It Takes a Village: Kristen & Geoffrey

“If I had a dollar for every time I was asked how I manage to balance a full-time, demanding career with raising a toddler, riding, owning a farm, and being active around our community, I’d be richer than Scrooge McDuck … But really, it takes a village to make it possible.”

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, three of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. Kristen Brennan is back today, sharing some motivation and inspiration about how to balance a young child, a young horse, and a demanding career. 

My husband Chris and son Thomas hanging out at a horse show. Photo by Natasia Lind.

There is a saying that “It takes a village” to raise a child. While I didn’t quite understand what this meant before having my son, I learned quickly that my husband and I couldn’t do it all ourselves. In the early days, my parents stayed with us and as I tackled being a new mom, my dad grocery shopped and cooked dinner, my husband took care of our house and animals, and my mom waded through the endless laundry and took the baby when I was exhausted so I could get some much-needed rest. As my son has gotten older, we have grown to rely even more on others – from daycare teachers to friends who are there to celebrate every milestone with us and to lend a helping hand when a babysitter cancels last minute. I have learned that there are so many people that help you raise a child and how important that “village” is.

The past year of trying to find myself in the horse world again after having a baby and taking a break from Marcus has really made me realize how important a village is to a rider. In my case, it has been an essential factor in everything from finding me a special horse like Geoffrey to keeping me in the saddle when juggling everything seemed downright impossible. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked how I manage to balance a full-time, demanding career with raising a toddler, riding, owning a farm, and being active around our community, I’d be richer than Scrooge McDuck. I often joke that it’s at the expense of sleep and burning the candle at both ends (and caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine). But really, it takes a village to make it possible.

My husband Chris is a BIG part of this village. Sure, he’s Thomas’s dad so it’s inherent that he is involved with raising our child, but he isn’t a horse person in any way, shape or form. While he doesn’t understand why I love it so much, he remains my main support system and Geoffrey’s (and Marcus’s, of course), and my biggest fan. He is the major reason why I have been able to (sort of) balance things to bring Geoffrey along for the 2019 Makeover.

Aside from being a great dad, he helps with things like night check so I can go to bed a little earlier when I’m exhausted and morning chores so I can spend a few extra minutes with my son. He endlessly repairs fence boards that my horses make a game out of ripping down and drags my arena without compliant so that I have perfect footing for a jump school. He may roll his eyes and sigh when I google yet another type of jump and send him a photo, asking, “Can you build this for me to practice with Geoffrey,” but off to Lowe’s he goes. Armed with a cooler chair, a few cold beers and backpack with more contents than a survival pack, he and my son are at every show I’m at. Sometimes they may miss a ride time because a nap ran over or they couldn’t find a sock, but it never fails that when I walk out of the ring they are there. It’s allowed me not to have to choose between being a mom and being the horse crazy girl I’ve always been.

My husband Chris and my son Thomas saying hi to Geoffrey after a successful XC clinic. Photo by JJ Sillman.

When it comes to riding, our village is full of so many talented people who truly care about our future. In addition to pony club mounted meetings and local clinics, we take weekly lessons with a fantastic trainer who is as excited about our progress as I am (sometimes more!). She is tough but supportive and truly helps me improve so that I can be a better rider for Geoffrey. She pushes me out of my comfort zone enough that our confidence grows each lesson. She understands when I need to cancel because my son is sick, or my husband is out of town and I don’t have someone to watch him. Those things are so important to me because as a working mom, there is always some level of guilt associated with hours you spend away from your child.

Last week I was hit hard with mom guilt and sat in my office crying at work because, among other things, my son had been scheduled to have surgery and I had just booked flights for an extended business trip (the longest time I will have been away from him). I wrestled with even going to my lesson because it would mean another night of not spending time with him. But I went, my trainer was so supportive, and Geoffrey was awesome (we even jumped our first skinny!), making it worth it.

Discussing what we did in my lesson with my trainer. Photo by Amanda Endfinger.

While the education in the saddle is essential to our journey, friends are a vital part of the village that keeps me and Geoffrey moving forward. Though they may not be responsible for the training aspect of our journey, they sure provide the much-needed emotional support. They are the friends who told me they understood exactly where I was coming from as I expressed my concerns about continuing with Marcus last year. They are the friends who referred to Geoffrey as “#keeper” and quickly dismissed conversations when the practical side of me thought I should sell the most marketable horse in my herd, regardless of how much I liked riding him.

These are the riding buddies who meet me at the ingate after what I called the “best-worst stadium round ever” with a high five and laugh while telling me “Good Save!” They are the ones who never complain when my stroller takes up half the tack stall at a show and scoop up my son to distract him when he’s on the verge of a meltdown at an event. They are the eventing mom friends who set an example for what it’s like to raise children without losing yourself, and who say, “I went through the same thing. I understand” when you tearfully question what in the world you are doing trying to develop a young event horse at this point in your life.

Heronwood — Post “You didn’t cry on XC” celebrations with the girls. Photo courtesy of Kristen Brennan.

I count my lucky stars to have this village standing with me and Geoffrey. While the love of the horse runs deep in me, I do believe I would not have gotten back into the saddle after last season without the support from all of them. Even if I did eventually start riding again, I for sure would not be aiming for the 2019 Makeover – on one of the coolest horses I’ve ever been lucky enough to sit on – without all of them. It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am for this village, but I do hope they realize how important they are to my and Geoffrey’s journey.

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