Prioritizing And Flexibility Are The Keys To An Amateur’s Day

Dec 24, 2009 - 10:00 PM
Katherine Spears Paul balances her veterinary career and family life with showing Nobile (pictured) and Terra Promessa. Photo by Shawn McMillan.

Forget that imposing fence—juggling work, riding and family can be the biggest challenge of all.

It’s a tough reality for most amateur riders that there really and truly are just 24 hours in a day, because it never seems like enough time.

Making decisions about how to use those precious 1,440 minutes the most efficiently is a constant battle. How do you squeeze in work, family life and the horses? It’s all about prioritizing. Everyone does it, but they all do it differently.

Every amateur rider has many roles to fill—full-time worker, horse caretaker, rider, mother, wife—they’re all important jobs, and it’s virtually impossible to fit them all into 24 hours. The key for each person is deciding what’s most important at her particular stage of life.

Maybe you don’t have kids, and riding and competing are a main priority for you. Then having a home-cooked meal on the table every night at 6 p.m. probably won’t happen, since you’ll be riding or in the barn until dark. But if you have a family, your horses might have to take a backseat to your kids, and boarding out and competing on a less-frequent basis will have to suffice.

So juggling all of these responsibilities, while still devoting enough time to a career to pay the mortgage and pay entry fees, takes a lot of dedication and creativity.

Here’s how four amateurs manage to do it.

They Attack Each Day Together

Kelly Soldavin: managing editor of Clinician’s Brief, a veterinary medicine journal.
Aaron Soldavin: police officer.

Kelly and Aaron Soldavin are married amateurs who have evented but now compete in combined driving.

“The driving fits better with our schedules because we’re both so involved with our full-time jobs,” Kelly said.

They take turns exercising their driving pony, Dutch. Kelly rides him and Aaron drives him.

“If we had two event horses going, the amount of riding involved to keep them fit and ready to go would be much more intense,” Kelly said. “Combined driving, with two people, is all about teamwork. You do have to cooperate and communicate. It’s helped our relationship, and it’s a great way to spend time together on the weekend. We don’t spend much time together during the week, but if we’re out on a conditioning drive for an hour, it’s an hour that you get to be together and talk and catch up.”

The Soldavins keep three horses and two donkeys at their farm in Quakertown, Pa.

“Depending on our work schedules, we have to make sure someone’s there in the morning to feed, turn out and do stalls and back in the evening to feed again. We also try to keep Dutch on a regular work schedule. We plan it out the week in advance. It requires a little bit of coordination, because Aaron works all different shifts, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. It’s never the same; we kind of make it up as we go,” Kelly explained.

Kelly noted that the winter season is their biggest challenge and where prioritizing becomes most critical.

“Horses are our social life; most of our friends are in the horse world, so we’re not going out to parties on Friday nights or throwing dinner parties. I can’t remember the last time we went to a movie theater,” she added with a laugh.

For the Soldavins, the horses take first priority so they’ve chosen to invest the time and effort into caring for them at home, as well as maintaining a competitive schedule.

“We both love it. You joke when you look at your paycheck, and you think, ‘What if we didn’t spend all this money on the horses? What else could we be doing?’ But we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else; we wouldn’t be happy,” said Kelly. “We have to do it on a shoestring. A lot of people ask how we afford the carriage or the harness. Well, you save up your money. If there’s something you need, you sell something you don’t use anymore.”

While making sure the barn is in order and the horses are happy is important to the Soldavins, having dinner together every night isn’t.

“Aaron didn’t marry me for my domestic skills,” Kelly joked. “We’re pretty flexible with meals. It probably works better that way; if he expected me to come in from work and make a full dinner every night it wouldn’t work. We make sure the horses have a full dinner, then we come in and scrounge around in the fridge and cabinets.”

Aaron added with a smile: “We’re spread very thin some days, but we’re happy. This is a one-lap race. If we want to do something, we’re going to find the money and make the time, and we’re going to do it. Why wait? Just do it. We don’t want to have any regrets.”

It’s Well Worth It

Katherine Spears Paul: veterinarian.

Katherine Spears Paul works two part-time jobs. One encompasses 32 hours each week, and the other, a consulting position, takes 5 to 10 hours each week from home.

Paul, of Atlanta, Ga., owns two horses that show and two young horses, all of which are boarded at two farms. She shows in the adult amateur and amateur-owner hunters, usually once a month.

Paul gets up at 6:45 a.m., feeds her 15-year-old son breakfast and takes him to school, then starts work at 8:30 a.m. By 5 p.m., she’s on her way home to feed her son dinner and regroup for the barn, where she goes three evenings during the week with her two dogs in tow.

“When my son was younger and couldn’t stay at home alone, it really limited my riding and showing. My husband and I played tag team. I would leave as soon as he got home and vice versa,” she said.

“It can be very challenging to manage my time,” she added. “It’s really hard having two horses. Right now, one is about 30 minutes away, but the [younger one] is at a trainer’s farm, which is an hour away. One weekend I went up there to ride and was gone most of the day. When I got home my son said I cared more about my horses than I did about him. That was tough to hear.”

Paul’s also careful to balance her time with the horses because her husband isn’t an animal lover.

“He doesn’t understand the attraction,” she said. “Plus, I don’t have a lot of time to keep my house clean or cook. No one in my family eats the same thing so we rarely sit down and have a meal together.”

Paul takes time during her lunch break for some cardio exercise, and when her workload increases she burns the midnight oil to get it done.

“I’m frequently frustrated that I don’t have enough time for everything. I would like to cut down on my
work hours, but it’s just not possible at the moment,” she said.

“I really enjoy riding so it’s worth making the time for it,” she added. “Both of my horses are excellent on trails, so if I’m not showing I try to take one of them trail riding with a friend—we have some nice wooded trails in our area. It’s fun and relaxing.”

No Time For A Fresh Outfit

Lisa Cook: customer category manager for Kraft Foods.

“I work between 40 and 50 hours a week, sometimes more. I’m also a joint-DC for my son’s Pony Club in my ‘spare’ time,” Cook said.

Cook, of Brookline, N.H., competed in 10 U.S. Eventing Association-recognized events in 2008, including the American Eventing Championships, before she lost her horse. She now has a young horse being started under saddle, a large pony that her son evented and a half-leased horse her son now rides, all boarded at different facilities.

“I’m not sure I have any ‘normal’ days, but if I did it would be working from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Cook said. “I do work out of a home office, which saves me a lot of commuting time.”

From 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Cook makes dinner for her family, including her two sons, ages 16 and 13.

“Access to an indoor with lights is pretty much a must-have for me! From 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., I go to the barn and ride and then run errands after that. I’m surprised I haven’t turned up on yet, since I’m not exactly looking my stellar best when I’m running errands in my riding clothes.

“There are nights when my son has mounted meetings for Pony Club and nights when we trailer out for lessons, also,” she added. “I sound like I’m a night person, but I’m really not—it’s just the only time I can get stuff done! It’s definitely hard to balance, and it takes a lot of determination.”

Since her children have hit their teens, Cook’s life has been simplified a bit.

“When they were younger, I had the short but effective ride down pat,” she said. “Their daycare closed at 6:30 p.m. I’d stop work at 5, run to the barn, ride for a half an hour, and then run to daycare to pick them up, galloping in at the closing minute. The daycare center people loved me for that.”

Now, Cook’s 13-year-old rides as well. “He’s progressed to the point where now we can ride in the same lessons together, which is also a lot of fun and saves time,” she said.

“It’s a challenge to fit it all in,” she added. “But the horses keep me sane. There are days when I’m stressed out with work, and I’m thinking that I’m too tired and can’t take the time to go to the barn and ride. Especially in the winter when it’s pitch dark and bitter cold, it’s very hard to leave the house. But then I get to the barn, and it totally rejuvenates me. I walk in, and I’m greeted with a nicker, and suddenly I’m not tired or stressed anymore. Everything is right with the world again.”

Keeping It In Perspective

Liz Leow Hendry: creative director, Fire Station Advertising Agency.

Hendry has such a demanding job that she only rides on the weekends.

“Work has to be my priority,” she said. “Advertising is long hours, and I’m really committed to my job. It’s a fun job, and I’m lucky to have it, but 12- and 14-hour days are not uncommon. There’s just no room for squeaking in rides during the week. On the weekends, I make up for lost time.”

Hendry commutes 45 minutes from her home in Agoura Hills, Calif., to her Los Angeles office.

She has two horses—an adult jumper of her own and an adult equitation horse she leases.

“They’re both such kind, easy horses that know their jobs, so when I get to the barn on the weekend I can just really enjoy the experience,” she said.

The trainers at Whitethorne Ranch in Solis, Calif., where she boards—Georgy Maskrey-Segesman, Julia Spreen-Balcom and Lauren Mourmouris—keep the horses in work during the week.

“They make sure I have a long warm-up because I do feel a little rusty on Saturday morning. Midway through the lesson, I remember how to jump,” she said.

Even though she doesn’t have time to be at the barn every day, Hendry keeps close tabs on her horses.

“I have a lot of contact with the trainers throughout the week and with the vet, farrier and chiropractor. I make sure there’s a lot of communication. While I’m commuting to work and back, I catch up with the vet or I talk to the trainers. Even if it’s something as small as whether they need to get clipped, I make sure I’m informed and participating,” she said.

“During the week, when I’m not riding, I try to watch riders that I admire on YouTube, and I make an effort to wake up early and watch East Coast shows that have a live feed. Believe it or not, it actually helps with my riding.”

Her goal this year was to qualify for two adult medal finals, and she did so after five times out.

“One of them was a two-day A-rated show at Showpark, and it was the first time I’d done an A show in a number of years. It was really fun,” she said. “I think that working helps me keep my riding in perspective. At shows, a lot of the amateurs get nervous. But mostly I’m just so happy to be in the horse show environment that I don’t get nervous. It’s a nice break in the routine for me.”

Hendry knows she’s fortunate to have an understanding husband who doesn’t begrudge the fact that she’s gone the entire weekend after working long hours.

“I don’t have any kids, and I think if I did I wouldn’t have time for the horses. But I have a great husband who’s very supportive, and he knows that I love riding. I ask him if he wants me to quit because it’s taking so much time, and he says, ‘No, you’re so much more happier when you’re riding.’ ”

Hendry’s husband, who also works in advertising, took up golf so he’d have a weekend hobby as well.

She does make sure the two big priorities in her life get the most attention—working and riding.

“Most people get up on a weekend and think about running errands—picking up the dry cleaning, going grocery shopping, that kind of thing. For me, those are the kinds of things that might fall through the cracks,” she said.

“My husband picks up the pieces as much as possible. He’s really good about going and getting the basics of groceries we need, but at any given time I feel like there might be a bill that I’ve forgotten to pay or something else like taking my car in for servicing that might be overdue.

“To think that I do everything really well isn’t true,” she admitted. “I think I definitely fall short sometimes, and it’s usually at the mundane things. We might be out of groceries, but I’ve made the chiropractic appointments for my horses, and they’re fed and fat and happy.”


“You have to play it by ear. You can try and set too much of a schedule and say, ‘I’ve got to go to this horse show,’ or, ‘I’ve got to get to this level.’ If that doesn’t happen, it can be very discouraging. Whereas, if you just keep an open mind and aim to do the best that you can, no matter what happens, you can be happy with it.” – Kelly Soldavin

“I used to do all the day care at shows myself, but it meant that I was at the show from dawn until dusk. I decided it was well worth the money to pay for a groom so I can go home, spend time with my family and still get to show. I rarely go to out-of-town shows, but I am lucky that there are so many shows in the Atlanta area. Also, having my own truck and trailer was one of my best investments because it means I can board closer to home but trailer to the trainer’s for lessons on the weekend when I have more time.” – Katherine Spears Paul

“The single best thing I ever did was hire a cleaning service to regularly clean my house. It’s worth every penny, seriously. Getting the kids trained to be independent also is a big help. Everyone in this family does their own laundry, for example, and can feed themselves as well. My 13-year-old son made supper the other night—it was just spaghetti, but it came out well.” – Lisa Cook

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Prioritizing And Flexibility Are The Keys To An Amateur’s Day” ran in the December 25, 2009 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

Category: Lifestyles

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