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.
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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.