The key to juggling baby and horse, I have concluded, is rigorous time management.
That, and a compliant husband, kept sweet with a liberal application of beer and rugby.
I have also concluded that your baby will laugh scornfully in the face of any attempt to maintain a vestige of your pre-baby existence.
Fredders is now rising four months and has entered what my mother euphemistically refers to as a ‘challenging phase’. For the uninitiated, a ‘challenging phase’ means ‘screaming’. Constantly. No matter how much jiggling and shushing you do, or how many YouTube videos of dancing vegetables you plonk him in front of, or how many times you optimistically say, “he’s definitely going to stay asleep this time”.
Ewan the Dream Sheep and I were teetering on the brink of a major falling out.
All in all, I’ve been feeling pretty frazzled, so when my husband offered me the morning off between feeds, I was pathetically grateful.
Clearly, racking up the #Hack1000Miles mileage while I’m in sole charge of a screaming baby is a bit tricky (my suggestion of a sidecar, à la Wallace and Gromit, was for some reason not taken very seriously by my husband).
I decided to use my precious baby-free time by going for a little bumble through the woods, adding a couple of miles to our log and giving me the opportunity to reflect on what I hope to accomplish over the next few months.
Our yard is in the heart of racing country, and the on-site hacking takes us past the graves of six former Derby winners (pictured above), so I thought they might inspire us.
Owen, however, was very concerned at the prospect of bumping into ghostly racehorses and wasn’t keen to hang around, no matter how many times I explained that the rustling in the bushes was more likely to be a squirrel than the spirit of Cicero.
While I was out of action growing a human being, I roped in some friends who are far better riders than me to keep Owen ticking over.
This was an excellent idea in principle, but they have helpfully installed medium paces and schooled him out of all the lazy habits that I had let him get into, resulting in a horse that is now significantly sharper than his rider.
As we leap sideways to avoid certain death at the hands (wings?) of a particularly indignant pigeon, I ponder the next few months.
It’s clear that success post-baby is going to look very different to success pre-baby. Nowadays, just getting up to the yard to ride is an achievement.
Another sleepless night
It’s easy to pile on the pressure to just pick up where you left off, but the couple of competitive outings that we’ve had so far have shown that just leaving the yard on time is hard enough, without factoring in the actual riding.
Owen and I made our (distinctly average) British Dressage debut a couple of weeks ago, but after less than two consecutive hours’ sleep I struggle to remember my own name, let alone a dressage test – and, frankly, plaiting up is not high on my list of priorities at 7am after yet another sleepless night.
In a flash of inspiration, I thought I’d have a go at some online dressage and roped in a willing friend to simultaneously wrangle the baby, video and read the test.
You won’t be surprised to learn that this wasn’t an overwhelming success — the resulting video features quite a lot of closeups of the fence, me simultaneously halting and bursting into tears, and a soundtrack of apoplectic baby with my friend swearing loudly in the background.
We didn’t place, for some reason.
So, for now, let’s forget about our free walk. The focus is on enjoying ourselves, racking up the hacking miles, and learning how to work together as a team again.
After all, we do this for fun, right?!