Horse barns, boarding facilities, training facilities, and horse shows are filled with…women. Sure, in the Western horse world, and even outside of the United States, a large percentage of men make up the equestrian population, but in the US at Hunter, Jumper, Dressage, Eventing, and “pleasure” barns – women rule the roost.
The gender dichotomy among American horse owners and riders is a whole different article, but what about those males peripherally involved in horses; the husbands, boyfriends, partners, or significant others?
On average, most of those guys could give a crap about horses. No interest at all.
Why is that?
Usually, most non-horse people don’t understand the huge financial and time commitment that comes with horseback riding. When a serious relationship begins, horses and riding comes up casually. Then there is the staple response from the non-horsey person, “Oh, yeah, I’ve ridden horses before”. Sure, Bub, what on a guided trail ride? Please! In the beginning, the interest shown by the (then) potential significant other is genuine but confused of the importance horses play in the woman’s life.
Most women don’t even bring a suitor to the barn until finances mix. Why bother? They won’t understand, they will be bored, and most importantly, the barn is sacred! Who wants to singe the barn with personal relationships that may come and go, when the horse is here to stay?
Once that relationship does end up being “serious” and “long-term”, most often, there still isn’t much of an interest from the non-horse half to get involved in the equestrian part of life. Financially, there must be some interest I would think; maybe even just the question, “Why is so much money poured into the horse every month?” Also, the time spent riding, at the barn, showing, taking lessons, and maybe even just talking about horses can cause jealously towards the horse.
Usually it’s just because the man doesn’t understand.
And the female-horse bond isn’t all that easy to explain, either. When someone asks, “Why do you ride horses?” I often have to think about it. Horses and riding are something that only another horse person and rider can fully comprehend. In all honesty, I think the majority of horse people use horses as therapy. It’s a great escape from the “real world”. Horseback riding is challenging no matter how long you have done it; and conquering that challenge is quite therapeutic. Not to mention the relationship you form with your equine friend – the level of communication involved in horseback riding is complex. And rewarding. And exciting.
I have seen many a women try to get their significant other involved with horses, but it never seems to work out. Think about it though, how intimidated would you be if your significant other was involved in an activity in which mere proximity to the subject brings danger. Horses freak people out, and as equestrians know, for good reason. Jumping right into being around horses can be scary, and for people that don’t know horses, suddenly standing by one (or many) can bring about high anxiety. Through no fault of their own, many a husband is most unwilling to submit themselves to situations in which their “woman” is totally in control and comfortable while their big, strong, manliness is taken into question. A good guy would find the woman’s prowess in the face of danger endearing, but when it comes to danger avoidance skills and confidence, many guys don’t want to feel insecure (even if they aren’t meatheads).
Then there’s the poop. I know, it seems silly, but think about it; horses crap a lot, they fart a lot too. For someone who hasn’t been on a farm before, out of the city, or just doesn’t have much experience with animals, the horse is a big hurdle. Having a significant other, whom maybe has never actually stepped in a pile of manure, realize these “apples” are really not that big of a deal, can be…well…a big deal. It’s funny, really, especially because with a sport/hobby dominated by women, horses are dirty and you probably won’t get more experience with excrement or mammalian gas than working with and around horses. That significant other with no horse experience is going to find the horse excrement portion intimidating, distracting, often gross, and sometimes, humorous.
Then of course there is the social aspect of horseback riding. Sometimes a guy doesn’t exactly fit into the barn’s social scene; especially when it is dominated by women who don’t involve their significant others. To the outsider, even if it’s just a friend (never-mind the boyfriend or hubby), a bunch of horse talk can make them feel out of place. Horse people speak their own language; there are words heard in a barn not found anywhere else, or at least not with the same meaning. Here are some examples of confusing horse vocabulary:
- Proud Flesh
- Chestnut (not the color!)
So we have established that horses are confusing, intimidating, dirty, and basically, foreign to an outsider. But why not invite your significant other into that world? Obviously, horses are important to you; wouldn’t you want your husband involved?
I ask that question a lot, and about 70% of the time, the response, is lead by big, strong, gut wrenching laughter. Oh yeah, I guess I forget that many people have dysfunctional relationships and the horse operates as a perfect escape from that terrible, annoying significant other. Or, in some of the more “hoity toity” barns, the women don’t understand WHY they would have their husbands involved in horses beyond, well, paying for them.
“That’s just silly; of course he is interested in my horseback riding. Why do you think he just paid $125,000 for my new horse?”
True, some husbands finance their wife’s horse hobby to keep them out of their hair.
Occasionally, you might run into a husband who rides. What? Yeah, I mean, well, of course he got roped (guilted) into getting a horse all for himself. You know, so they could spend more quality time with each other. The husband had gone out to the barn twice a week, the wife wanted more, his “excuse” was that if he had his own horse it would be more fun. Well, happy birthday! He got a horse. “Gulp”, yep now he either has to come clean or commit to spending lots of time out at the barn. Rarely does that work for the best.
Then there are married women who’s spouses also have a time consuming hobby as well, so they just each do their own things. Coordinate the barn with his hobby time. This makes sense, but wouldn’t important moments in each persons’ “hobby” be a time of participation? Maybe it’s the first horse show, or the first time jumping, or the new horse; how about having the husband/boyfriend around at least for observance?
Sometimes a horse woman might have the casual, horse show husband. The ones that show up at the horse shows only to have their asses kissed by the trainers (knowing they are an influential part of the horse bill approval process). Of course they don’t want to help, and there’s a good chance they won’t even figure out what ring their wife is riding in. But the horse shows brings beer, wine, and food. Plus a chance to mingle with other horse show husbands who could care less about the sport!
And what about the husbands of Hunter riders who really like to come to the shows and watch the Jumpers, but can barely keep their eyes open for the hunter round? What happens then? To save her from once again trying to explain the “point” of the Hunter class and why the horses just go around in circles, the husband is just no longer invited.
I wonder about the actual numbers of involved horseback rider second-halves who don’t ride, but actually enjoy being out at the barn and especially love watching their wives ride. I have seen very few men who’ve embraced the horse and barn through the passion of their wives, and the ones I have seen are very cool.
The most recent horse-husband I met actually got his wife into horses over 40 years ago. She used to ride Hunter/Jumper; because of her age, she has moved into Dressage, though not competitive. He hasn’t missed one of her lessons (twice a week) since 1965 and genuinely loves to watch his wife ride. How amazing is that? Dedication, from both the wife as a rider and the husband as a fantastic supporter.
It sure would be nice to see more significant others on the sidelines cheering their partners on in the ring. Or some just even showing up to watch a hack.
Spouses have a lot to learn from each other when delving into the passions and goals of their partner. Being married with horses is an interesting predicament: horses are such strange territory for most people, and most often, even the bonds of marriage sit out of this passionate hobby, sport, or profession.
And as equestrians, we all know horseback riding, in any capacity, is unique.
Thing is, for both equestrian, spouse, and sometimes, even the animal, being married with horses is an equally unique experience as well.