Being a Mom to Both Horse and Human

Being a Mom to Both Horse and Human

This blog is written by Equestrian Masterclass member Grace Wilkins Maxwell. 

When I started back riding as an adult, I made a deal with myself: I was going to buy a house and have a family before I bought a horse, because I was worried once I was fully back into the horse world, I might never prioritize my real adult goals. I wanted to get my feet under me first, and then I’d buy a horse.

Then I had my son and bought three horses in the span of a year. Whoops.

I finally had the finances to make it happen and a program I felt good about. My vision of how horses fit into my life was finally coming into focus. I had a foal, who was my 5-6 year plan, and when the horse I was leasing turned out to want a different job, I just so happened to talk to a local breeder who had a three year old who sounded like he would make a great adult amateur horse one day - I bought him and named him Nugget. It was perfect.I had one horse for now, one horse for later, and then later on, one horse for my son.

Now, 4 years later, it hasn’t really played out the way I intended.

I think the biggest challenge I had with becoming a mom was that the second the world knew I was pregnant, my identity suddenly shifted to being in the context of how I related to another human being. It felt like everyone had the expectation that I would of course sacrifice anything in service to a healthy baby because that’s what I was now: a mom.

I knew my priorities would shift, and I love my son, but I grieved the loss of a life where I existed for who I was as a person and that was enough. As horse people, horses are our identity. They’re in our bones, sometimes figuratively and sometimes quite literally, traced in lines of old fractures that we wear as a badge of honor. So much of equestrian sport heralds the true horse(wo)man as the person who is willing to give the most and sacrifice the most and do the most, and suddenly you have a small human to prioritize. And I have just had to give that up.

Personally, I struggled immensely (and still do) with the sense that even though I was doing so much I was on the brink, it still wasn’t enough. I still didn’t have time to rub Nugget down with my old sisal cactus cloth that used to be part of my routine, even when it meant I missed bedtime with my son to go ride after everything was handled at 9 pm when it was below freezing. Everyone got less than they deserved, and what used to fill me up started to feel like something that was just another thing for me to fail at because there was not enough of me to go around.

So, I gave up for the first time. A little bit. In the winter of 2022, I flew down to WEF and met up with Val Renihan and Chris Strucker, who encouraged me to get out of the house and come where it’s warm and horse show. At no point in my riding career beforehand would I ever have thought to show a horse I just met, or find a program where I could meet said horse at the mounting block and dash off to take a work call as I handed the reins to someone else (who would then care for the horse impeccably, and do all the things I couldn’t do these days with the million directions I am pulled in all day) but I did, and it was incredible. I got to enjoy horses in the capacity I was capable of, and the team reminded me that I was just as much of a real horseperson as I ever was, even if that looks different these days. It took me a while to believe that truth, and to be honest some days I still don’t, but it was amazing to have horses feel the joyful, and not feel like a battle against the windmills of reclaiming my identity in the context of a life that just does not allow for it any longer.

Maybe I’m less of a horsewoman right now because I’m more of other things. 16 year old me would be horrified, to be sure. I’ve had to do the mental work to get to a place where I’m ok with that. I try to find joy in the parts that I can participate in, which realistically means that I can’t ride a lot and when I do, it’s going to a horse show where I can block off the time to go immerse myself in my old identity and everything that goes with it. I still own my young stallion, who has been a joy to watch develop even if it’s from farther away than I would like. Nugget is now living his best life with a little girl who can come ride more often than I could.

On the other side of things, Camp is now in speech therapy, and he also got kicked out of preschool for being a three year old delinquent (turns out leading the class in an original song called ‘no naps’ isn’t the kind of leadership that’s appreciated in that context) and he’s also taking swim lessons and oh of course I also have a job that never really turns off.

But what I’m learning is the more I give up on my plans and my old arbitrary rules on what I had to do and who I had to be, the more room that I’ve been able to make for what I CAN to and who I WANT to be. In the moment, that sometimes felt, and feels, like failure, but it’s also always inevitably opened the door to something new that brings me joy in the present. Truth is, an identity is never just one thing, and you’re never just one person, and nothing could have taught me that lesson better than being both a mom and a horseperson.