That's me aboard youngster Molly getting a much-needed escort past some very scary tents. Trainer and soon-to-be newlywed Natalie is on the left and my husband, Seth, is on the right. Seth's confidence and calming influence around the horses (and their human--that's me!) comes in handy during competition.
Photo: Courtesy Michelle Anderson
Love is in the air! Two of our own at The Horse.com are about to get hitched to each other: Adam, a web producer, and Erica, whom many of you know as our news editor. Working for Blood-Horse Publications, Adam obviously has an interest in horses, but I’m sure he’d admit he’s not a full-fledged horseman. Erica, on the other hand, is horsegirl to the core.
Closer to home, my friend and full-time dressage trainer just got engaged to her boyfriend of three years. She rides 12 horses a day, six days a week and spends most summer weekends at shows. He loves all animals, especially her Yorkshire terrier, but his eyes still grow big when a Warmblood starts leaping around with his sweetie aboard.
As someone who’s been happily married for 12 years, few things are as exciting as seeing young love about to start new lives together. But, let’s be honest. When a guy marries a horsegirl, he’s also marrying her horses, and that’s no small thing. Owning horses is a (very expensive) lifestyle choice, and one that requires compromise and sacrifice.
New marriages present plenty of inherent challenges, and adding the financial and time commitment required by horse ownership creates even more pressure. So, with that in mind, here are my top-10 suggestions on having a happy, horsey marriage:
1. Horsegirl, always put your husband and marriage first. The horses come second. Keep it that way, and you’ll always have both your husband and horses in your life.
2. Agree on a horse budget and keep your horse-related purchases transparent. I firmly believe in not sacrificing our personal financial goals for horses. I’ve known plenty of horsewomen who’ve hidden big horse splurges from their husbands or fudged the true cost of custom saddles or show entries. I’ve also known a lot of divorced horsewomen.
3. Resist the urge to “instruct” your husband around horses. It’s easy for us horsegirls who know a lot about horses to turn into coaches with a newbie in the barn, even if it’s our significant other. However, avoid the need to constantly critique or correct his horsemanship skills. As long as he’s safe, letting him learn at his own pace will help your husband enjoy his time around your horses.
4. Build his confidence with gentle horses. My first horse after marriage was a 6-month-old stud colt--my boy Jack. A possessive little guy, Jack never accepted that I had another man in my life, and arguably he wasn't the easiest introduction to horse ownership for my husband. Ten years and three states later we’re all still together, and to this day my husband remains distrustful of the horse. And Jack? Well he’s now a gelding.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Things turned around for my husband and his fondness for horses when he started volunteering at the therapeutic riding center where I taught for five years. He spent hours leading, grooming, and tacking a very well-behaved herd of senior geldings. He also got to share his new skills and build his confidence teaching our students and other volunteers how to lead, groom, and tack. Because of that foundation, I now trust he’ll stay safe even when handling a fire-breathing Swedish Warmblood at a horse show.
5. Your husband doesn’t need his own horse unless he really wants his own horse. I leased the perfect husband horse for my guy. She was quiet, kind, and well behaved. And he liked her. He loves the outdoors, but when the choice came to snow shoe, hike, camp, or ride, he would happily choose snow shoeing, hiking, camping, or riding. He didn’t need a horse to get into nature. While he’s a good and confident rider, he just doesn’t have a great drive to ride, and I ended up with and extra horse to feed.
6. Only move to horse property if your husband’s 100% onboard. Having horses at home is a lot of work, and unless you’re planning on hiring help, you’ll need your husband’s full cooperation and support. I’m fortunate because my husband is a handyman who understands things like how to make an electric fence really hot (“Why don’t you test that fence Jack? It’s ready for you,” he says) and how to run waterlines to troughs. But it’s a lot of work, and it wouldn’t seem fair to ask for his help if he didn’t enjoy it.
7. Trust your husband’s eye. Early on in our marriage we went to watch a horse show. I was so in awe of pretty ponies and what it takes to compete at that level, I didn’t see the obvious. “Why is everyone yanking on their horse’s mouths?” my husband asked. Good question. It made me think long and hard about my horse show goals, and ultimately I changed my competitive focus.
On a similar note, while I tend to overanalyze how a horse moves until I’m convinced it has four bum legs, my husband can spot an unsound horse a mile away and even tell you which leg is lame. He’s also good at selecting horses with sweet personalities and identifying which ones might not be mentally stable.
8. Agree to a horse veterinary emergency dollar amount before there’s a problem. After having my mare go through a colic that resolved with little intervention, my husband made an astute statement: “I don’t ever want to tell you we can’t spend money on a colic surgery when your horse is dying.” He’s right. So, we’ve discussed ahead of time what amount of money we can reasonably spend on each horse and what kind of injuries or illness we would treat if they arose. By agreeing on a dollar amount now, we won't have to make that difficult decision during an emergency.
I’ve saved my last two bits of advice for the men:
9. Horse husband, occasionally surprise your horsegirl by feeding the horses on a Saturday morning before she wakes up. She loves her horses, and they make each day brighter for her, but every once in a while it’s nice to sleep in and have a relaxing weekend morning that doesn’t involve wearing hay in her pajamas during breakfast. And, as bonus, bring her a cup of coffee, too--I promise you won’t be disappointed by the results.
10. Know she’s who she is because of her horses. We started our marriage without horses, because we felt jobs, a car, and a house needed to come first. It was a sacrifice I willingly made for two years. One day not long after Jack came into our lives, my husband casually turned to me and said, “You’re more yourself when you have a horse.” For that reason, I believe, he loves my horses as much as he loves me.
Except for Jack. He tolerates Jack.
So, that’s my advice--love it, live it, or leave it. And congratulations to you soon-to-be newlyweds--here’s to happy, horsey households now and into the future!
And, for all of you old married ladies like me (and experienced horse husbands), what makes your relationships work?