'I Never Decided to Give up My Career [...] I Was Going to Do Both': Molly Ashe Cawley on Balancing Parenthood and Big Dreams

by Courtney Alston /

Published on December 4, 2018

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ennessee-native Molly Ashe Cawley is an impressive rider with deep roots in both the hunter and jumper rings. The 48-year-old is now competing at the highest international level and is currently leading the Longines Jumping FEI World Cup™ Standings. What might be less apparent in the photos of her mid-flight over massive fences is that she’s a mother to two pint-sized people (Connor is eight years old, and Taylor is 10). As if navigating the show jumping world, managing sponsors, the pressure of clean rounds and clean legs, and international travel logistics (horses included) aren’t enough, Molly also balances life as a devoted mother (just don’t ask her to cook!).

I got up close and personal with Molly to take a peek into her life, where she shares her experience, tips, comeback story, and wit along the way. Molly is more than just a top rider or hands-on mother: she's a driven, passionate person who's not afraid to go after everything she wants, parenthood and World Cups included.

Photo by Dani Maczynski.

Let Your Kids Be Comfortable Being Themselves

My kids are eight and 10 – a boy and a girl. Taylor is larger than life, dreams of going into big crowds, and is social and outgoing. Connor is very sensitive and shy and is the most adorable, kind soul you could ever hope to meet. It’s funny to sit back and watch; Taylor walks into a room and commands it. Connor walks into a room and half the room wouldn’t know he was there. [But] there’s nothing like the way your son loves you. That’s the feeling I get from him. Things can give Connor a hard time in a way, but nothing affects Taylor because nothing matters other than what’s on her brain [at that moment].

Embrace Every Precious Moment

It’s hard to leave the kids; I spend a lot of time missing them. But I see them a lot, and once Florida starts then we get to all be in one place for a while, which is great. This year they got to come to Spruce Meadows. They finished school and came for the last half.

I never decided to give up my career and have kids. I was going to do both.

We had a girl who was Taylor’s first school teacher help us but we don’t have [a full-time nanny] now. We did until they were six and eight. It’s easy with Taylor because she loves the horses and loves to ride. I feel bad for Connor sometimes because it’s hard to get him into school sports because of our travel schedule, but luckily he has taken to golf and tennis and there’s lots of that in Florida. It’s not perfect, but until he chooses a passion he’s got enough available to him. And he plays flag football in Connecticut. Florida is easiest for us because we settle in for a while, but the kids like the Connecticut schools better!

Photo by Suzy Drasen.

Allow Your Kids Experiences Outside the Horse World

I said before I had either of them that I had to make big sacrifices because I didn’t want them to only have riding as an option. I think I tried too hard to not want Taylor to ride so she’s crazy about it! There are so many things that I love [about the sport] and so many things I don’t like at all. I don’t want to watch her cope. But growing up doing horses we did a lot of work. I can really look back on my childhood and appreciate the lessons the horses taught us. You learn a lot of life earlier than if you were just a normal kid going to school having everything done for you. The lessons you can get from the sport and the lifestyle, I believe in them. I want my kids to be strong and independent and deal with whatever circumstance comes their way. You learn that quickly growing up with horses.

Believe That You Can Do It All

When I had Taylor I had a rough go of it. I was in Europe when I found out I was pregnant and it was an Olympic year, so it didn’t work with what I was working towards. It added a whole other level of concerns. And sitting out of the ring while you’re pregnant… but then add into it someone else showing your horses and then you get fired. That took a notch in my confidence. I lost six horses in one sitting that were like my children. It was a mourning phase. I didn’t latch onto the horses like I normally do because I was protecting myself. It took a long time because those horses were my entire life until I had Taylor. Then Carissimo came along and he lured me right on in. He’s a really fun and cool horse. I took to him right away. It had been four years since Taylor was born and Marty [Maarten Huygens] was selling him. He got me back into wanting to do it 100 percent again. I never decided to give up my career and have kids. I was going to do both. To this day I have the same passion and desire to do it but you have to work out a few things.

Age is just a number: these riders don't see their age as a challenge. 

Photo by Isabel Kurek.

Don’t Be Afraid of Change

I had a scheduled C-section with Taylor. I looked at my husband, Chris [Cawley], and said, “What do I do if I don’t like this kid?” I was 38 and the size of a beached whale and couldn’t imagine having a kid. I was never a kid person. But from the second I saw Taylor it was totally natural for me. I’m glad I waited as long as I did.  I don’t know, I needed to do what I did beforehand. It’s such a fun, cool, amazing thing. By far and large the best thing I’ve ever done in my lifetime.

Eat (Good Food) and Be Merry

My husband cooks dinner every single night of the year basically. If they’re with me, we’re much better off eating out. My attempts at cooking are catastrophic and they’ll tell you that. Chris says I burn water. They eat healthily and they like their vegetables; Connor is a burger boy. We send them to school with lunch. I’m not a member of the clean plate club; if their bodies tell them they’re full – as long as they eat an okay amount they don’t need to finish it.

This dad found the joy in horses, and the relationship with his horse-crazy adult daughter has never been stronger.

Photo by Isabel Kurek.

Don’t Panic!

Until the last year or so, every time I gave Taylor a lesson she fell off. It was impressive, my record! My friend [Richard Cunkle] gave us Shenaynay (Carolina Shenanigans) and you could turn Taylor loose [on her] and you’d never worry. [One day] I told her “you can canter” and she said, “make me a jump”. So I made the cutest little cross-rail, and here comes Taylor full speed ahead, and she turns down the hill and Naynay sees the cross-rail and picks up the canter and jumps the most perfect jump! When they landed, Taylor’s reins were too long so she got hit by the canter stride and she goes flying off. Connor was outside the ring and said, “Could I ride now?” Tears are like thunder and lightning… you know how bad it is by how far apart they are. In 10 seconds Taylor was screaming and I said, “Taylor, you’re fine. Do you want to go to the hospital?!” She said, “Yes, I need a hip x-ray!”

Feature photo by Dani Maczynski.

Written by Courtney Alston

Courtney was lucky enough to grow up a stone's throw from Virginia's horse country which meant racing her pony bare-back, halter-leadrope against her friends was just a normal part of her after-school world. What began as a determined love of ponies turned into a devoted competitive spirit as a Young Rider competing in preliminary eventing. The rush of eventing has slowly turned into the wows of show jumping and you can now find her astride her Dutch Warmblood mare who's more of a Labrador than anything else. Courtney is a mother and wife and lives in North Carolina.