It’s been almost a year now since I’ve had my baby, and I still haven’t been on a horse. I’ve been to the barn—a barn, anyway—a couple of times. Once, when my daughter was about 8 weeks old, just to show her off; she slept and didn’t give a hoot about the horses, or the kittens, for that matter. And then once, when I was still on maternity leave, my husband had to go to St. Louis for work. We went with him, so one day I took the baby (by which I mean me) to meet the Clydesdales. It rained, I wore her strapped to my chest, and she slept through it all.
In other words, I have no idea if my daughter will one day take a shine to horses. I feel like I should be going to the barn to, as they say, start ’em young, but it just hasn’t been working.
I’ve had trouble wrapping my head around the idea of how. How do I get to the barn? I drive myself, still, right? That hasn’t changed?
I could say that I haven’t had time to ride, though that feels like such a cop-out. It’s not the time. It’s me, it’s my fundamental lack of understanding of how time works; you can’t pause it, stretch it or manipulate it; it’s slippery, and it will get away from you.
Like a toddler, I assume. I don’t know yet.
I know the facts of how time works, but in the moment I don’t believe it. It’s why I struggle to show up places on time.
Except now my life is measured in time in a way it wasn’t before.
It takes somewhere between 20 minutes and eternity to change the baby and get her in clothes. As soon as our fingers grew nimble enough to change her quickly, she got wiggly and wily and started trying to crawl away, so we’re not saving any time there.
It’s work. Going back to work. Twenty more minutes to finish writing this story is 20 more minutes of milk angrily filling my chest. It’s 20 more minutes of feeling hot and desperate and lonely for my baby. When she’s not with me, I can feel it in my body, like it’s bad techno, but turned almost all the way down to mute.
This is a weird sensation for someone who mostly feels divorced from my own body. I’ve talked before about how the negative messaging about plus-size bodies has made me internally reject the idea that I am my body. But having and nursing a baby made my body me in a way I didn’t expect.
It comes down to about four-hour chunks. I can handle four-hour chunks of time without feeling physically wrong—I nurse her during my lunch breaks—and after that, regardless of whether I’ve pumped, I start to feel uneasy and uncomfortable if I don’t see my baby.
And between the drive, the grooming, the tacking up, the riding, the horse and barn care afterward, riding is usually about four hours out of my day. And after five workdays in a row of only seeing my daughter at night, it’s very hard to justify time away from her on the weekends.
I’ve thought about having my husband come, so he can watch the baby, so I can take breaks to snuggle or nurse her at the barn. Pre-pregnancy, he used to come with me to the barn and run while I rode, but that’s only become an option recently—she was too little for long runs in the stroller (it’s not advised until after 6 months), and of course, it’s been winter in Michigan.
So, this is where I’ve been: hungry for time with my baby and nostalgic for time with horses.
But I’d also been itching for time out-of-doors. And we live just a couple doors down from this lake with walleye, and walleye are delicious.
And I mentioned that it was winter in Michigan and that means ice.
And I’m the sort of person who needs hobbies.
I decided to take up ice fishing.
My stepsister and I signed up for a class, laughing about what her father would think. He used to go all the time, and we never really went with him. Too cold, too boring. But my stepsister wanted to take her daughter’s Girl Scout troop ice fishing, and I wanted walleye, so I signed up for the class.
In the interim, I daydreamed about what it would be like to be done with horses. It felt a little sad, but also I could make it sound reasonable. We all know horse people who throw themselves into it passionately for a few years and then suddenly sell everything and take up some other hobby, just as passionately. Maybe I was that person, and I just didn’t know it yet. Maybe that would be OK.
On the day of the ice fishing class, I glommed onto the walleye expert, begging him to go to the tackle shop afterward and just put the walleye tackle into my shopping cart for me. He refused, claiming he would spend too much of my money and that’s not right.
I laughed and laughed. Because horses.
I mean, I know fishing can be an expensive hobby, but you don’t even need a boat for ice fishing. Maybe a shanty. But you don’t need a shanty to spend a couple hours on the ice, and even if you did, a $1,000 ice tent does not compare to a lifetime in horses.
But you do need proper personal gear, and it turns out ice fishing has all the same problems as the equestrian world when it comes to inclusive sizing.
Plus-sized float suits for women (a snowsuit life jacket in case you fall through the ice) are not a thing! The best you can do is buy something for a giant man and have it tailored. I was told that tailoring wouldn’t impact floatation, but I find that claim dubious.
Same thing for waterproof knee-high winter boots. I can’t find riding boots for my calves; I can’t find ice fishing boots for my calves.
That was a big part of the lecture during the ice fishing class: having the right gear. I did not have the right gear. The right gear does not exist. And so, for the umpteenth time in my life, I attempted to get by with “good enough.”
It won’t surprise you to learn that I lasted only two of the four hours on the ice after the ice fishing class. Which was fine; I used nursing the baby as an excuse to leave.
But there was still my niece’s Girl Scout troop ice fishing event to get through a couple of weeks later. Five hours on the ice (five hours away from my baby), half-a-dozen different troops coming through our station, and I personally took a skunk, as my stepdad used to say.
“This,” I thought, as I reeled in another chunk of seaweed, “is stupid.”
I visited the barn on my way home, and the tackle all went to the garage.
Karen Hopper Usher is returning to riding after several years away. She’s sharing her perspective and experiences as a plus-sized rider with The Chronicle of the Horse. By day, she is a reporter at a small newspaper in northern Michigan.