When I meticulously planned the livery yard, imagined the horses’ daily routine and mulled over the pros and cons of different equine management methods, I could not have foreseen the challenges and distractions faced when trying to run it alongside parenting two small children.
It is very difficult to appear the consummate equestrian professional while exchanging contracts with a new livery client, when a toddler climbs onto your lap and smears a soggy, previously chewed chocolate biscuit all over your face. Equally, those all-important first impressions can be tricky to achieve when a car pulls up, prospective clients walk down the drive and the oldest child discreetly (at the top of her voice, fully audible by all) announces that: “There are some people here, mummy. They look strange!” She means that they are strangers to us and we have not met them before, but the damage is done.
My daughter is also a bit of a wild child (she is six), a free spirit and… a nudist. We love her for her confidence and we wouldn’t have her any other way but, my word, it is impossible to keep clothes on that child! Every time I do ‘the tour’ with horse owners considering South Woolley Livery & Coaching as their new yard, without fail, at some point we will come across a perfectly placed pair of shoes in the middle of a path or field. At this point I will joke that this is the place where a little girl was once abducted by aliens. Further on in the tour, with the utmost certainty, I know we will come across a discarded pair of knickers. No matter how thoroughly I have searched the whole site beforehand, collecting abandoned garments by the dozen, there is always one embarrassing item that escapes me. There is nothing to do other than pick the offending item up, roll my eyes and proclaim, “Ellie!”
I struggle daily with my kleptomaniac toddler. It is not his fault. He is at a very curious age where everything is of interest to him. It is a normal stage in human development, I’m sure. But when in a situation where I am responsible for a lot of people’s ‘stuff’, it can be a challenge. I estimate that I spend 8% of my day just looking for hoof picks and sponges. Hoof picks and sponges! This does not account for all the time I spend looking for the mini fork/flicker thing that goes with a poo-scoop and fly spray bottles. Luckily, my current liveries are very understanding and soon the boy will understand the meaning of: “Put that back immediately or mummy will tell you something about Father Christmas that will ruin your life!”
I feel that I am now sufficiently over the trauma of a recent event, that I can tell you the story of how my one and a half year old son locked himself into our car. It was one of the very first days of the very first horses having arrived. Co-ordinating yard chores and child care was a new task to me and I was just congratulating myself on having turned all the horses out into the field while my son was safely strapped into his car seat when I walked past the car and noticed he was actually not strapped into his car seat (I probably didn’t quite shut the clasp on the seat belt properly). The boy saw me and started to whinge in a bid for attention. So I opened the car door to pick him up. Only the car door would not open. It was locked. No problem, I’ll try the back door… locked.
Oh dear. I winced as I tried the boot as a last attempt at entering the vehicle, but I knew in all honesty that it was locked as well. I went back to the front window to assess the situation. I now can put the pieces of the crime together, like a detective, as I see the boy sitting in front of a button on the dash board that locks all doors in the event of a car-jacking (rife in North Cornwall) also with the car keys in his hand (hence why I can’t get in). Oh, *insert expletive here*! There was a comical moment where I, on the outside of the car was miming and describing as one might to a deaf or foreign person, to “Press the black button, darling! That’s right… The BLACK BUTTON! Press it for Mummy?” No.
The following moments include frantic phone calls to my husband, realising the breakdown cover company details are now locked in the car with the child, Googling ‘toddler locked in car’ and reading the results: ‘Mother jailed for neglect’. Jasper falling asleep safely in the front seat and husband coming to my rescue to carefully access the internal door catches by gently breaking a rear quarter window. The toddler had not a clue what had just happened.
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In the beginning I wanted to hide the kids away from potential liveries when they came to look round. Mostly so we could have a conversation without interruption. Now I think it is best that they see us in all our mad, deranged, chaotic glory. It has to be said, there is never a dull moment with children around. In fact, it is now a prime consideration for us as to whether a livery will fit in at our yard. If you can hold an in-depth conversation with me about the intricacies of your horse’s slight lameness while a small human screams “Cake, cake! Caaaaake!” in the background and a muddy dog jumps up on you, then you’re in. That is, if you aren’t running, screaming for the hills!