Decision Time! Equestrian career or Family Life… let’s try both!

Decision Time! Equestrian career or Family Life… let’s try both!

At the age of 21 I started my professional career within the horse industry, I started by being an apprentice in a livery and sales yard. At that age I just wanted one thing… get better in my riding, learn as much there is to know, get the chance to ride competitions and become a part of the glamorous world of the (German) equestrian circle. I did not mind that there were no set hours, no weekends and pretty much no holidays, all I saw was the opportunity to learn and grow as a rider.

But it did not strike me until I had worked at my first yard for a while that it was not only time I would have to give up, but also a big junk of my private life. During my time in this yard, I was in a long-distance relationship (my boyfriend lived 8 hours away) and I was trying to go up for a long weekend after not seeing him for 3 months. I know I was not going to get the time off, because that is just not a “thing”, so I found myself lying to my boss in order to have a couple of days to life a “normal” life and see my partner. I felt so bad about it. After that it got very clear that developing further in your career as a rider and possibly having a family life is not something the industry agreed with.

At this point in my life, it was clear for me that I would always choose my riding career over a relationship. So, for the next 5 years there was no such thing in my life and that was ok at the time as I was not seeking a family life back then.

Looking back at the people I worked with, the allowances of having a family was not something that ever changes in this job even if you progressed on in your career. In other jobs you can reach a certain level of educational comfort and you are then able to sit back and focus on other things, in the equine industry and especially as a rider and trainer you barely ever have this comfort! I can remember that I lost a couple of rides on horses when I became pregnant as the owner did not “want to wait around for me” to come back after having the baby, he also said “I don’t think you be up for it anymore then” of course I can’t blame him as he wanted to get his horse shown and progressing, but this comments made me feel that I should not have made the decision to become a mum and that this decision will ruining my career.

Looking at the dynamic in a relationship, men seek the same life and family goals as us women, yet it does not affect them as it affects a woman working in the equine industry and especially as a rider. If the shared life goal is to have a family (including a child) it is the woman who carries the baby for 9 month and is not able to do all the work required in this physical job. After that we have the expectation on ourselves to be back in the saddle after a week’s rest… seriously what were we thinking!
Not being able to fulfil this expectation can lead to a lot of other issues. Men do not have this pressure and hormonal/emotional experience… and the decision to have a family does not slow their career down. From my experience a lot of equestrian couples I know are deciding against having a family and even though they do not state the above as a reason for it, I am very certain it is a key point in their decision-making process especially for the woman in the relationship.

I have taken a different path in my career and moved away from the equine industry as a full-time profession, yet I worked for a few years here in Ireland as a trainer and rider while having my first child. My feeling is it is a little bit easier here and I can only talk for myself, but I find the acceptance in Ireland is better when it comes to having a family life. Even though my previous example does not support this hypothesis.

In recent years Media has improved the image of female riders/athletes. And seeing the top of the sport sharing their experience in relation to having Kids and a family has helped the overall image of the field. The likes of Janne Friederike Mayer (International German Show Jumper) who recently hand a child, or Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl who currently is pregnant with her second child after winning the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo last summer (there are many more examples in the recent years) these power houses of woman are an inspiration and are showing that you can be at the top of your game and have a family at the same time. But it often is much harder compared to a family life when the parents have a 9-5 Job.

I believe the most vital component to make this work is a partner that understands your passion for the sport and your love for the animal and good organisation, after that it is all up to you and how much you want something!