How Horses Help with Motherhood
by Allison Trimble
Horses have always been a part of my life. My early adulthood was spent immersed in horse training and competing. In my late 30s my life expanded to include my husband and children. Last night, as I struggled to keep my children entertained long enough to swing a leg over my gelding, Okie, I thought about all the parallels between being a horse trainer and a mother.
Honestly, I chortled at myself. You thought you were prepared for parenthood because you are a horse trainer. What a sucker! It was the end of the day and my resolve was waning. However, I did spend considerable time being grateful for the preparation my horses have given me for motherhood and I ruminated on how I could continue this to improve my mothering skills.
Show me your horse, and I will know you. Horses are a direct result of what they are offered in a relationship. One of the hardest things to accept in horse training is the fact that the trainer is always responsible for everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. We are our horses’ most impactful relationship, and our temperament and abilities shape who they become.
With children, there are many other influences, such as siblings, friends, school, and the media. These influences make it more difficult to shape our children ourselves. If anything, it makes it even more important that we are a steady, positive force for our children because they will always look first to their parent’s example.
As with horses, it is our job to prepare our child for the next stage in life. I am grateful for the years of struggle to improve my horse training skills. I learned to be self-aware and to question my thought processes and actions.
Setting Boundaries and Being Consistent
As early as halter breaking we know that setting firm boundaries with horses resonates. Through consistency of cues and applying pressure and release, we form a relationship in which a horse flourishes. We learn to perfect our skills and timing so that they are consistent and measured. We learn to deal with pushy horses, and know that a horse that understands his position is a happy horse.
Now imagine your horse asking to use your iPad for the 627th time in an hour. Consistency and setting boundaries with children is a much more convoluted process, but equally important. Much like a horse looking to lean into pressure, a child without boundaries spends much of his time looking for a weak boundary to break, rather than knowing it is not an option and focusing on more productive things. I am thankful I knew this truth before motherhood tested my last nerve.
Hard Work and Sacrifice
Horse training left me bruised, dirty, disheveled and bone-weary tired most days. On the bad days, I counted pennies to buy hay, got drug around the arena, and dealt with disappointment and loss. I have spent countless cold nights in the barn with sick horses. Even with something you love, the magnitude of it can become overwhelming.
As a horse trainer, you can sell horses that don’t fit, or choose to just not ride that day. Motherhood does not offer outs. The dishes pile, babies cry, everyone needs something different at different times. Parenting is relentless.
Like horses, a large part of parenting is animal husbandry. Food, water, safe and clean environment, and healthcare. I often thank the horses for making me tough. Not because I walk effortlessly through the battlefield of motherhood, but because I can’t imagine how I would have survived without the grittiness and resourcefulness I learned from horses.
Through all the boundary setting, training and elbow grease, my relationship with horses taught me about connecting with another being. For me, there was always a great and basic love for horses. My horse’s smell, warm breath, soft eye, and a hug around the neck, were always grounding forces for me. It made me a better person.
I have the same response to holding my children, listening to them giggle, or watching them peacefully sleep. My love affair with horses kept my heart soft while waiting for a family.