More Than Just 'Mom': Returning to Horses Made Me Feel Like Myself Again

by Mallory Hicks /

Published on

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hen I became a mother, everything about me became wrapped up in my child. Motherhood gave me the gift that I treasure more than anything in the world: my son, Greyson. But, it also brought things no one warned me about. It brought postpartum depression and anxiety. It also brought changes to my body, which I am still learning to love and respect. Somehow, as I transitioned into my new role as a mother, I lost my identity. I drifted away from friends, I quit my job, and I stopped riding horses.

My defining moment came when someone asked me a simple question: what do you like to do? I struggled to think of a single answer. That’s when it hit me. I wanted to be doing something I loved to feel like myself again, more than just being a mom. Horses have been, and always will be, an integral part of who I am, and I was determined to go back to my roots.

I Have to Make It Happen

A few weeks later, I found myself staring down the latest obstacle in my path: finding a pair of breeches for my postpartum body. Just buying them was a task in itself. I chose black, of course, in an attempt to find something slimming. Setting foot in the tack shop for the first time was daunting as I skimmed past the smaller sizes I used to wear to look for a pair that fit. Ultimately, I had to order a pair online, which was demoralizing. But I made it this far; breeches were purchased and delivered, and I had to muster up the courage to overcome this overwhelming anxiety just to put them on and (deep breath) wear them out of the house.

It was about the breeches, but not just about the breeches, you know? Of course I was worried about literally squeezing into them. My post-pregnancy body looked different. I was bigger than before and I was self-conscious of my newly acquired mommy tummy. Earlier in the process, I pulled out my old show boots, only to discover that I could barely zip them up halfway. For probably the hundredth time, I asked myself the same question … is this even worth it?

I wasn’t just worried about fitting into the breeches, I was also concerned about whether or not I would fit in at this new barn. Walking through the barn doors the first time made it clear to me how big the gulf had become from the rider I used to be and who I am today. Like many barns, trainers are extremely invested in their competitive clientele. During high school and college, I was in that category. I was that girl who spent all day at the barn, constantly setting goals and preparing for the next show. Now, being out of the saddle for three years and without the prospect of blue ribbons and points, would everyone think I’m a waste of time?

And then comes the mom guilt. Was it right to be away from my son? Was I selfish to want time to myself, to do something just because I wanted to do it?

I had no idea how much my horses helped prepare me for motherhood.

There was one thing that motivated me to continue on towards that first lesson despite my insecurities and questions, and it was the same thing that caused me to make the initial call to the barn: I knew, deep down, that I needed to ride horses again. That’s what got me into those breeches and out the door to my find myself again.

This Fairytale … Feels Awkward

After all the build up and anxiety, I wish I could say the first time back in the saddle was this perfectly magical homecoming where everything simply clicked and I picked up exactly where I left off. But that wasn’t the case. I felt uncomfortable and clumsy. In a last minute effort to hide my post-baby tummy, I swapped the brand new riding shirt and belt I bought for an older, baggy shirt since I was worried about what everyone at the barn would think about the shape of my body. It didn’t help when I rolled my ankle dismounting the first time. I was embarrassed to say the least.

But you know what? It’s a process. And one thing was clear after my first day back: horses make me happy. I left sore and tired but I was elated. Both my mind and my body were stretched and exercised in a way that hadn’t happened in such a long time. All I could think about when I was driving home was how much I couldn’t wait to go back and do it again.

"Every single lesson, every afternoon I spend with Duchess is self-care for me."

My current horse is Duchess, and she’s the first mare I’ve really developed a friendship with. When I’m with her, even if I’m just hanging out brushing or mucking out her stall, I can feel my anxiety fade away. As much as I love my family, I realize now that this is also a relationship I need in my life. I have this incredibly powerful animal, able to cause an enormous amount of harm if she wanted to but is instead willing to take care of me. When you’re on a horse, you experience trust in a way that nothing else compares to. She carries me; in a literal sense, over the rails, and in another sense, she carries me toward my dreams.

Different Things Matter Now

As I continue down this journey to find myself again — as a rider and as a woman — I’m starting to notice things that I didn’t see before. Women make up such a huge part of the riding community. There are quite a few of us, but we aren’t all represented. Contrary to what you may see on social media, there are wealthy horse girls and not-so-wealthy horse girls. Some of us are mothers and some of us are not. We have jobs, and we stay at home with our children. We also come in all shapes and sizes.

Feeling wary of getting back in the saddle after your second kid? This mom can relate.

When I was first shopping online for new riding clothes, I found that very few brands show models wearing an extra-large shirt. They might have an extra-large in stock, but I’m left guessing how it will fit my body. While I have sent direct messages to companies asking when they are going to start representing plus-sized riders, I made an executive decision that I will be the representation.

Maybe my reach isn’t that far, but if there’s one other self-conscious mother at the barn who sees me and my mom bod rocking riding clothes and starts to feel a little more confident to do the same, then it’s worth it. If my son gets to see his mom making sacrifices to do something fulfilling, then it’s worth it. I’m committed to being more open and honest about my anxiety, so if you want to talk about it, I’m your girl. If it is one conversation, it is worth it.

Reflecting on my journey back to horses, that might be the biggest lesson I’ve learned. It’s not about winning big anymore; it is about overcoming daily obstacles and celebrating little victories by just getting out there and doing what I want to do. Every single lesson, every afternoon I spend with Duchess is self-care for me. Maybe I don’t ride as well or as often as I did in the past, but now, after a three-year hiatus away from the barn, when someone asks me what I like to do, I confidently say, “I ride horses.” Saying that simple phrase is incredibly satisfying.

I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done so far, but I do regret one thing: the amount of time it took for me to get back in the saddle.

So, to my fellow new mothers out there, pick up your phone and make the call to the barn. Pull your boots out of the closet and shine them up. Step inside the tack shop. Say hello, introduce yourself to the other riders, and start rebuilding your community. Buy yourself a new pair of breeches in whatever size that makes you feel good and in whatever color you want; tuck in your shirt and put on a belt without worrying about your mom pooch.

You are a strong, beautiful, horse girl and that part of you is so important. You are worth it. You, without a doubt and above anything else, deserve to be happy.

Read this next: Wherever Life Takes Us, Barn Friends Are Forever

Photography by Mallory Hicks.

Written by Editorial Staff

Brought to you by a pack of horse-crazy creatives across North America... and all of their rescue pets.