Humans of the Horse World: Nancy Mullinax McBrayer
My career as a horse show mom began in 1986. To say that I was unfamiliar with the job description would be a severe understatement. Our family of five had moved from Atlanta to Charlotte, NC, and my daughters, ages seven and eleven, had left their best friends and all four grandparents behind in Atlanta. Like any loving mom, I set out to help them make new friends and find new interests in their new home. As it turned out, they were the perfect ages to fall in love with horses. Soon both had started riding lessons at a local barn not too far from our home.
Who knew that a horse or pony could be leased? Certainly not this mom! But I soon learned that this was the way to go until we knew if the girls would stick with it. After a couple of weeks at the new barn, I was pretty sure that "sticking" wasn't going to be a problem. The girls were in love. We went to the barn every afternoon with my three-year son old tagging along. Both Heather and Hilary joined 4-H and learned everything there was to learn about horse care. They learned to judge conformation and justify their reasoning about how they placed the horses. Basic wound care, wrapping legs, tacking and untacking, along with caring for their leather, all became easy and familiar to both girls. We never had a groom or even a barn manager back in those days. We did it all ourselves. The tradition and correctness aspects of our sport were emphasized, and I loved watching my daughters set goals, work hard, and reap the rewards at shows. I liked that the standards were high at our barn, and both girls learned quickly that there were no shortcuts.
The years passed quickly, and Hilary will be 38 this month. She is still riding and showing in the Amateur Owners. I think it's safe to say she has "stuck with it." And I still have my job as horse show mom. As my husband moves closer to retirement, I began to think a lot about all of the time and money we have spent in horses. Needing some affirmation, I asked Hilary to tell me three ways riding had made her a better person. This is what she said:
As a child, I was quiet and shy. I often lacked the confidence I needed to believe in myself. Riding taught me that goal setting, patience, and hard work are the keys to making your dreams come true in horses. Gradually, I began to believe in myself, and I felt my confidence growing. Because most of my horses were OTTBs, I leaned that success doesn't always come from having the fanciest horse at the show. Hard work and determination are key
ingredients. Of course, I don't always win, but now I always believe it's a possibility!
Becoming a wife and mom to two boys changed everything for me where riding and showing is concerned. There were many more demands on my time, and in addition my mom had to add babysitting to her list of horse show mom duties. Without her, I could not have made it happen. I was at a show three weeks after my oldest son was born. It was December and we were not in Florida. My mom tucked the bundled baby inside her down jacket to keep him warm, and I went to the car to nurse between classes. This stage was incredibly difficult, and I began to really need my down time with my horse as an outlet. It is very hard to describe how therapeutic my barn time became. It was healing for my mind, body and spirit. I know that today I am a better wife and mother, a better sister, daughter and friend, because of the outlet riding has provided.
However, without a moment's hesitation, I can easily say that the relationships I have formed during my riding career are the most valuable asset. My mom and I have spent countless hours together at the barn, on the road, and at shows together. Usually we have at least one of my boys with us. We have laughed, cried, problem solved, eaten some crazy good and some crazy bad food, adopted a few beloved dogs, and changed diapers on hay bales. We both treasure every minute we have spent together with my horse. I am not ashamed to say that I still need my horse show mom! Other relationships have taught me how to get along with all personalities. Every time I ride in the ring, I carry with me something from every trainer with whom I have worked. One particular one will hold my heart forever, and I have been with her for more than ten years. I've made too many friends to count, and I watched them come together to help each other in times of devastation like barn fires and catastrophic illness. Equestrians are good people and you better believe we have each other's back. I know I am a better person because of the people I have met in horses.
Well, I got the confirmation I was seeking as a horse show mom. Watching Hilary ride at Devon, Harrisburg and Kentucky were certainly proud moments for me, but they in no way compare to the pride I have in the person she is. The money and the time were a significant commitment for sure, but I'll never regret one cent or one moment spent on horses. I think I gave my daughter some pretty valuable life skills. Once when we lived in Charlotte, I won the Horse Show Mom of the Year award. I am prouder of that now, than ever. The prize was a mug with a picture of a mom holding a net under her kid as she fell from a pony.
I'll always be "holding that net," whether she needs it or not.