I got pregnant when I was 38. When that happened, my obstetrician handed me a chart with all the stats that didn’t inspire much confidence in my odds of a perfectly healthy baby. I got lucky. Henry arrived with all the required pieces and parts. I tried to have a perfect pregnancy, and I was determined to be a perfect mother. It would’ve been a huge help if my doctor handed me a chart that showed the odds of that not being in my favor either.
I’m a control freak, an A-type personality, and I adore order. I’m also a rider. This isn’t a great combination. It has become apparent, as the mother of a just-turned-3-year-old, that my issues have no place in the riding arena or with my son. I’m learning to let go and trust before the jump, across country, on the playground and during play dates.
My biggest test to date was my three-week-long trip with my son and husband, Darren, to Australia. Darren’s family lives outside of the capital city of Adelaide. It’s beautiful country; rolling hills, gum trees, stone houses and horse country to the bone, with a healthy dose of sheep and cattle throughout the countryside. And it’s flooded with foxes.
The local hunt is the Adelaide Hunt, and Darren has been friends with the huntsman, Andrew Grey, since he was about 14. Needless to say, hunting was on the agenda. Now I’ve hunted in Australia as a newlywed before (and that’s another story for another time) but as a mother, this was a new kettle of fish.
As Henry gets older, and the magnitude of responsibility of motherhood occurs to me, I feel my nerve slip away. I over-think everything, but I’m trying not to so I don’t think myself out of everything. I don’t want to end up knitting in a corner somewhere with an unhealthy addiction to “Cupcake Wars.”
I’m also a bit stubborn. Add that to a control issue, and it can get a bit irksome for those around me at times. As with horses, there’s only so much planning you can do and the rest is up to the universe. Stuff happens. I’m learning to let it. Stop fearing the “what if’s” and just roll with it. Hunting and riding have always been my outlet. I understand it’s important to take time for yourself so you can be a good mother. That’s harder than it sounds, but I know how much more balanced I am when I’ve had my “horse time.”
The Journey Begins
I started planning for our trip about two months before we left. Our luggage weighed to the ounce, extra diapers stuffed in each nook and cranny, clothes for four seasons, toys and games to amuse a toddler and (hopefully) a good sense of humor, we were ready to head to the airport. It felt like packing for a horse trials except I forgot the horse, trailer and all of my tack. An hour and a half into the journey, we blew a tire. Fifteen minutes later and an hours’ traffic delay, we made it by the skin of our teeth to our flight. Not an ideal start and a great way to unleash the anxiety fairy within me. It would be funny later.
After 30 hours of travel, door-to-door, we arrived in Adelaide on Henry’s third birthday, and a party was organized the following night with more aunts, uncles, cousins and family than I’d ever experienced.
We confirmed that night that Darren’s cousin, Kylie, would babysit Henry the next day while we hunted. Kylie and her husband have three girls ages 5, 2 and 4 months. I couldn’t quite understand why she’d want to add to that, but Darren assured me she wasn’t just being polite. On top of her experience with her own kids, Kylie had been a professional nanny.
When I put Henry to bed that night, I told him about our plans for the following day; a routine I did at home to prepare him for potential appointments or babysitters. To him the main point was that he got to see his cousins again and play with their toys—an idea that excited him quite a bit. Having Henry meet the relatives the night before their play date was like being able to school the cross-country course before a horse trials, and I felt like I’d done my homework.
First Hunt Jitters
The next day, Henry lit up like a Christmas tree at the familiar faces and new-to-him toys in Kylie’s tidy house, which resembled a piece of daycare heaven. He made a beeline for the play kitchen and, without looking behind him, said goodbye and blew us a kiss. No spooking, bucking or rearing, this kid headed into the arena like a pro.
Darren and I looked at each other, stunned, and almost ran to the car. When we got to the meet however, all my nerves about leaving Henry in a “strange” place with “strangers” morphed into riding nerves with each passing open mile of hunt country… and hunt fences.
The jumps here are in wire fence lines. They have a round rail on top of a wire fence like the airiest jumper vertical in natural wood you can imagine with no ground line and set between 3’ and 3’6”. Done on grassland on a horse I’d never sat on before. Henry who?
When we got to the meet, Darren plugged in the cell phone to charge and assured me it was best left in the car than to risk losing it out of a coat pocket. That’s when the “what if’s” raged in my head about falling off, getting hurt, Henry getting hurt, and on it went. I nodded numbly and briefly entertained not going, but then that stubborn streak showed up and powered through the voices in my head.
Andrew pointed out my horse, Bundy, tied to the cattle truck he uses to haul horses and hounds. Bundy was named after an Australian rum drink, Bundaberg, and I wondered if it was because you needed some in order to ride him, or because he was so wonderful, he made you feel giddy like you’d had some.
Bundy was a small bay gelding who looked kind and relaxed on the ground. As soon as I got on him, however, his engine revved, and he minced around like a zippy little rabbit. Great.