How to create balance in your life? If that isn’t an age-old question, I’m not sure what is! In most workplaces today, the cliche of work-life balance will often crop up, it’s on everyone’s minds as the ultimate goal. I’m not sure it exists though. Aren’t we all trying to balance everything? Perhaps just life balance is more like it. Trying to find some sort of routine amongst the chaos that is life.
I’m not quite sure why us human beings like to live in such chaos! Work pressures, keeping up with the boss, school runs, homework, house chores, mealtimes, socialising and making yourself look like something which maybe resembles presentable, are something which most people have to deal with on a daily basis but then there are some another level crazy people who add things like horses and farms into the mix and, well, let’s just say ‘balancing’ life is probably pushing it!
“Why do it?” I hear you shout. I know there are some who choose a life ‘off grid’ and away from it all, but actually I don’t think I would like to be one of those. Despite all that, I don't think I could live without the chaos. It gives us some meaning, a goal to achieve, gives us motivation to move forward- especially for equestrians, and that, I find, gives me joy. Too much is too much though, and, as I’ll delve into later in this article, sometimes something has to give, but wouldn’t life be boring without some well-balanced chaos!
My life is full of chaos! My Instagram handle probably explains it best - @farminghorseymum. It explains my niche and life in one big swoop. Offline, I’m Sarah. Wife to Robert, mum to 2-year-old Isobel, living in the beautiful Tyne Valley area of Northumberland. I spend my days trying hard to be an equestrian, trying hard to be a farmer, up until recently, part-time teacher, and in the near future, diversification business manager of an outdoor education program. Between my husband and I, we have seven horses; three retired old people; a Fell Pony, an Arab and an Irish Sports Horse, two Arab endurance horses, an Arab x Welsh yearling, and our daughter’s Shetland x Dartmoor pony. We also farm Limousin cattle and a flock of Jacob sheep alongside a commercial flock of Charrolais sheep.
There’s a lot going on… do I manage it? Yes! Do I manage it well? Not all the time. Do I love my busy, chaotic life? Absolutely!
Being realistic gets me through the day
The last few years have been a real learning curve for me. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’m guilty of always trying to take on too much. Perhaps if I was up and out at dawn, I might get more done, but hey, who doesn’t like to sleep! I’ve begun to realise, especially since welcoming Isobel, that having it all is absolutely possible… just not all at the same time.
I think it’s important to do a good job in anything you do, otherwise there’s just no point. When the plates are spinning, we all know what happens when there are too many… sitting on your bed, staring at the ceiling, mentally telling your 16-year-old self that adulting is crap and sneaking sips of disgusting cheap wine in the park with your mates was way better… and we all know it wasn’t, really. There were no horses in my life back then!
So, what do we do before we convince ourselves to join a 90s (or insert decade of choice) tribute cult… we get our priorities straight.
For me, it was working out that my teaching job was becoming a lifestyle choice with expectations of working 24/7 to meet multiple deadlines and children becoming secondary to the ‘business’ of teaching (if you’re in the education industry you’ll know what I’m talking about). Farming is also a lifestyle rather than a ‘just a job’ and doing both was becoming increasingly impossible. I was living two, not altogether well-matching, lives and I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Which one to choose was easy. My husband, child and horses come with the farm and teaching came with the money… so I chose to teach. No, kidding, of course I chose the farm, horses, and my family as they will always be my priority and I would much rather have a career to build around that than try to squeeze in family around my career.
Since leaving teaching, my relationship has improved with my husband. I’m getting to enjoy my time with my daughter instead of always feeling rushed and I have more time to dedicate to my horses. I’ve begun to think more about the path my equestrian journey is going to take as, with more time, I can try to learn a bit more about other disciplines. I’ve tried some dressage and really enjoyed it. I plan to do some showing with my yearling over the winter. Could I dig out the brave pants and have a go at some ‘real’ cross country? Isobel’s riding has also come on leaps and bounds this summer as we’ve had more time to dedicate to helping and encouraging her with her little pony, Buttons. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t get me wrong, we still work incredibly hard. The farm certainly doesn’t run itself, especially recently when we’ve come to the time to sell lambs, bring in the hay for the winter ahead, and the annual dreaded sheep registrations! But the difference is, farm time can be family time too and, luckily, it’s one of Isobel’s favourite places to be.
I do think it’s so important to also be realistic with yourself by knowing what you can achieve. I have a fabulous friend who cycles for miles, actually goes to the gym instead of just proudly displaying the membership card, rides and trains her two endurance horses, looks after her mare and foal with such dedication, as well as working full time and you know, having a life. I am in absolute awe of her, but I fully understand that I, personally, just don’t have the energy. The ability to admire someone and not let the ‘I wish…’ take over is so important for your own mental health, which is why I always believe in setting your own priorities. Certainly, let others inspire you, but always choose your own path.
Somethings just don’t matter as much as you think
Okay, confession time! I am probably one of the most unorganised people ever! I’d absolutely love to be one of those mums who batch cook meals to store in the freezer, always have a super tidy house, have the constant smell of baking coming from the kitchen as well as everything else I spend my life doing, but I’m not. My ducks are not in a row, they’re spread everywhere, maybe upside down underneath the washing pile. But for what I lack in daily organisation, I make up for in getting the stuff which matters done! I’ve got quite good at thinking ahead to what needs to be done that week and making sure it’s sorted by prioritising. If we have a sheep sale coming up which needs the entries done, well that will be done ahead of the ironing pile. Friends coming over for dinner and need to get the house clean and tidy; better opt for a 20-minute schooling session rather than the longer hack. A competition coming up at the weekend, well everything gets dropped to make sure we get there on top form. Planning what’s important right now and, more importantly, letting the other things go is a hard thing to learn, but it makes life a lot easier and the guilty feeling of not doing it all does disappear after a while…promise!
You can’t have it all without your team!
We all know that when you are a horse owner, you definitely aren’t doing it alone. A whole team goes into keeping your horse in tip top shape no matter what level of equestrian you are. Vets, farriers, physios, dentists, saddlers, coaches, to name just a few, all help you and your horse achieve what you want to achieve, and we’d be seriously lost without them! I think the same goes for family life. I’d be incredibly lost without my team… but I also know I’m so lucky to have them.
When I was still teaching, childcare was a heroic feat of organising and God forbid, if anything popped up like an unexpected meeting or, even worse, Isobel was poorly! It was a constant juggling act between nursery, grandparents and daddy. Now we have a good routine of nursery days and grandparent’s days, farm days and family days. We all actually know where we stand, especially Isobel, who I feel was definitely in a bit of a whirlwind of who would be with her today! Not only is my life more balanced now, but hers certainly is too.
Now that she’s a little older and spending more time at home, we get to welcome her on to our team too! She helps muck out her pony, gets stuck in with the grooming, and turns little Buttons out like a pro. We are so lucky to have Abbie, our groom, who is not only super with the horses, but amazingly patient with Isobel too, teaching her so many things about looking after her pony. On the farm, we definitely have a little toddler who is awesome with the sheep too and is the best water bucket filler and hay-getter there is!
So how do I manage a toddler, farming and horses? I get her involved with as many age-appropriate tasks as possible. Busy minds and busy hands certainly keep the monkey-ness at bay…slightly! Washing up is certainly one of her favourite ‘jobs’. Pop her in her waterproofs and give her some buckets to wash and she’ll happily do it all day!
Of course, when there are bigger farm or horse jobs to do, we like to try to get those done whilst Isobel is at Nursery or grandparents and that’s where our team is invaluable. Yard safety has to be a number one priority, and as much as we’d like to have her around 100 percent of the time, we know realistically it just isn’t possible.
And so, if I can leave you with one take home point this time, it’s not to be afraid to prioritise the main things and let the little things slide. Life is too short to stress about the boxes not ticked. You know you’ll tick them eventually but know that they really don’t need doing all at once! Your child, horse, partner or dog will always remember the time you spent with them, the amazing things you achieved and the memories you made, not that you didn’t do the ironing.