Mane and tail free of dandruff? Check. Saddle pad stunningly white? Check. Boots shining from across the showgrounds? Of course.
Through ratings, training and competition, the U.S. Pony Clubs carefully and methodically trained me to do their bidding. My horse will eat from a properly sterilized bucket, with the double-ended snap turned inward lest he rip an eyelid, and his sheath will pass ye olde glove test as he stands in non-edible, non-irritating bedding.
So why do the (arguably) more important things in life come with no instructions?
I learned recently that I’m the equivalent of a bad D-1 Pony Clubber when it comes to child grooming. There are two Maggies in my daughter’s class of 3- to 6-year-olds, and in our house we’d always unimaginatively distinguished them by using last names. But at a school function a few weeks ago, we learned that our daughter is dubbed “wild-haired Maggie.”
While I can train my horse’s mane to lie uniformly on one side, my child has curly, untamed locks that are always in her eyes and everywhere else, and she resists grooming, headbands and barrettes.
I know how to twitch or sedate my horse if he doesn’t want his mane pulled. (Wait, is sedation Pony Club approved? Now that I think of it, I recall more glory bestowed on anything done the hard way.) But what, exactly, do you do when your child runs from you as you wield a comb? This information is likely not revealed until you are closer to an “A” parent than a failing “D” parent. But you get no schoolmaster to learn the basics on.
One morning I pulled out a spray-on conditioner and aimed it in the general direction of my daughter’s head as she ran by, resisting a brush.
“What is that?” my husband asked. Then it dawned on him. “Is that like SHOW SHEEN for kids?? Why didn’t I know about that before?”
It’s not like I own a wild array of expensive grooming products for myself. But really, couldn’t there be some general guidelines for presenting children to the public?
So many inviolate rules in my head: The longe line must never touch the ground; the halter must always be fully buckled; your foot must never leave the stirrup iron while adjusting leathers. But I can apparently have as many children as I’d like at any time and feed, clothe, bathe, exercise and transport them as I see fit. (Well, I guess there are guidelines on the transport, which have come a long way since I was a toddler and roamed loose around my parents’ VW Bug. And those guidelines are very helpful, thank you.) But I think there could be many more. Training, education, ratings, practical tests. And then yes, competition.
It’s not just the turnout that can be tricky for parents without any training. The lack of guidance sometimes seems to have permeated all elements of life in an almost cliche-y way. If you don’t know, then you don’t know. And who’s to tell you?
For instance, I’ll note here that the pediatrician does not send out reminders the way your veterinarian might. While I’m well versed in which shots my dogs and horses need and when, there’s no one to warn me when my child should have routine medical or dental care. When I took my daughter for her school physical, the doctor seemed shocked that we hadn’t been there in more than a year. I just thought we were healthy.
In the first weeks of parenthood, as we tried to record all feedings and note any problems in a sleep-deprived haze, the conditioning schedules USPC once demanded of me lent inspiration to a chart of time/food in/food out/temperature, like a stall card on steroids. Stall cards aren’t actually a bad idea, especially, I would think, if you have multiple children. Again, published guidelines, informative standards and tests, along with competition with peers would be useful here. If someone is going to give me a ribbon for knowing or executing better than those new parents who were in the room next to us at the hospital, I believe I will rise to the occasion. Year-end awards could also be an incentive.
Pony Club has spoiled me with its certainty. There’s no “decide if this way works best for you or not.” The rules are absolute, the command of the subject all-knowing. When I looked for books to help me teach my infant to sleep through the night, I had to choose which of many philosophies I would follow. If I’d learned, for instance, with great certainty that even organic GUMMIES ARE BAD for my child, in the same way I was taught that BEET PULP MUST BE SOAKED, then maybe I would have the power to resist. But left to my own devices? I’m far from perfect. I’m like the person cutting mane with scissors. I just don’t know better.
Thank you, Pony Club, for preparing me (if sometimes oddly so) for almost anything I will encounter in horse care. I just fear you’ve so engendered me into your structured ways that I crave acknowledgement for advancing and mastering new skills. I mean, now that I’ve gotten through the infant stage (without a certificate, medal or trophy), I could certainly mentor a younger parent in the ways of wrapping/swaddling, basic feeding and shoeing.
We have an American hunter/jumper system of forward riding and a national standard for teaching horse care. But when it comes to raising our children? It’s anyone’s best bet.
Each Thursday, we’ll feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Beth Rasin balances overseeing the editorial side of the magazine with raising her 3-year-old daughter Maggie and caring for a herd of horses, three dogs and a cat at her farm.