashes, 2am feedings, and the importance of burps, you’re experiencing feelings of complete exhaustion mixed with the overwhelming joy of welcoming this new little person into your world — and the realization that life as you knew it has changed forever.
Everyone is different, and no one is perfect. Your children will be young for a very short time. The routine chaos of diapers, piles of laundry and toys, unceasing demands on your time, and overarching sleep deprivation will settle into other routines and schedules as family life adapts and the years fly by. Starting today, find and do what is best for you and your family.
Babies and young children create incessant demands that at times can feel overwhelming. Learning to do less of what you don’t need to do, and becoming more efficient at necessary tasks, will free up time and energy for what you want to do. Decide your priorities, multi-task or combine tasks when possible, and recognize where your time is being wasted. Learn to be more efficient.
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Children grow up fast, and the years pass quickly. The kids will become more independent, and you’ll have more time. In the meantime, surround yourself with supportive people and be open to advice and help. If you’re having a bad day and feel overwhelmed, this too shall pass. As someone told me years ago: If you need a hug, go and get one. And then get back on your horse.
Find or create a support system. This might include other parents who understand what it takes to navigate the unique challenges of being a parent in the horse industry. You may need to pay someone to help with barn work or around the house. Or you may only need a backup support person to step in during busiest times when you can’t do everything.
Horses teach us huge lessons about kids and parenting. They can help us to be better parents. Just like when working with horses, parents are in a leadership role. When the horse is scared or excited, remaining patient and calm tells the horse there’s nothing to be excited about. Set a good example — when kids are yelling and being too loud, yelling at them to stop yelling won’t create a calm, peaceful environment.
Be emotionally honest. If something is bothering you or your child, it’s important to pause and get in touch with your own feelings and those of your child. Their feelings and emotions are as valid as yours. Help them understand what they’re feeling and why. I talked with my own kids about many of life’s difficult times; even when little they understood better than I ever expected, and often gave me helpful insight and advice. Out of the mouths of babes!
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Look for opportunities for family time by involving your children in your work and planning. This might include taking them to horse shows or allowing them to help out with the care of the horses. Give them specific tasks that they alone are responsible for. As your children grow, by giving them appropriate responsibilities you’ll help them understand the bigger picture and what you’re accomplishing together. Giving your children an understanding of what their parents do at work and what pays the bills is invaluable regardless of career. The exposure to horses can provide opportunities your children might not otherwise have. One of your kids might even turn out to be horse crazy — a blessing or a curse?
If you have a partner, make sure both of you communicate about work schedules and family responsibilities. Keep each other aware of mutual workloads and be supportive. Both the horse industry and family life can be demanding and unpredictable, and everyone needs flexibly and support to accommodate unexpected events.
Taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your children and career responsibilities. Make sure that you’re getting enough rest and time to recharge. Find a balance between your work and family time. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Finding your own personal work/life balance will help you to be more productive at work, and more present and engaged with your children when you are at home.
Overall, being a parent with a horse industry career can be a challenging and rewarding experience. With the right mindset and approach, and decisions that work for you and your situation, you can balance your responsibilities and navigate the challenges and complexities of operating a horse business while raising a family. It’s a life-changing experience, and one that can teach life lessons and help your children grow up to become responsible, resourceful, and resilient adults. Enjoy the ride.
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