I’ve been hesitant about writing this post as it’s not just my story but my younger daughters’ as well. I’ve always talked too much about my girls to my friends, sharing their trials and tribulations and they don’t like it. I’ve got better at containing myself but I know I’m on a line here that I could easily cross. If there are gaps and missing information it’s because I’m trying not to.
I loved horses as a child and when I was 11 my mum bought me a pony with help from the woman who would become my step mum 2 years later. My step sister and I spent many happy days in early adolescence riding free round the countryside. Driving my dad mad building courses of jumps out of straw bales in his newly harvested fields. As we got older the ponies were often neglected for boys – guiltily caught and fussed over when said boys let us down. My 2nd pony became unridable and I spent the insurance money putting her in foal. I came home from school one day and she’d been slaughtered. She’d gone lame and the vet thought she had a brain tumour. She had laminitis – a foot condition that is easily managed. I think that day marked the end of childhood for me.
I didn’t really ride again for many years, the odd holiday ride here and there in my twenties. In my thirties a regular riding holiday in the Brecon Beacons brought me close to my childhood experiences. The freedom and the exhilaration of galloping across the wide open spaces is an incomparable feeling. It wasn’t until my forties that I really got back into it though. When we moved back to England in 2005 J started riding lessons with her friend and I started going too. The yard had jumping competitions and they let you borrow a horse to compete. Not something you find very often. New Year’s Eve 2007 having not jumped since my teens I did 3 rounds – the last ending with me on my arse in a flower pot. I was buzzing all night I’d had so much fun.
By the end of 2008 I’d bought 2 horses – one for me and one for J. A was not happy as I’ve mentioned before. When I’d excitedly show others a picture of my horse he would comment ‘more like your new fucking partner’. He was right in a way; I was in love with Jake (the horse) and I’d found a way to meet my needs other than through my marriage and children. My eldest daughter E was neglected too I’m ashamed to say. Between work, the horses and drinking there wasn’t much space left. Our family became one of two halves.
J is a good rider and shares my passion. We got a lot of rosettes and had a lot of good times. The 1st pony was outgrown and replaced; a horse box was purchased and we went further afield. I worked more to pay for it all but horses are expensive and the angst about money was never far away and the overdraft grew. The rift between me and A got deeper.
Fast forward to September 2012. I’d just met C and was standing at a fork in the road of my life unsure which path to take. J had outgrown pony number two and we were taking the horses to the beach for a last fun ride before she went to her new home. On the way back my car set on fire and we had to unload the horses on the side of the motorway. Luckily we were right next to a works exit and lots of people helped us. As I looked at my car spewing out smoke and making alarming banging noises I realised that life as I knew it had blown up too and there was no going back.
The search for a new horse for J began. C paid for it and we had high hopes. This is one of my biggest regrets. I wish we had waited and allowed things to settle down. I felt so guilty about my girls and the pain of divorce that I was inflicting I wanted to make it up to them. C is a very generous soul and he wanted me to be happy so was a willing accomplice in my efforts to buy them happiness. I see now how unfair this was to A. Creating an uneven playing field for how we would parent once apart. I can’t help thinking that what came next was the karma for this mistake.
2013 and we are at a cross country competition, doing solo and pairs. C is with us. J’s horse falls at fence 5 of the pairs. I know she’s going to be in a foul mood and I want to complete the course so once I know they are both up I carry on. Not my finest parenting moment. From then on J has problems with her horse. Eventually we realise it was from the neck trauma but for ages both me and her instructor think it’s J being stressed and anxious when she rides. Instead of triumph in the ring it’s embarrassment. Where once riding was a source of self worth for J it became the source of self doubt. J’s own well being and the horses were intertwined.
In the midst of all this C had an issue that meant he couldn’t work for a few months. I wept all night as I thought I would have to give up the horses. By the morning I had a plan to keep them. I’d have given up anything else more readily.
Whilst this cycle continued I threw time and money at trying to fix the horse to no avail. June 2015, J came home from a holiday with friends bright and cheerful and excited to see him. An hour later she’s crying in the car that she never wants to ride again. I accepted defeat and the horse physio took him off our hands for 10% of what we had paid for him. I was just glad we didn’t have to put him down.
Two days later J is texting me adverts for horses! I don’t have to accept defeat – I can still fix this! I borrowed the money from my brother and bought another. The plan was to bring her on and compete her then sell her when J went to uni 2 years later. She wasn’t the easiest of horses and the cycle continued – progressively worsening as we slowly unravelled all her problems. 3 months before J left home the horse had back surgery. J had had enough. I’d failed to fix the horse and in doing so had failed my daughter. I was left with an unrideable horse and an unhappy daughter.
I was still riding and competing my horse but the fun was muted now; he had his injuries and issues too meaning I had to retire him late 2017. I turned my attention to Js horse and started her rehabilitation. I couldn’t get on with her at all and after 6 months could barely trot! J decided she would ride her again. I think this took immense courage on her part after so much heartache.
I’ve learnt some painful life lessons through all of this. You can’t always get what you want. I wanted to divorce without fucking up my kids and my attempts to make it better made it worse. Trying to fix everything is a way to avoid feeling the pain. I should have allowed the anger and upset more and accepted them; from my children and myself. Eventually I made the connection between my quest to fix Js horses and the loss of my own as a teenager. My unresolved loss fuelling my actions in the present and in the process passing the pain down the generations.
I’ve viewed my children’s happiness or otherwise as a measurement of my mothering ability over the years, a role I really want to be good at – don’t we all? I’ve realised that’s a lot of pressure for them that they could have done without. There is a fine line between pushy and supportive parenting when it comes to sports or anything else I guess. Of course you want them to do well but when their self worth gets caught up in their achievement; or your own issues in your feelings about it like my grief did then it’s not healthy. We can’t make our kids happy. We can try to make them resilient and we can be there when they struggle. That’s what really matters – not what you or anyone else thinks of your parenting.
Chasing after dreams turns them into expectations and we too easily lose sight of the true pleasures when our hopes are dashed. The feeling of riding across open countryside is what it’s about really, not winning competitions. Like life it’s about being in the moment, really experiencing it as it happens, not dwelling on a past mistake or a future goal.
Things have been up and down these last 2 years with the horse. Since we decided in the summer that she’s staying with us they’ve been doing well. I’ve had to let go of wanting another one for myself and appreciate how lucky I am to have one at all, even if I can’t ride her very well! I’m seeing this time as an opportunity for me and J to re-work our relationship through the horses. We are back doing what we were, going out jumping most weekends but we are calmer, less expectant and learning to just enjoy the ride.