Horse Husband 101

As the husband of a horse loving wife for nearly 20 years, I can assure you that Life as a Horse Husband is very fluid. The fact is, when married to a horse woman, there will always be a horse in your relationship. Otherwise there is no “horse” connected to husband. And that would be very sad indeed. There is no set path to follow; the involvement level can be in any order, or no order at all.

I was visiting recently with a friend of mine who’s oldest daughter owns horses. He was lamenting the time and effort she spent on her horses and the conflict it was bringing to her marriage. Since I knew his daughter, I remarked that it shouldn’t be that big of a deal for them since his daughter was only a ‘Level 3.’ Just imagine if she was a Level 4! He asked what I meant, so I introduced him to Horse Husband 101.

There are six levels of horse woman. These are levels and not types, because horse women can and frequently do move from one level to the next over time. Some women stop at Level 1. Others move all the way to the dark side, Level Zero. Understanding where your wife or girlfriend is and where they might end up can help you to appreciate what you have, and prepare for what might lay ahead.

Level One

“I have always loved horses”
Your horse wife enjoys riding a leased, borrowed or rented horse from a local barn. This is where life is normal for pretty much everyone. Husband, kids, Horsewife. It is defined by a slight disconnect between imagining what life with a horse is like, and reality.  Manure to pick up (I love to clean stalls), time to feed (I love listening to a horse eat), chores are fun (I love to groom my horse and clean tack), schedule to manage (I’ll be there in a minute).  She rides a horse while the kids hang on the white arena fence watching someone other than their Dad tell her what to do. Second hand saddle and tack in the car’s trunk are all that is required. For a horse husband, this is probably the happiest level. He has little responsibility except sharing her time to with a horse, and few expenses beyond the rental of a horse. Many horse owners, if left to their own, are content with Level 1. It is not uncommon for Level 1 owners to not even ride, they just enjoy the smell, feel and gentle spirit of a horse. Barn drama hasn’t taken hold, yet. Facebook doesn’t have any horse “friends”. Not surprisingly, there are horse husbands that complain of the “expenses” even at this stage.

Horse husband mood? Indifferent

Level Two

“It would make me so happy if I could have a horse of my own”
At this level, renting a horse isn’t enough and a horse is finally purchased. The horse is still boarded, but who cleans the manure now becomes a larger part of the equation. Boarding can vary from full care (entry Level 2), to a more advanced stage where all the feeding, cleaning and other chores fall to the horse owner. Level 2 still allows for a pretty normal life. Since the horse is kept at a managed barn, there is usually someone available to feed and clean if time is needed away from the horse. Many single horse girls fall into a Level 2 (it is a great place to meet a perspective Horse Husband) and so do women that have left riding behind to raise a family, but returned at a later age. There are very few additional accoutrements at this level, often nothing more than a tack box by the stall is needed. Level 2 may involve getting a second horse. After all, if they are at the barn, why not ride a bit more? This level also encourages at active social life since facilities have many other like-minded riders to talk to (more people = more drama). This is also the level that an active significant others can appreciate. Guys that golf, fly, fish or are involved in an activity that takes time and money can appreciate that, while one is involved in their sport, the other is off doing theirs. Time apart is not begrudged, but is appreciated. A couple rounds of golf for the Horse Husband should quiet any expense concerns. If you are the husband of a horsewife at this stage, cherish the simplicity of this time. Because if there one thing that every horse girl on the planet wishes for (besides a trailer and truck to tow it), it is a move to the next Level.

Horse husband mood? Supportive

Level Three

“Since boarding takes money and the drive to the barn is so long, wouldn’t it better to just keep the horse in the backyard?”
It starts so innocently, and on the surface it makes sense.  Boarding IS expensive and the barn DOES seem so far away. Horsewife is so happy after she rides, perhaps that is the way it will be all the time. So now horses are outside the back door. She drives a ¾ ton truck, uses a non-living quarters trailer and frequents horse shows or clinics, but rarely hosts them. She is saving for an ATV. She considers horses to be a hobby and has an outside job for income.  She doesn’t yet require a mudroom to enter the house. Her passion for horses can be balanced with a family and other obligations. Weeds and horse hair begin to show up in clean underwear and socks. Brand name horse ‘bling’ becomes line items on the credit card statement.  A saddle, boots, bridle and breeches magically begin to appear. As a horse husband, you still have the option to participate or not, depending on your interest. It usually begins as a joyous period of optimism and learning, but demands on time and finances can become unwelcome if not planned for.  She, of course, aspires to be a Level 5 and hopes she can bypass Level 4, but this rarely happens.

Horse husband mood? Mild Concern

Level Four

“If I breed my mare, then we can make money from the foals”
At this level, virtually every part of her life has become dictated by the horses. From the time she awakes to feed, to the time she does the final horsecheck at night, horses are never far from her mind.  With 6 to 20 horses, two trucks (one probably a dually) and two horse trailers (one with livings quarters), the hidden costs of insignificant things, like tires and batteries, becomes evident. She participates in monthly horse shows or clinics (some of which are held on your property). She buys hay by the truckload, which generates mountains of manure to pick up and dispose of. Naturally, this means she bypassed the ATV and went right to a small tractor. Bales of compressed shavings replace the car in the garage.

Quality couple time is short supply, or must be arranged months in advance. Your morning coffee is invariably drunk out of horse-themed coffee cups. She now considers horses to be her occupation. The large financial outflow for vets, shoeing, feed, supplements, truck & trailer and building repair can outspend any attempt to offset it by boarding or training others horses. Stallion motility and sperm count become a surprisingly casual topic of conversation.  Her full-time effort demands that she stays at home and probably requires outside help too. She checks Facebook before anything else in the morning. Her new occupation requires a significant time commitment from you as a horse husband to keep up with the daily demands. While you may (happily or grudgingly) pitch in, the free labor you provide actually hides the true cost in time and expenditures.  The once oversize tack room seems to be shrinking as there doesn’t seem to be enough space to hang the ever growing collection of saddles, bridles and blankets. The grain and supplement cans are two deep along the walls. County animal zoning issues begin to become problematic.

Horse husband mood? Resignation

Level Five

“You go on honey. I’ll take care of things here”
An entrepreneurial spirit that is the ultimate demonstration of pure horse passion. Is similar to Level 4, but there is no requirement for a certain amount of horses or equipment. There can be 1 or 30, only that the horses are part of a business that is 100% self-supporting. By sheer hard work and dedication, she has magically managed to balance the love of horses with a way to earn a living too. This ability to make money can be achieved in many ways, from online horse-themed products, to boarding, breeding or training, to drawing horse themed cartoons. All require a single-minded determination to be involved with horses, no matter what. Most Horse Husbands can only watch with awe as the business grows and flourishes. The level of intensity and energy devoted to making the business successful can only be described as heroic. There is no requirement that the horse husband contribute any time or money into the enterprise. Although most horse husbands don’t initially marry into a Level 5, by habit they are probably still very involved.  Often their best job is to offer support, but stay out of the way.  If they need to go away for work or other reasons, the Horsewife will have no difficulty in running everything alone.   If you have been through Level 4 and arrived at this point, it is well earned reward.

Horse husband mood? Amazement

Level Zero

“You can’t tell me what I can and cannot do”
Each level has its joys and pitfalls, but nothing ruins a relationship faster than having more horses than time or finances will allow. It is a sad part of life that any passion, taken to its extreme, can leave a trail of ruin in its wake. Horses are no different, but because of the level of emotion that horses evoke, finding the line between passion and obsession is difficult. A sea of manure and mud are the most visible manifestation, having more horses than names is a clear warning sign. Ironically, Level Zero can be a reaction to, or release from an over-controlling relationship.  Indiscriminate breeding, hoarding, underfunded rescue or other multi-horse operation where the care of the horse is lacking, are all signs that the line has been crossed. If the horses are suffering, chances are the relationship is too, and many end badly.  But this is not always the case as the horse community is a powerful one and once the problem is evident, there is usually a way forward if the relationship is strong in the first place.  But it requires an exceptional level of communication, patience and commitment.  If you can work through this, every other level looks easy.

Horse husband mood? Anger and confusion

Level Together

No-one would wish to experience a Level Zero, but what happens to the Level dynamic when a spouse also becomes an active participant? Imagine my wife’s surprise when I almost made her a “Horse wife”. I took such an interest in horsemanship that I began to exhibit all the symptoms of a Level 4 owner!  At times it seemed I was buying more saddles, had more boots in my closet, and spent more time arranging and going to clinics that she did.  I also built a full size riding court out back and developed and promoted a classical riding vacation business (www.rideinportugal.com) to fund the effort.  Sadly the economics of two horse crazy people seriously took its toll and I had to scale my personal exuberance back to Level 3 (ish), but I fully understand the passion of horses now.

I have always had a wife that stood by me; I will always be there for her. Together we work every day at our horse business and I can proudly attest that we are currently at Level 5. It is our love of horses that helped us develop and market nearly a dozen horse related products, including an awesome manure fork (www.equiteemfg.com) that pays our bills. Most recently I began sharing her love for horsecamping, and through this awareness we found and purchased our dream horse riding property. We hope someday to set up our own horsecamping facility there and share it with others.  I would never have imagined this development a year ago.  One thing for sure, without horses there would be a void that would be impossible to fill any other way.

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On Becoming a GOOD Horse Husband

I think it was always inevitable that I would become a horse hubby, even though I didn’t know it until it happened. While I never specifically planned on being a loving and supportive husband to a woman who owns and dotes upon her horse, that was purely for lack of a wife and a horse, not the desire to be a supportive spouse to the woman I care about.

However, it was meeting the other horse hubbies in my wife’s social circle that solidified what kind of horse hubby I was to become; and indeed there are numerous kinds of horse husbands, just like there are numerous levels of buy-in for any spouse when it comes to their partner’s hobbies.

That support ranges anywhere from tacit acknowledgement of that hobby to others in conversation -“yeah, we own a horse” – all the way up to complete buy in and being an active participant in your spouse’s hobby – traveling with your wife to shows, being her gopher as necessary, and her assistant coach, and her cheerleader, and her photographer… you get the idea. I bought in and I’ll never be lacking in the “is there anything I can do to help you” department.

This decision happened gradually over our first couple of years together, as I learned how she had two friends who each owned a horse and a husband, but for the two of them the horse hobby that their wife participated in was mostly just a thing that they let their wife go off and do while they occupied their time some other way.

It could just be my personal opinion, but that always struck me as far more condescending than supportive. I can’t imagine a less supportive way of being supportive than “allowing” your spouse to participate in a hobby, as though your permission were necessary for them to have that personal pastime.

I was already leaning in the other direction, but after seeing those two spousal interactions I was certain. Horse ownership was an area where my wife had been doing her own thing since long before she met me, and so it would be perfectly alright if she wanted it to continue that way. However, I would also make damn sure that I understood her hobby, the thing that she loves, well enough that I would be able to help her any time she wanted.

This has allowed me to develop a lot of new skills. I guarantee you the help was appreciated when our horse went through nearly a year of stall rest and then daily physical therapy for a torn bicep tendon, and my wife wasn’t the one having to drive across town to the barn every single day after work.

I have a decent idea of how to fix the boards on a stall, and I’m able to not embarrass myself when it comes to tacking up a horse for a show, or grooming, or even having a reasonably educated conversation with my wife about her performance on her most recent cross country course or a set of stadium jumps. That last one is taking the longest because the curve is steep, but I’m getting there.

Sure, it has its moments.

There are times where I have to get myself up for driving to the barn because her energy is enough to ride but not drive, and I know she’ll feel better if she rides, so I get over myself long enough to make that happen.

There are times where I find myself saying “oh, Elisa Wallace is at this show? That’s great! And she’s… who again?”

But there’s also the joy I get from seeing her happily bringing home a first place ribbon, and the happiness that comes from a job well done, even if that job is simply “helping someone else’s day go off without a hitch.”

And I’ve discovered a new perk to all of this, which is getting to be a role model. There are a number of young females that board at our barn, and I’d like to think that in some small way I’m setting an example for them to see.

They have the opportunity to see that yes, there are men out there who will be supportive of your hobby, and not just superficially but in a truly meaningful and helpful way. To see that there is no reason to ever compromise this pastime that they love because someone they’re with “doesn’t get it.”

So I guess I’m saying that I’m here to advocate to any and all horse husbands and strongly encourage that you jump into this horse life with both feet if you haven’t already. Yes there will be challenges and new things to learn, but they’re all far less terrifying than you think. Heck, I just recently drove a loaded horse trailer for the first time recently and it turns out it’s not that hard after all!

If you’re already bought in and are wholly supporting your horse wife, good for you, keep at it. If you’re unsure, step outside your comfort zone and just start trying something new. It doesn’t matter what skills you try to pick up, or what knowledge you acquire – hell, it doesn’t even matter if you actually remember it all, the mere brave act of having tried will take you further than you think.

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The Top 10 Three Day Eventers of 2016

Coming up with a list of the top eventers based on their performance in 2016 is hard.  The sport of three-day eventing is complex and multi-faceted, and the decisions we make about which factors to consider make a significant difference to the final result of any evaluation process. It is a result of this complexity, and the fact that there is bound to be strong disagreement about who ends up being included in a list of this kind, that it is rare to see anything like this published. And yet, I still believe that this exercise has value, particularly for fans like myself who find rankings a useful way of understanding the sport.

Note that the ranking that I have produced is the result of a lot of thinking and expert consultation. It is also a work in progress. I have tried to document some of the theory and methods underlying the list(s), but if you want to bypass this discussion, feel free to skip over these sections and see the lists themselves.

Guiding Principles

All ranking schemes involve subjective judgement. They involve establishing criteria on the basis of values. Since values differ from individual to individual, disagreement is bound to happen and conflicting lists are bound to appear. But there are two guiding principles that I believe should apply to all rankings:

(1) Look to the dataHuman beings are great at making decisions and at coming up with justifications after the fact. We all have biases, and we are all terrible at overcoming them. By limiting ourselves to measurable qualities and available data, we can lessen the impact of irrelevant and inconsistently applied preferences.

(2) Be transparentBeing data-driven in our decision-making processes doesn’t mean being objective. Decisions have to be made about the kinds of data to include, the ways in which that data is transformed, and the analytical tools that are applied. This is not a bad thing. Not only are these decisions necessary, they are also important because it is here that data becomes meaningful. Here, I argue that making the ‘right’ decisions is less important than making your decisions explicit.

Method

Inclusion Criteria

Who should be considered for inclusion in a list of top eventers world-wide? Here is a list of criteria that I believe any eventer needs to satisfy in order to be considered among the top in the sport. This is where values and judgement come in, and there is bound to be some disagreement. So it goes.

CCI only
There are several significant differences between CCI and CIC events. The demands that each of these event types place on horse and rider are so different that, for all intents and purposes, they should be considered different sports entirely. Compared to CIC events, CCIs are characterized by longer cross country courses, have stricter vetting requirements, and include show jumping as the final of the three phases.  CIC competitions are developmental.  The most elite riders in the world must be able to compete, complete, and excel in CCI events.  For this reason, I have chosen only to include CCI riders in the list.

3* and 4* only
This list is meant to include the best of the best. What this means is only including riders who have successfully competed at either 3 star or 4 star levels. Why not just include riders who have competed at the 4 star level and exclude 3 star results? The fact that there are only six 4 star events means that we don’t have a whole lot of data from year to year. The decision to include 3 star data also makes sense in light of recent decisions to downgrade Olympic and World Equestrian Games events to the 3 star level.

At least two competitions
There is a difference between CCI 3*/4* pairs and pairs that have merely competed at that level. In order to be considered in the list, a horse and rider combination must have completed a minimum of two CCI events at either the 3 star or four star level.

100% event completion rate
As recent Olympic history has underscored, the most important quality of an elite rider is the ability to consistently complete events at the highest level. Consistency is key. So I have only included riders in the list that successfully completed every CCI event they entered in 2016.

Statistical Methods

Once we have established a pool of eligible pairs, what is the best way to rank them? Do we simply take an average of their final scores? How do we account for the fact that some pairs excel in dressage while others shine on cross country or in show jumping? How to we account for the fact that judging differs from event to event, and for differences in terrain, weather, and course design? From a statistical perspective, we know that some events are ‘easier’ than others. How do we fairly compare the relative performance of horses and riders competing under different sets of conditions, even at the same level?

One way of overcoming differences is through a statistical process called standardization. A z-score is the difference between the number of points that a pair earned and the average number of points earned by all competitors at the same event in standard deviation units. A score of 0 means that a pair is average.  A negative z-score means the pair is above average, and a positive score means that it is below.  By converting points into z-scores, we are able to account for various differences from event to event. By comparing average final z-scores, we can more easily and reliably compare horse and rider combinations on an even playing field.

Once we have standardized final scores, we can sort pairs according to their average z-score and take the top 10.  VOILA!  We have a list of top riders.  Here are the results, along with a little bit of more useful information about their performance at 3* and 4* levels.

The Results (worldwide)

  1. Michael Jung & Fischerrocana FST (GER)
  2. Maxime Livio & Qalao des Mers (FRA)
  3. Hazel Shannon & Clifford (Aus)
  4. Oliver Townend & ODT Ghareeb (GBR)
  5. Jonelle Price & Classic Moet (NZL)
  6. Andrew Nicholson & Teseo (NZL)
  7. Hannah Sue Burnett & Under Suspection (USA)
  8. Nicola Wilson & Annie Clover (GBR)
  9. Andreas Dibowski & FRH Butts Avedon (GER)
  10. Oliver Townend & Lanfranco (GBR)

The Results (USA)

If we apply the same criteria above, but only consider American CCI 3*/4* riders in 2016, we get the following list:

  1. Hannah Sue Burnett & Under Suspection
  2. Hannah Sue Burnett & Harbour Pilot
  3. Boyd Martin & Welcome Shadow
  4. Buck Davidson & Copper Beach
  5. Elisa Wallace & Simply Priceless
  6. Lauren Kieffer & Landmark’s Monte Carlo
  7. Lillian Heard & LCC Barnaby
  8. Kurt Martin & Delux Z
  9. Phillip Dutton & Fernhill Fugitive
  10. Sharon White & Cooley on Show

Some may find it odd that Phillip Dutton & Mighty Nice didn’t make either top 10 list, in spite of being a bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.  The reason for this is that the FEI dataset that I have used intentionally excludes Olympic results because they are kind of strange…a horse of a different color, so to speak.  Not including the Olympics, this pair only competed at one CCI event in 2016: the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, where they finished in 4th with a final score of  57.8, which converts to a z-score of -1.11.  Based on this score, the pair would rank first in terms of national rankings, and fifth in the world.  But this is only one CCI event, and so I could not include them in the lists based on the criteria I established above.


What do you think? Do these lists make sense? Are you surprised by any of the results? What changes would you make to the approach to come up with your top 10 lists? Let me know in the comments below.

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A kind of Horse Husband Manifesto

As some of this site’s long-time readers may have noticed, I have not been very active recently. There are several reasons for this. A change in job means shifting priorities in response to a different set of pressures and constraints. But if I am being completely honest, the biggest reason for my neglect of this website comes down to one word: boredom.

There is only so much that a ‘horse husband’ can say about what their life is like before they run out of things to say. There is only so much shit you can shovel before the novelty runs out, and it simply becomes a fact of life. more than this, I am increasingly dissatisfied with how ‘the horse husband’ is constructed within the equestrian community. How satisfying can it be to self-identify with a role that is nothing except its relationship to someone else?

At the same time as I have neglected this site, I have been struggling. Should I shut it down? Should I keep it up, but otherwise basically forget about it? Should I hand it off to another horse husband to manage?

My thinking about the future of horsehubby.com came to a head recently while at the USEA Convention in Ft. Lauderdale. A major theme of the annual meeting was the importance of growing the sport the Eventing (and equestrian sport in general) by opening it up to a larger fan base. The future of equestrian sport in the United States depends on overcoming the widespread misconception that equestrianism is elitist. In response to what is felt as a very urgent need, leadership within the USEF and USEA talked about things like increased transparency, and rule simplification. They talked about more inclusive membership models, and educational initiatives. But the biggest problem that equestrian sport in the US faces is ‘the curse of knowledge.’ In nations like Great Britain and Germany, longstanding equestrian traditions have become a the national and cultural vocabularies. But in the US, equestrian knowledge resides almost entirely within the equestrian world.

How can a group of specialists share their excitement in a world that doesn’t understand what they do?

The curse of knowledge refers to how difficult it can be to remember not having specialized knowledge once you have acquired it, and so how difficult it can be to share your knowledge once you have it. The curse of knowledge is the biggest obstacle to the development of a non-rider equestrian fan community in the US. And it is here where the horse husband has the greatest opportunity to contribute.

We as horse husbands are in the equestrian world, but not of it. We are an army at the periphery of the sport capable of making equestrianism intelligible to non-specialists (largely since we are generally in the perpetual process of trying to figure it out for ourselves). And we are a community of people who are excited by equestrianism in ways that extend beyond our personal relationships. We come to these sports with knowledge and expertise that make them intelligible in new and wonderful ways. These new ways might make absolutely no sense to equestrians themselves, but they inspire our interest and may motivate the interest of others. My various lives as a sociologist, a philosopher, a data scientist, and a marketer provide me with special lenses through which to understand the activities of my wife, and that make her activities intelligible to the non-equestrian communities to which I belong.

Our liminal status relative to the equestrian sport makes us messengers. Just as the Greek messenger god Hermes was able to deliver messages between worlds (the world of mortals and the world of the dead), horse husbands are able able to deliver messages between the horse world and the non-. We can serve as evangelists and advocates on behalf of the equestrian world. But we also have the tremendous ability to make use of our non-equestrian skills to enrich the equestrian community.

We thrive in areas where many equestrians struggle (accounting, technology, marketing). These are also areas in which many equestrians (especially professionals) are also often taken advantage. We as horse husbands have a huge opportunity to make the equestrian community better and more effective, not only because of what we know, but also because we can be altruistic. We have ‘day jobs.’ We don’t need to profit from our involvement, and so can give freely of our time in support of a community that we would like to see flourish.

That is what being a horse husband is all about. It’s not a role. It’s a perspective. It’s about embracing equestrianism in our own ways. It’s not about sitting on the sidelines. It’s about appreciating our power as intermediaries, and our responsibility to use our position to enrich the lives of equestrians and non-equestrians alike.

What does this mean for the future of horsehubby.com? You will see some changes in the coming months. The site will receive a new look and feel, but the most dramatic change will be a shift in perspective. Although we will continue to reflect upon the unique (and often very funny) personal and relational challenge that face horse husbands, the primary focus of articles on the site will be on the equestrian world itself, as seen through our eyes. From me personally, you are likely to read articles on a variety of topics based on what is exciting me at the moment. This might range from equestrian marketing to equestrian data science. I may write about cooking, and I may write about how I have configured my wifi network so that my wife has better connectivity at the arena. I also look forward to sharing contributions from a cadre of other husbands willing to share their wisdom and perspectives in the service of the equestrian community at large.

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Death is a Fact of Life

“Phamous is dead”

Those were the first words I heard my wife say as she entered the house after morning chores. She had obviously been crying.

It had been a tragic accident, most details of which are still a mystery. Strong and magnificent though they may be, horses are also surprisingly delicate. Like gigantic toddlers, horses also have an uncanny ability to get themselves into trouble and in the most unusual ways.

This was not the first time I have been exposed to equine death. A year or so ago, I witnessed an accident during an event on cross country. I was called to assist in restraining the horse as veterinarians were faced with no other humane alternative than to give it the ‘pink juice.’ It was hard. I cried.

I am not going to say that life with horses has caused me to think about death in new ways. But what it has done is highlight the fact that death is a part of life. When it happens, there’s no hiding the fact. There are no nurses to frame and sanitize the situation. There is no hiding what happens to a body in the few hours between death and burial. There is dignity, of course. There is sadness and mourning. But these events are also raw and pragmatic. There is no sugar coating. It is what it is.

When Elisa told me of Phamous’s tragic passing, my first reaction was disbelief, followed by an inclination to keep the event at arm’s reach. I wanted it to remain abstract. I didn’t want to see the body.

The heavy machinery arrived to dig the grave and move the body. I ventured outside to be with Elisa as she watched the burial. There it was. The body looked like a Breyer horse. Immobile. Nature had begun to take its course. Phamous had left the building.

It was a hard day for Elisa, but death was not something she could ignore. She removed Phamous’s shoes and cut his tail to give to his owner. She ensured that all necessary arrangements were made. Difficult though it may have been for her, I watched as being forced to deal with the reality of the situation brought peace and closure. She noted that, had she not dealt with Phamous’s death in this way, she would have experienced it as a sudden absence, and in a way that would have made closure a challenge. As it was, there was continuity. For her, Phamous didn’t just disappear. He went away, and she saw him go.

I don’t know exactly how to translate this in terms our our modern (urban) experience of death and dying. To be honest, the experience is still something I’m wrapping my head around. But there is something beautiful and good about how life is experienced on a farm that highlights how inhumane and counterproductive we sometimes are as we shroud the rawest of experiences in veils of abstraction.

Originally posted to timothyharfield.com

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Gear up!

You know the old saying…’fail to prepare, prepare to fail’? Well I have definitely found that this applies to horse husbanding! Although I managed to survive for a long time with the very basics, there are a few additional things that I have found made my life significantly easier!

First up…boots, steal toe capped boots! Trainers are great, I have a nice little collection of them myself, but horses are sneaky. The second they don’t have your full attention they will want to play footsy with you! No matter how fleet footed you are, they’re patient creatures, waiting for a momentary lapse in concentration to make your flip flops redundant! Plus, from personal experience, you don’t want your feet getting wet…especially when you don’t really know what was in the puddle!

In summer a pleasant little trip out to the yard is great (well…not little, half a day a least). Winter, however, is never far away…especially up in the North of England! There have been so many days, and nights, spent trudging through a swampy field in what can only be described as a monsoon, to retrieve a horse…that no matter how hard you try will not move from the branch it is sheltering under! For this reason, the next essential is as good waterproof. I personally find my snowboarding jacket sufficient although I get some funny looks when I go snowboarding and there’s a cloud of hay flowing behind me!

The next must have item…a Horse Husband t-shirt! I have lost count of the number of good t-shirts I’ve managed to ruin by going to the yard. I start off with an old jacket on, after mucking out the first, the jacket comes off to reveal a nice, new, white t-shirt. Yes, I get suitably told off every time! By the time I get back, smelling of the yard and covered in who only knows what, the shirt is no longer available to go out in public in.

One of the never-ending jobs at the yard is the constant mucking out. I mean….seriously, how much can one animal produce?! Good job they don’t eat curry! This means you need a seriously good fork to get the job done. Unfortunately my friends thought it would be funny to get me a nice pink one to use! Thanks Neil!

Despite the number of trips you make to the muck heap, the hundreds of water buckets that need filling and mountain of nets that are to be filled…you will be waiting around…for longer than one phone battery life! Between Facebook, photos and games mine does not last long. This is only a normal trip to the yard! On a show day I tend to run out of battery before the sun is even up! As avoiding the show isn’t an option I got myself a portable phone charger. It has without a doubt saved my sanity and probably even my relationship at times! God forbid Sam’s phone died as well…you don’t want a tired, grumpy equestrian without Facebook to distract them!

If you are reading this blog you probably know that they take up a lot of your time…haha only joking, they take up ALL of your time! Unless you like following your partner around tack shops nodding and adding the odd “ye that’s nice” or “how much?!”, you’ll need a hobby. I have taken up photography, I find it a good way to get involved with the horses….thankfully at a distance with a zoom lens!

The last, and arguably the most important thing any horse husband, foal fiancé and pony partner needs…is patience, lots of patience! I don’t think my family would ever have described me as patient…especially when I’m hungry, or even slightly peckish really! Since being with Sam, I have definitely learnt to have more…whether I’m waiting for her to come back from the yard, adding more items to tack mountain or “just looking” at horses for sale I’m always finding my new found patience being tested!


Originally posted to The Horse Husband

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Lines in the Sand: Putting Family First

Nana passed away last week.

Nana was my wife’s grandmother. After battling cancer, and finally beating it with the removal of a kidney, she eventually succumbed to infection — a side-effect of her immune system having been decimated by chemotherapy.

I am fortunate that I have not had to deal with death in my family since I began working full time. But a consequence of this is that I have never had to really decide how to balance related family affairs with the demands of work. In fact, I’ve never really had an experience where family and work collided. I’ve never had to answer the question: work or family. I’ve never had to draw a line in the sand.

In the absence of principles, decisions are hard. Every choice is new and has to be wrestled with singularly. I appreciate that life is complex, and that there are ethical positions that would have us grapple with every decision in this way. But values are important, and values should immediately translate into at least a small set of default positions.

I am fortunate to have a boss whom I also consider a friend and mentor. As the funeral was scheduled and I learned that it would conflict with work and work-travel commitments, I gave him a call. What he said was that, for him, family and religion are areas in which he refuses to compromise. Sure, work commitments might mean that you can’t make it to every one of your kid’s soccer games, but when it comes to things like funerals for close family members and religious holidays, he refuses to compromise, even it it might be moderately inconvenient.

I like to make the distinction between compromise and sacrifice. Compromise is what happens when preferences and tastes come into conflict. There’s nothing wrong with compromise, since compromising is often necessary for the sake of establishing, maintaining, and strengthening relationships. The art of compromise is the political virtue par excellence. Sacrifice, on the other hand, is what happens when you make a decision that conflicts with core values. To make a sacrifice, then, means calling who you are into question. It creates a significant dissonance between what you believe and what you do, and forces you to re-evaluate both. Compromise might be inconvenient, but sacrifice is unacceptable.

I have incredibly fond memories of Nana. She’s my wife’s grandmother, and so I have only known her for a relative short time. But in that time, I have enjoyed her sense of decorum (a true Southern Lady) and her authentic laughter punctuated by little snorts. I have enjoyed her cooking and her love of history. She, along with her husband ‘Papa,’ are committed to family above all else, and so it is fitting that her passing would itself leave this legacy: the fact that I am in Mississippi for Nana’s funeral and spending time with family as they recount stories and rekindle old relationships is a function of a decision precipitated by her passing.

I didn’t make a decision to take off time from work to spend with family in celebration of Nana’s life. The fact that I am here is a consequence of a decision that goes much deeper. It is the result of a line in the sand that I have drawn and now refuse to cross. (A line that I am embarrassed to say that I had not, strictly speaking, made sooner).

Family first.


Originally posted to timothyharfield.com

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Becoming a horse show husband

There are many different types of horsey riding people out there…mine, is of the dressage variety! This meant that I had to eventually brave the dreaded horsey competition…looking back, I wasn’t ready.

First of all, competition days are long with very early starts. I am never ready for early mornings no matter how good a horse husband I’m trying to be! Normally during the week I am the first up and out the door before Sam has even snoozed the alarm. Weekends are a very different matter. Mornings had no place in my weekend plans until the equine infestation!

I have found that competition days tend to start with a firm kick in the leg followed by a rude shove out the bed and some, rather uncalled for, abuse about being lazy. IT’S 5 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!!!!! Not the best way to start the day.

Looking at it now, this may have been a shock tactic that Sam employed to make me more open to suggestion. It explains why, when I eventually managed to focus, I found myself with a mountain of tack on my lap and a cloth in my hand! Something to keep me busy on a long journey I suppose.

The tack, cleaned and inspection passed, was put to the side just in time for us to pull up at the venue. Despite what, in my opinion, was still an ungodly hour of the morning, there was already a fleet of wagons and horse boxes parked up with an army of people milling about. Who’d have thought there were so many people mad enough to get up so early and already be here!! There was no time to stand watching though…now the serious business began.

With the horses unloaded and the time till the first test running out I got to the horse husbands number 1 job at a show….holding things! Horses, nets, water, phones, helmets, jumpers, jackets, polos…anything you can think of I had to hold it. I began to look like the old buckaroo game! With tensions running high it was best to keep my head down and keep on holding.

The time for the first test arrived. Out Sam trotted on Crunchie, the tack gleaming beautifully. The announcer came over the tannoy…”Next into the arena is Sam Lofthouse on Dancing Diamond.” Who the hell is Dancing Diamond?! “Sam has just returned from New Zealand where she has been breading pygmy goats for the last year.” Wait….what?! I hadn’t known Sam long but I’m pretty sure she’d have told me that…wouldn’t she??

I later found out that horses, like celebrities… have a stage name! How confusing. And apparently Sam knew the announcer, he always made up a story about her! So far she’s been a sheep shearer, a pygmy goat farmer and played in a famous brass band!

Round the test she went, looking very calm and serene. Kelly, Sams sister, next to me was deadly silent apart from the occasional squeak at something I must have missed. Finally, she walked down the centre line and it was over. I know I’m not an expert of dressage but she stayed in the square and it didn’t look like Sam was doing much…that was good right?? Wrong. Once out of the arena there was a few…frustrated words, which I won’t repeat! I decided it was best to stand quietly out the way.

After a short, but tense, break it was time for test 2. I decided it was time to give Crunchie a pep talk…motivate him a bit more, “Focus, visualise the win”. Back into the arena they went. Sam calm and serene again, the silence broken only by Kellys squeak. It looked the same to me so I could only assume me giving the horse a pep talk didn’t work. How wrong I was! Despite what looked exactly the same, Sam was beaming and won the class. I have so much more to learn.

So, the moral of the story is, I don’t know anything about dressage. Oh…and try to read the emotions of your partner before commenting on a test!!!


Originally posted to The Horse Husband

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The best horse husband chair ever

Sometimes a guy just has to sit.

strongback-chairWhether you are watching your wife ride/compete, stealing some time to get some work done, or just hanging out, it’s important to have a good place to sit. For a while now, I’ve been either relying on the kindness of strangers, squatting on vacant chairs, or just squatting (personally, I’m not one for siting on the ground, but that’s always an option as well). If you don’t take responsibility for your own seating arrangements, you run the risk of not having a seat. Or, what’s almost worse, you run the risk of having an uncomfortable one.

Standard folding lawn chairs are terrible. The way they are designed, they force your body into among the worst postures possible. Shoulders crumpled, hunched over … these folding chairs are appropriately named: folding chairs fold YOU! They are uncomfortable and absolutely non-conducive to either spectating or getting any kind of work done. Interestingly, they also force your body into a very submissive position, exacerbating any sense of immasculation that is probably already being felt by the recently initiated horse husband/boyfriend.

I set out to solve both of these problems: (1) not having a place to sit, and (2) having a crappy place to sit.

The solution arrived in the mail yesterday: a STRONGBACK Elite Folding camp chair. Unlike other folding chairs, this chair has a built-in lumbar support that actually braces your body instead of sucking you in. It’s much roomier than I even expected, and incredibly stable. A well-designed product, I took it for a spin today while hanging out at a local horse show. I wanted to go, but also knew that I needed to get some work done. By bringing this chair, I truly like I had brought ‘home base.’ In a sea of activity that was otherwise entirely my wife’s domain, I had a place to call my own. A lily pad. A castle. But it was also a fabulous work station.

As with anything, there are always downsides.

Don't make the case for your chair too convincing, or you just might wind up buying two...or maybe three. (Pictured: Elisa Wallace and TyTy)
Don’t make the case for your chair too convincing, or you just might wind up buying two…or maybe three.
Pictured: Elisa Wallace and TyTy

  1. Size. The chair is admittedly larger than most (a bug that is also a feature), but the company has tried to make up for its size by providing a rather hand carrying bag.
  2. Price. Another potential downside is that it is a little bit on the expensive side. At $99.95, it can be difficult to justify the expense. In fact, it is for this reason that it sat in my Amazon shopping cart for months before I finally hit the big red button. But there is nothing else quite like it on the market, and the build quality makes me feel like it will be with me for a long time. This is not a purchase. It’s am investment.
  3. Wife-appeal. It will not impress your wife. I tried to to impress mine and received a three word reply: “It’s a chair.” But that is exactly the point. The vast majority of mobile furniture does not feel like furniture at all. The point is not that the STRONGBACK feels like rainbow. The point is that it does not feel like crap and destroy your body. The point is that it’s a real chair.

From my throne today, I was both supportive of my wife and supported. I was also exceptionally productive in other ways (including writing this pulitzer-worthy blog post). After a very successful day of testing, I feel like my quest to find the perfect horse husband chair has been a tremendous success. From now on, this chair is going to live in my vehicle so that I can be sure to have it at every horse show and event.

If you’re going to sit, making it the best sit ever.

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