While I am just starting out on my journey of juggling motherhood and my equestrian dreams, there are many who have gone before me who we can learn from. It is so important to share with others both the highs and the lows. When we talk openly with one another we don’t feel so alone and we often find hope and confidence that we too can do the hard things.
I will periodically be posting interviews with beautiful mothers who are a little further along in the journey than I am and I hope that you will enjoy reading about their experiences and learn as much as I have from them.
~ A chat with the lovely Annyka ~
Q1: Please tell us about your family – both human and horse
My husband and I have three children aged 12 (Oliver),13 (Charlotte) and 14yrs (Lachie). We live on a 10,00acre farm which we manage. My husband is into training and competing working stock dogs so we have about 12 working dogs and I have 8 horses varying from yearlings to older brood mares, riding horses including two kids ponies and a couple of sitting in the paddock annoying my husband favourites.
My youngest son is also into training animals, and my daughter competes and loves natural horsemanship. The discussion around our dinner table can get pretty wild with training stories and ideas as we are all big picture thinkers and love discussing training and mindset. Most weekends we have people over training with us so there is always something happening at our house. My oldest son is the most academic, not animal orientated at all. He prefers mechanics, flying lessons, sports and keeping us organised. He makes up for our lack of structure. We love him to bits. He reminds us there is a world outside of farming and animals
Q2: How did you manage returning to riding after having a baby? What were the main challenges you faced?
I rode right up to the day before I had my first child and was back competing after 5 weeks. I still remember galloping to the finish line on cross country and heard my son crying. Immediately my milk came in and I started leaking milk all over my shirt. My husband virtually threw Lachie at me saying ‘feed him, he is starving’ while I was still leading my horse back. He took the horse and I had to undress as quickly as possible to feed him all sticky and sweaty. It was the weirdest feeling.
I did notice though I became less confident starting horses under saddle after I had one throw me and knocked me unconscious. I lost a heap of nerve and got to the point where even mounting my young horses became terrifying. There was a whole year where it took all of my might, shaking madly just to get on, wait a minute before getting back off again. I had to just keep riding the quiet ones, and talk myself through it.
Thankfully, I was still doing a lot of ground work with the horses, which really helped, as it kept me connected with the horses. Being able to still be out there and working with them without having to get on was a life saver. I came up with a plan where I got the young horses ready to ride, and then sent them away to a friend of mine who starts young horses who gives them the first two weeks riding then I take them back and continue their education. It works well. I now know what standards he needs from the horses before I send them there, and he knows what I need before they come back. We work well together. I figured rather than stop starting young horses, which I love dearly, I just need to adapt, be OK with what I was no longer confident doing and come up with a plan to continue. This has turned out to be a real win/win for both of us.
In a practical sense being able to ride when the kids were sleeping was always a challenge. Luckily my horses live at the house so I could bring one in and tack up, then as soon as the kids were asleep I’d shoot out and ride. I knew exactly how far the baby monitor could reach. I used to attach it to the breastplate which always worked well, until one day I put it on a young horse and one of the kids woke up screaming, which I could hear on the baby monitor. My horse freaked out at the sound and took off bucking. I remember trying to reach the monitor to turn it off while still trying to stay on and get the horse back under control. Thankfully it all ended well but I did make sure the horses were used to it on the ground before I rode with it on again.
The kids always came to competitions with me, and I would park them in a pram next to the warm up. They seemed to know and were always well behaved. I remember one competition a lady asked my why my kids were always so well behaved in the pram. I joked and said, rum, lots of rum in the milk. She took me seriously and nearly died. I had to correct her pretty quick and let her know it was only a joke.
That same weekend I had just parked the pram and was leading my horse away when the blanket I had in the pram blew off and into my horses back legs. My horse kicked out, hitting the edge of the pram only inches from Lachie’s head and sent the pram flying. I thought my horse had killed him. Turns out he was fine, a bit shaken up, but a quick cuddle and he was all good so I parked him again and went back to the warm up.
My other biggest issue was my lack of, or let’s be honest complete failure of any bladder control. I have been doing some pelvic floor exercises and it is improving but I always have to ride with the biggest pad ever. There was a time when going cross-country I had to wear an adult nappy. No one noticed but I was always embarrassed. However, it was that or not ride and I decided not riding because of it was much worse.
As they got older my issue became logistics. With all three playing sport and living in a little country town where everything was at least an hour away we had to start budgeting our weekends. My husband and I always had a joke that whoever got their date up on the calendar in the toilet (the best place ever to have a calendar. Everyone has to look at it at least once a day) got the rights to the weekend.
Once the kids started playing sport we had to factor that in too. Some weekends it is a crazy juggling act, but having many wonderful friends help us out where possible has been amazing.We couldn’t do what we do without them. I was once afraid of asking for help, but now I realise people love helping out and we return the favour wherever possible. We never know if we are going to have no children or 9 children travelling with us to sports and competitions. Somehow, we just find a way to make it work. I remember once my husband took our youngest and most chilled human with him to a dog trial where he was judging. Oliver was on a blanket chilling with a toy next to the arena when a woman came over all stressed saying there was an abandoned child and did the know where the parents were. He had to own up that it was his son and Oliver was in fact very loved and cared for. The kids just got used to cruising about with us and rarely caused a fuss. It was just the way things are.
Q3: How have you been able to indulge your horse passion in your life since having children? Has the picture changed much? Have there been any compromises or new opportunities?
My horsey image certainly has changed since having children. Beforehand, weekends were free to travel the country competing, mornings meant getting up early and riding 3 horses before breakfast and leaving for work, and evenings were all about staying outside feeding and spending time with the horses.
You can all image how that changed once little people came around. I still worked full time but we employed a nanny from when the children were around 5 to 9yrs. That worked really well for several years, well until I noticed the children were become more disengaged and my daughter’s school teacher told me Charlotte was following her in to the staff room wanting cuddles and being very clingy.
I decided that I needed to spend more time with them so left my job of 13 years and decided to start a business from home so I could keep riding, be there for the kids and still have an income. That in itself was very challenging but the best decision I ever made, for me, my husband and my children. They were all at school by this stage so it has allowed me to focus on the business and horses during the day and still be able to attend assemblies and take to them and from after school sports as well as be there to talk through troubles at school with friends and to help nurture their resilience and creativity.
I don’t have the competition aspirations I once did, I get so much more out of coaching and training young horses now. I have really delved into the personal development and mindset realm, and had to adapt my lifestyle to work for me. The best thing is that in making that decision alone, opportunities have opened up to me that would not ever arisen had I stayed working in my 9 – 5 job. Opportunities that have taken me all over the world and because my husband is awesome and the kids now very self-reliant I can go and chase my own dreams.
Horses are and will always be my main focus. No, I don’t mean my family isn’t. They are my world, my rocks and my loves. They always came first without question but I continue to put my focus on my goals in life that invigorate and inspire me to continue being the best that I can be which helps my little people to do the same. My kids need to know that I will always be there for them, no matter what, but dreams don’t stop when you have a family.My dreams drive me to be able to create wealth and opportunities for my family to thrive. By keeping my dreams alive I am helping them to do the same for themselves.
Q4: What is your number one piece of advice for managing having a young family and your equine goals, dreams and aspirations?
Stay focussed on the big picture and then take things day by day from there.With little people in the house it in near impossible to have rigid plans and schedules, so have an ideal outcome for any given day, including riding horses etc and then adapt to suit, and accept as OK what you weren’t able to achieve and celebrate that what you were.
The other most important thing we found that it is important to keep focussing on our needs, and pleasures in life. It is easy to get caught up doing everything for the kids but we only end up resentful and exhausted. Allowing ourselves as parents to have a break away every now and then doing something with and that we love, allows us to stay fresh and inspired when we are home.
It takes work to organise getting away for the weekends competing or just having a break but it is totally worth it. My husband and I will often alternate weekends, he goes off dog trialling every couple of weeks and I go off playing with horses once a month, while the other stays home with the kids managing the barrage of sporting and schooling commitments. The rest we enjoy at home. spending time with the little people or having a family weekend doing something fun. We both love our time away and we are so much happier at home for it!
My equine dreams and passions never stopped while my children were small, they certainly changed and evolved to suit my new family lifestyle but the overarching big dreams were still there spurring me on to keep ticking on and doing anything I could to make some sort of progress towards that each day. Even if it was reading a book to update my knowledge, or watching inspirational videos and DVD’s while the children slept in my arms or were feeding. Going out and riding or playing with the horses for 5 mins max was still progress. I painted jump rails, fixed fences, went through and organised all my gear while the kids were playing beside me or on my back. It kept me inspired while still connecting with and looking after our little humans. As they got older they became more involved in what we were doing. We were able to still have our own passions, but then introduce our little ones to the joys we find in those passions.
We also had to become more involved in our little people’s own passions outside of dogs and horses. I became a gymnastic judge so I could help out with Charlottes gymnastics. I now know the in’s and out of Rugby after driving often 6 hours to carnivals, to then turn around, load the horses and get to another event or carnival before midnight. Lachie has taught me all about pulling apart engines, and how planes fly. By the end of the year he will take me up with him while he is flying, that is going to take some advice from Jane [Jane Pike – Confident Rider] as to how to handle that without freaking out!
All in all, I think we did the best that we could. We all have big goals in our family, and do whatever we can to achieve those. That doesn’t mean there were many times I felt like giving it all up, there were tons of those! It doesn’t mean we never got it wrong…. we make tons of mistakes and it doesn’t mean we get everything achieved we want to and that’s OK. We are only doing the best we can with what we have, and what we know. I find any progress is good progress, no matter how small. I don’t berate myself (much) when I have days where I just sit by the fire and pat the cat. The cat sure doesn’t mind. The horses don’t get ridden every day, and the house isn’t always clean. OK, I’ll be honest….it’s rarely clean but it is full of love!
All I can do is love my family, what I do and most importantly love myself. Not in an arrogant egotistical way, but in a way where I care for myself as much as I do anyone else. When I am full of love, I am then overflowing and can share it all around. I’m just a big ball of loveeeee…hahaha Oh, and a fair bit of crazy!