We’ve all seen them, the exhausted mother in the grocery store, her dull lifeless eyes staring anywhere but at her whining young, dangling from her like baby possums in themed t-shirts.
Her hair is greasy and swept up in a lopsided knot, the circles under her eyes tell a story of sleep deprivation and defeat. Her socks are mismatched, her shirt is most likely on inside out and there is a Jolly Rancher stuck to her pant leg. Her children look sticky.
You feel bad for her and offer to let her cut in line and are surprised when her eyes widen with sympathy. She tells you she’s fine and to “go right ahead, sweetheart.” Bewildered, you concede, and don’t quite piece it all together until you arrive home and glance in a mirror (a practice you swore off after getting your first horse). The pitiful creature staring back at you not only resembles that grocery store mother, but it is so much worse.
Your hair is swept up in that same crooked knot, but littered with hay and a blob of barn bird excrement. Your shirt is not only inside out, but it’s also covered in mud, horse snot and hair. Your boots have manure on them, you have no socks, and in place of the Jolly Rancher, you have apple flavored wormer on your pants.
Your dirty hands softly press the swollen skin under your bruised eye, where the blood has pooled beneath it, giving you that battered Julia Roberts in Sleeping With The Enemy look.
You are, in a sense, involved in an abusive relationship, but your abuser is a 1,500-lb., paranoid schizophrenic who hallucinates predatory birds and is plagued with severe anxiety, emotional instability and skin rashes. That mom probably assumed you were a homeless opioid abuser reaching the end of an illustrious street-dating career.
“We’ll pray for her in church,” you imagine her telling her possum children as she peels them off her torso and secures them in the mini van, and they clap their sticky hands together and yell “Amen mawma!”
Suddenly, the tattered mothers you’ve always pitied become incredibly relatable and that startling revelation begs the question, who has it worse, mothers of human children, or of horses?
Horses vs. toddlers: The dark side of parenting.
Is all poop created equal?
The answer is no. Although horses and toddlers seem to crap their pants at similarly astonishing rates, it is frowned upon to permit your toddler to poop in the yard with the dogs. Horses are free-range poopers and the entire world is considered a toilet.
It can be argued that the sheer volume of horse excrement beats out toddler turds, However, the gag inspiring scent and horrifying consistency of tiny human waste, makes baby butt tar the clear winner of this category.
To know the answer to this question you will need to have bathed both a horse and a toddler.
Horses are generally secured in cross-ties. And with practice, stand still for scrubbing.
Toddlers flop around like possessed sea mammals, and once soaped become nearly impossible to grip.
Horses’ massive surface area requires epic amounts of soap and plenty of elbow grease. The dirt you scrub from your horse will inevitably be absorbed by your clothing and soul during the bathing process. You will have soap in your eyes, mouth and armpits. Your horse will most likely poop no less than seven times during the ordeal. If you want to clean their ears, you will need to climb them like a circus elephant.
Toddlers, though small, also require elbow grease. Restraining their squishy soap slimed bodies is virtually impossible without the proper equipment. Most of the tub contents will splash into your shirt, and onto the floor. Don’t wear sleeves. Toddlers also occasionally enjoy emptying their tiny bowels during bath time, but instead of shoveling it away and continuing on like you would in the barn, you give up, stiff arm carry the squirming sea slug to the kitchen and finish the job with the sink hose.
Toddlers – 2, horses – 0
Health care (the snots)
When toddlers are congested, their mothers will often use a disgusting suction device to suck the snot right out of their little Petri dish faces. If the toddler is left un-suctioned, they will inevitably leave a snail like slime trail wherever they toddle.
When horses are congested, no assistance is required. They’ve already forcefully snot-rocketed the contents of their sinuses all over your body, and wiped off what’s left on your sleeve. They consider you a human Kleenex. They don’t care if you agree.
This category is a flush. Both equally revolting, score remains 2 & 0.
Both toddlers and horses need their nails trimmed.
For new mothers of both, this can be nervewracking.
Toddlers grow their tiny talons rapidly, and need to be trimmed often to prevent them from clawing at themselves. (How are we even alive?) Special tools are needed for safe clipping, and there is little margin for error. There are 20 claws to trim, each at the end of fingers that move independently. Trimming toddler nails can be compared with goat wrestling. Goats whine less.
Horses, similarly, have rapid hoof growth. They should be trimmed every four to six weeks to ensure correct angles and prevent cracking. The best part? You can pay someone else to do it. Horses do not have 20 claws. (Thank you lord!)
Toddlers take the prize, 3 & 0.
Freedom! (Apply Braveheart accent)
You can’t abandon your toddler to run errands, or go to dinner, no matter how much you want to. Toddlers are helpless and completely dependent on you for survival. Once they start walk/struggle-running, it’s frowned upon to lock them in their rooms while you work, make dinner, or cry softly into the couch. Basically your life is over the second theirs begins. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can let go of trivial things like sleep, nutrition and sanity.
You can secure a horse in a stall or paddock and jet. Your freedom and mental health remain intact. Horses couldn’t care less if you’re gone; they just want some snacks and something to drink, and all is well with the world. Horses have their priorities straight.
Toddlers strongly resent being left in a crib with provisions. Most toddlers won’t appreciate the juice box you’ve left for them or the crackers stacked neatly in the corner by their plush alligator. Their protests can be heard from space.
Toddlers are worse, again. 4 & 0.
Who’s more suicide-prone?
It is said that horses are “Four legs, just looking for a way to die.” It is best said with a thick southern accent.
If there is way for a horse to injure itself, it will. They choke on sticks, weeds and their own food. By design, they can’t throw up, and they colic. They will come in from the field cut up and bleeding and you’ll never know how it happened. Ever. The very grass they eat can kill them. Even if your roof is made of metal, and all your outbuildings have lightning rods, when your farm is struck by lightning, it will hit a horse.
Toddlers have thumbs. They can ransack a house like a pack of wild raccoons. Every cupboard, trashcan, closet and bathroom will be picked through and tasted unless properly secured. How are you supposed to tell what something is without licking it? Toilet paper is a fantastic toy and a decent snack in a pinch.
Although they don’t know how to run yet, they do. Their fat heads bounce off of tables, chairs and walls. They swan dive off of furniture, and they rarely chew their food.
It is close, but horses take the cake for suicide watch.
When dealing with a tiny irrational human, who struggles to communicate in the native tongue, one must exhibit Ghandi-like self control and patience. The fledgling may become frustrated with your inability to understand its toddler dialect, predominantly made up of hyperventilation, grunts and eaglet screeches, it may even become combative during the McMeltdown.
Expect Legos to be flung, bodies thrown to the ground, tears, excessive drooling, and in the worst cases, anger-nipping. You must draw the line if a toddler lays its tiny new buck teeth on you; they may not look it, but a 2-year-old child has the bite force of an English mastiff. Fortunately for parents everywhere, rarely is a 25-lb. human lethal to a fully grown adult.
When dealing with a 1,200-lb. animal, with a tiny brain, 40 teeth, four bludgeoning instruments called hooves, (often with steel plates nailed to them) the emotional instability of a toddler, and the indecisiveness of a squirrel in the road, things can get “real” pretty quickly.
As with a human child, you can expect things to get tossed to the floor, sometimes it will be you. If you think there is a safe place to stand, there is not. There can be biting, cow kicking, striking and rearing during a full blown randy savage rage. The best advice, “don’t pick a fight you can’t win, and know what that fight looks like.”
Horses are more likely to kill you than toddlers, and for that, they take this category.
Although inevitably one day you may contract the dreaded baby bug, today is not that day. Toddlers dominate the “which is worse” board, hands down.
Final score: toddlers – 4, horses – 2.
Baby-bug, you get the idea.
Although I haven’t personally caught the baby-rabies yet, I am a lifetime sufferer of the often fatal horse virus. There is no cure, and even if there was, most who contract the disease would refuse treatment.
Likewise, mothers of human children will often tell you there is no love like a parent has for their child, no greater joy than bringing life into the world, or watching it grow. They wouldn’t change a thing and would do it all over again in a heartbeat….
I personally call BS—that noise looks MISERABLE. Raising a human child makes all the shattered egos, broken bones, and dream crushing of equestrianism look like a piece of rainbow sprinkled vanilla box cake. Helmets off to you moms out there making it look good, and if it doesn’t look good, at least you’re keeping those possum children alive.
Though one day many of us salty, childless horsemen and women may slip up and accidentally catch the urge to procreate, this comparative study may be used as contraception. For those smug, over-achieving super humans who have BOTH toddlers AND horses, you have my deepest respect, and condolences.
Alice Peirce was raised as a self-described “feral horse farm child” in Howard County, Md. She’s made efforts to leave the horse world over the years but always comes back and has worked for a number of people in various disciplines. Currently she’s riding young racehorses and training foxhunters in Monkton, Md., where she hunts with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt.