One of the great mysteries in my life is how to balance horses and parenting. For some parents with a great local support system, this is not so hard. I have always lived far from family, and my husband and I work opposite shifts, so I had to find ways to ride AND parent at the same time. Through months of trial-and-error, these five ways are how I manage to get in the saddle and entertain my kid at the same time.
Make Friends with Other Barn Parents
If you board horses, chances are another parent at your barn is having the same childcare issue as you. The easiest solution is to network together and swap childcare. One of you watches the kids for an hour while the first one rides, then switch. My Tucson horse boarding facility welcomes kids of all ages as long as they are directly supervised by an adult, and most barns I have boarded at have the same policy.
Do you need ideas for keeping kids entertained at the barn? Toni at Our Family Code has a ton of STEAM activities on her blog, and many of them only require a few materials. These are perfect out-of-the-way activities at the barn.
Find a Babysitter
I was one of those kids who cleaned stalls in exchange for lessons, and I made extra money for my horses any way I could, including by babysitting. Chances are your barn has a responsible teenager or young college-age adult around who you can pay to regularly watch your kid.
Money is nice, but bartering is an option too. You may have a skill that someone needs, and they may be willing to watch your kid in exchange for your skill. Can you tutor them in a school subject? Teach them to drive? Build a website for them? Prepare their taxes? In bartering situations, everyone wins.
Ride with Your Kid
When my daughter was smaller, I rode my horses with her in front of me. This is only with gentle, well-broke horses at slow speeds, but it gets you some saddle time and entertains your kid at the same time.
Be sure to put a helmet on your kid and wear one yourself. The only helmet I found that fit my daughter’s head when she was a toddler was the Ovation Deluxe Toddler Schooler Helmet (buy it here). I bought her helmet when she was two, and it still fits a year and a half later. This was a great investment. For myself I bought the Troxel Rebel Performance Helmet (buy it here).
Now my daughter is almost 4 and she does not fit in front of me anymore in my Western saddle. To continue riding with her, I need to buy a bigger saddle, something with a 17 inch seat, like this Hilason (buy it here).
My daughter is almost ready for a horse of her own, so I am starting to look for an appropriate one – an older horse who will quietly pack her around the arena while I ride. These horses are hard to find and worth their weight in gold when you do.
Give Your Kid a Chore
If you cannot find a babysitter and riding with your kid does not work with your training plans, give your kid a small chore they can do. I keep a trough in my arena, so I dump it out and let my daughter scrub it. I turn on the hose and let her water the arena. I lay a blanket outside the arena and let her clean tack. Kids are surprisingly easy to entertain.
I realize when I choose this option that my riding time is limited because after about half an hour she is over whatever project I gave her, but it does get me some time in the saddle.
Use the Electronic Babysitter
This is always my last choice, but when I need it, it works. I bought my daughter a Kindle Fire (buy it here) and loaded it with games and movies. I rarely let her use it, so it keeps her entertained when she has it. Sometimes I absolutely must get a horse ridden and she just is not having any part of the activities I plan for her. Maybe she is having an off day, maybe she is just being a typical preschooler. It happens. The electronic babysitter works when needed.
I put her tablet in an Incipio case (buy it here) and it made her tablet indestructible. It has been dropped and stepped on and left in the Arizona sand and it still works perfectly.
No Mom Guilt
I used to have terrible mom guilt every time I rode my horses. My kid would stand outside the arena and SCREAM at me, and I would feel like the worst mom on the planet. On other days I would have terrible horse mom guilt because I was spending so much time with my kid that I was not riding my horses and only saw them at feed time. It took me several months to find a balance. I am far from perfect at it, but these five things have changed my relationship with my kid and my horses – all for positive. It takes some coordination, and I am far from an expert at it, but I will testify that it is possible to ride your horse and entertain your kid at the same time.
How do you entertain your kid while you ride? Let me know in the comments below!
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.