Barn Stories Ep. 21: The Making of a Horse Show Mom
[Laurie] Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I’m Laurie Prinz, editor EQUUS magazine.
[EQUUS] And I’m managing editor, Christine Barakat.
[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.
[Christine] We’ve searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you’re new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.
[Laurie] This episode of Barn Stories celebrates an important demographic of the equestrian community: Horse Show Moms. These are the moms who rise in the pre-dawn hours to accompany their children to competitions and then spend the day cheering from ringside. They’re a little like soccer moms, but not exactly. Horse show moms (and dads) are a different sort of support system.
[Chrisinte] The author of this essay describes two types of horse show moms: Those that spend the day in their lawn chair with a book, and those who are active participants in the preparation and the ongoing activities of the day. The author’s mother was one type, yet she herself grew up to be the other. This gives her an interesting perspective on the merits and pitfalls of each, which she shares with us.
[Laurie] So let’s listen to “The Making of a Horse Show Mom,” written by Aubrey Holler and read by Taylor Autumn.
[Taylor Autumn, story reader] I used to be the kid who woke up in the predawn hours to bathe and braid my pony by the light of a Coleman battery-operated lantern. The kid who, at 12, hitched the horse trailer to the truck. Who packed a cooler for the day and assembled all necessary tack, clothing and equipment.
My mother became involved in horse show preparations only after my pony was loaded, at which point she would drive me to the day’s event. Upon arrival at the show grounds, she would get out the lawn chair I’d packed for her, settle down in the sun, put on her “Muck It” hat and open a book. I would register, unload the pony, dress myself and tack up on my own.
My mother— well-rested, showered, wearing clean clothes— was a rarity at these equine events, an island of serenity surrounded by hundreds of examples of the more typical “horse show mom.” These women were exhausted, filthy, harried specimens who had been up and working since 4 a.m.
The typical horse show mom would be wearing a baseball cap over her unwashed hair, sunglasses to hide the dark circles under her eyes, and a pair of jeans stained by shampoo, horse slobber, leather oil, hitch grease, manure and mud. She would have a dirty rag in her back pocket for wiping boots, a bottle of fly spray hooked by its trigger to one of her belt loops, and a tattered class list clenched between her teeth as she pinned her child’s number onto the back of her jacket. Her child, meanwhile, would all too often be drawing circles in the dirt with the toes of the boots her mother just polished.
What is wrong with this picture? My mother—watching all this (from her lawn chair)—used to shake her head and wonder aloud why these horse show moms even bothered. Why aren’t they showing themselves? Clearly, they were the ones who were more invested in the endeavor. At this point, Mom would point to her hat, and say, “Geez, ladies! Muck it,” and then, chuckling at her own joke, she’d go back to her book.
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[Taylor Autumn, story reader] Years later, I turn on the hose, and the chilly water pools around my feet. I pull up the sleeves of my jacket and turn the water onto Forest. Once he’s wet, I squirt purple shampoo into my palm and kneel to scrub his four white socks—conscious all the while that the purple shampoo is dyeing my skin and nails. Shivering in the predawn cold, I smile. I love horse shows.
I love braiding. I love the smell of the freshly oiled tack. I love packing a picnic lunch, hooking up the trailer and checking all the items off the equipment list. (Speaking of which, I’d better remember the folding chairs!) Once Forest is loaded into the trailer, I head up to the house.
I pull back the quilt and gather my sleeping 4-year-old, Alyssa, into my arms, then we head out into the dawn. I strap my daughter into her car seat in the back of our truck. The diesel engine rumbles as I pull out of our driveway.
After a quiet hour-long drive, we arrive at the show grounds. I unpack a chair and set it in the sun for Alyssa, who has just woken up and is a little groggy. She sits sucking her thumb and cuddling her blankie, with an eye on me as I unload Forest, her leadline pony.
I secure Forest to the side of the trailer with a full hay bag, then Alyssa and I share snacks from the cooler that I’ve packed. By the time she’s finished with breakfast, she’s fully awake and super-excited to get on and ride! She disappears inside the trailer’s dressing room to put on her show clothes, which she’d wear every day if I let her. When she comes out, I take care of the details—bootstraps, garters, ratcatcher and pin, and hairnet.
As I tack up Forest, Alyssa brushes out his tail. Once he’s ready, she puts on her helmet, and I put on my cap, grab a rag, hook the fly spray onto my filthy jeans, and toss her jacket over my shoulder. She leads her pony to the warm-up ring, and I pick up a class list. Along the way, I think of my mother and come to a realization: I am a full-fledged horse show mom—the typical sort.
Am I a sellout? Are you thinking that the kid who really appreciated the ribbons because of all the hard work they represented has now grown up and morphed into the horse show mom who does everything for her own child? I’m proud to be!
Surely you’re thinking, what’s the difference between me and those other harried, haggard moms? My kid! From the time she was a tiny tot, my daughter came with me when I showed my own horse; she decided that she wanted to show, too. And she’s enthusiastic and as involved as a 4-year-old can be.
It is an amazing feeling to share your passion with your child. Now I can totally understand those moms who dragged their kids to the shows; they simply wanted to share their hobby with their loved ones. They wanted to feel what I feel when I watch my beaming budding equestrian win a ribbon in her leadline class.
But I do realize how important it is to make sure that my daughter’s desire to ride is what’s fueling my horse show mom gig. And, as long as she’s excited to show, I must allow her to participate as much as possible in the preparations. If we stick to this, both of us will be fulfilled. She’ll earn her ribbons with purpose and pride, and I’ll be the happiest horse show mom in the long, proud tradition of horse show moms.
[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you’d like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at [email protected]
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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network.