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The Juggle Is Real: How Horse Show Moms Do It

Many women experience a profound shift in reality when they enter into motherhood. The artist Sarah Walker describes it like this, “Becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in the house where you already live.”

For equestrians, it can be more like discovering another stall in the barn where you already spend most of your time, but we think the analogy holds up no matter which way you take it. As many of you know, balancing equine pursuits with a well-rounded lifestyle, in and of itself, is challenging.

Then, add kids to the mix, and moms can find themselves with a full plate. For those who are part of the motherhood tribe, it often seems like it is simply incompatible with carving out a life that includes both babies and thriving equestrian life. There is often pressure on women who are mothers, or who are becoming mothers, to put horses on pause, and this is a pressure that starts as soon as one is pregnant.

But mothers most certainly don’t need to ‘hold their horses.’ We spoke to several mothers of young children who seem to embody the ‘hold my coffee….I got this’ lifestyle of mixing kids and competitive horse showing. Two non-pros, and two professional trainers gave their insight on what it takes to juggle it all. 

Q: First question…how (as in literally) do you do it? (What’s the daily routine, do you have a nana or nanny handy to help out?) 

Elizabeth Jackovich – Graphic designer and mom of two boys, Cole (7) and Kellen (3): It is a struggle, that’s for sure. It takes a lot of coordination. If I bring them, I have to make sure I have help when I show. Thankfully, my barn family is always so great about helping me keep an eye on them when I need it. I definitely could not do it without their support. I’ve always said someone could make a lot of money babysitting at horse shows.  

Ali Hubbel – Photographer and mom of a daughter, Della (2):  My husband typically comes to the horse shows with us. He stays in the trailer in the morning with our daughter while I prep for the day with my horse. We go with her schedule and work around it. We have best friends at shows that will also take our daughter or play with their children. It’s so nice to have that ‘horse show family.’

Carly Parks- Trainer, judge, and mom of boys Caden (4) and Corbin (2 ): When we aren’t at shows, we have an in-home nanny, and I’ve learned to be good about keeping to a schedule. If the nanny is coming from 8 to 5 during the day, that means I’m out the door at eight, and I stick to an exact routine.

At shows, we try to have a traveling nanny, but it’s hard to find someone who can handle the horse show schedule. We’ve been through a couple. Horse show hours are tough, but Wade and I also try to switch off who is taking the kids and prepping horses at shows. For example, one day, I might be the one up early to start the day, and Wade will be with the kids, but then at night, he’s wrapping legs and finishing up. We also have our youth kids who step up and pick up the slack. They will notice how late it is and take over doing chores to finish up to be with the boys. 

Heather Koeman- Trainer and mom of boys Wyatt (2) and Rhett (7 months):  The kids go to a family friends on Mondays through Wednesdays, my mother-in-law takes them on Fridays, and I have the boys on Thursdays. If I have to give lessons on Thursdays, my nanny, Bri Slager, comes to the barn and plays with them or the moms watching them while their kid gets a lesson.

I am fortunate to have my mom close by and can always watch them at random times. Bri [nanny] comes with me to the shows, also. I definitely couldn’t do it without a lot of help from others. 

Q: What do you wish you would have known before having kids and juggling horse showing? 

Elizabeth Jackovich:  It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it’s doable. 

Ali Hubbel:  Horse showing has always been such a big part of my life. Once I had a baby, I realized that my life purpose was not to be a world champion horsemanship rider anymore. I’m here for her, and the horse showing is a fun, extra thing I’m still so lucky to be able to do. 

Carly Parks: I wish I would have known to appreciate how easy it is to horse show without kids. Also, though, to be flexible and enjoy it. 

Heather Koeman: Well, I would have gotten a bigger living quarters right away. They [the kids] have a lot of stuff that needs to come along. 

3. What do you never leave home without when you’ve got the kids along for barn or show time?

Elizabeth Jackovich:  Snacks! Food is always the key with my boys. Toys are also another big one. I bought a bunch of toys to leave at my trainer’s barn for the boys. I’m sure she was thrilled. At the big shows, I get an extra stall so that the boys have their area to play and hangout that’s safe and out of the way. I started doing that last year, and I’m not sure why I’ve never thought of it before. 

Ali Hubbel:  An extra set of clothes and shoes.

Carly Parks: Plan, but know that you can’t plan for everything. I have started having some toys that we buy that are just for shows so that there is something different to look forward to. I’m also fortunate to have customers that love the boys, and they will bring the kids toys and snacks just for them. It makes it that much more fun when your customers truly love your kids. We also got a motorhome (with a washer and dryer) which is nice. It helps to do laundry right there at the show and have a place right there.

Heather Koeman:  Both of my kids’ love/loved these bouncer things we have for them, so one stays in the trailer to sit and take naps in, and the other bouncer toy goes to the stalls at shows, and they love sitting and playing in it. I also hate getting home with a barn-smelling diaper bag, so I have a barn/horse show diaper bag, too. That is a must. 

Q:  What’s your top tip or words of wisdom for those new to the juggle?

Elizabeth Jackovich:  Don’t avoid doing things just because you’re afraid it will be hard with kids. Kids will learn and adapt. They will get used to road trips, plane trips, and travel. I also love all the stuff the kids learn in the barn and at horse shows. They learn so much more than they could learn in a classroom, so I never have any issues pulling them for school. Thankfully, their school is always good with me taking them to shows as well. They help with barn/show chores and taking care of their horse. They learn about hard work and dedication. They see their mom being competitive. They always want to help Alyse [trainer, Alyse Roberts] feed or take care of the horses. It brings me so much joy to see them thrive in that environment, especially since military life doesn’t allow us to settle down on our farm yet.

Ali Hubbel:  It is what it is. Go with it. There will always be horse shows. Your kids are only little for a short time. If you can’t compete one year like you wanted to due to family matters, requirements; there’s always next year.

Carly Parks:  It can be challenging, and there is sometimes the feeling of guilt that you aren’t spending enough time with your kids, but I am so lucky to have a job that allows me to travel with my kids. They have great experiences. At shows, they get to go to zoos and parks; we try to plan for them to do lots of activities in each place we’re at. Now that Caden is 4, he’s starting to remember memories made at specific places, and I look forward to that. It’s also starting to be fun that there are friends the boys are getting to know at shows. We also have a great group of customers who know that our family is an essential part of our life and respect that. 

Heather Koeman: Do what’s best for your child. For example, if you’re a schedule person, do a schedule. If you aren’t, then don’t do one. Go with your gut feeling and do what works for you. I was not a schedule person because my life can’t be on a schedule. The kids needed to sleep anywhere and at any time. Thank goodness my kids were and are very flexible. Also, enjoy all the snuggles because they grow up way too fast.

Are you balancing horses and young kids? What challenges do you face, and how do you make it all work? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author: A lover of horses who loves to write, Rachel Kooiker competes in all-around Amateur events. Together with her husband, Drew, they operate Kooiker Show Horses to raise select APHA Halter and Performance prospects.