I squealed when I saw on Twitter that Chrissy Teigen had started her “journey into the horse world,” upon her therapist’s recommendation that “I need something that I do just for me,” after suffering a miscarriage.
I, too, am a mom of a very tiny human (she’s almost 3), and riding has been an absolute lifeline for me as I struggled with the seismic identity shift of becoming a mother. I’m glad Chrissy, a model, author, entrepreneur and the wife of musician John Legend, is using her platform to talk about how moms need to take time for themselves. Riding is a great choice to do so! (And don’t miss her hilarious videos of trying to break in new riding boots. We feel your pain, Chrissy!)
When my daughter was crying, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop, I would hand her to her father and go to the barn, filled with the peaceful noises of horses chewing grain.
When I was struggling with rediscovering my core muscles, my riding coach was there to remind me to “use your hips!”
When work responsibilities called, my commitments to lessons and keeping my horse in shape meant I still made time to get to the barn, come hell or high water.
When I was unsure I was cut out to be a mother and too afraid to tell anyone, I could bury my head in my horse’s mane in the quiet of his stall and know he would never judge me.
When my confidence as a mother was failing, I’d stick a buck-and-bolt or nail a complicated jumping sequence and feel like I could take on the world.
When the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic I could still see friends at the barn, outdoors and at a distance.
I get to share my love of the barn with my daughter, too, though I try not to bring her too much, at least not until she’s old enough to catch and groom a pony on her own! Riding time is for me.
That all said, sticking with riding as a new mother has not been easy. I work part time as a freelance editor and children’s book writer. Especially during the pandemic, my childcare options have been limited. I walk a financial balance beam—do I spend my childcare time at the barn or making money? I’m grateful for my husband who generally says: “Ride. We’ll make more money when our daughter is older.” Yet I know I’m in a very privileged position; we can still pay all of our bills even if I’m working much less. (And those surprise vet bills, too—ouch!)
Tougher than the financial aspect is the guilt. There are only a few moms of little humans at the large boarding and lesson facility where I ride, and most of them struggle to get out there regularly. My childhood barn friends are mostly taking breaks to raise their kids and work. When I leave my husband with his own work piling up and my toddler screaming, sometimes I feel like an awful mother and wife. But here’s the thing. My husband leaves all the time. Not just for work—he goes road biking, mountain biking and running.
Sometimes he just gets coffee with a friend. Imagine!
Does he feel any guilt?
I’ve asked him. He says: “No!”
This isn’t just me—my friends with kids say this same dynamic plays out in their family. Our society has primed women to see mothers as sacrificial figures: We give our bodies; we give our time; we give our souls to our families. Our babies are crying? We’re needed right there. Our toddlers are throwing tantrums? We’re needed right there.
Even when we leave, we’re often called back too soon. In her book “Fair Play,” Eve Rodsky describes having lunch with mom friends. One by one, each mom gets calls and texts from their husbands, who are struggling to cope with the kids on their own. Each mom sacrifices her time with friends to go home and rescue her spouse.
Men suffer from this dynamic, too. If women keep jumping in to solve all of our children’s problems, our husbands never have the chance to step up, learn how to cope and build confidence. My husband is a better, more competent father because I leave to go riding. I’m a 40-minute drive away at the barn, and when I’m on the horse, I do not check my phone. If my husband has a problem, he has no choice but to solve it on his own. Somehow, he and my daughter have survived for several hours, two or three times a week, since she was only a few months old. Now, Daddy is best at getting her to nap. Daddy deals best with emotional crises like getting shots or going to the dentist.
My riding has been a gift to my husband: I’ve given him the chance to build a wonderful relationship with his daughter.
Yet I still feel judgment from more traditional family members and friends. Your daughter shouldn’t be in school all day. Your daughter needs her mother. I still let that judgment get to me. I worry if I really should be going to the barn instead of joining my daughter on a fun trip to the park. I worry if I should be the one holding her while she gets a vaccine.
I know those voices in my head are wrong. My daughter is blessed with two confident, loving parents. And truly? I’m a better, happier mom and wife when I’ve had time for myself at the horse barn.
I am grateful to Chrissy Teigen for helping me quiet the doubts in my own mind: Yes, moms need to take time for themselves. We are better moms for it and will have happier families.
If, like me, your “just for yourself” time is at a horse barn? Well, you’re pretty darn lucky!
Tracy C. Gold is a writer, freelance editor and mom living in Baltimore. She rides her ex-racehorse at Tranquillity Manor Farm in Maryland. An alum of U.S. Pony Clubs and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she competes in local hunter shows and rides for pleasure now. She has two picture books forthcoming in 2021, “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks, and “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby,” from Familius. You can learn more about Tracy at tracycgold.com.