Note: For the sake of convenience, I’ve chosen to use examples of a boyfriend meeting a girlfriend’s horse. This does not mean that the roles cannot be reversed, nor does it imply that these roles cannot belong to gender-fluid people. This is simply what I’ve found to be the most common example based on questions I’ve been asked. All are welcome in the Equiverse! Unless you’re an asshole, in which case kindly fuck off.
Of the many questions I receive upon telling someone that I live on a farm in Texas with three horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and a cat, one constantly comes up in some form or another: did you know about the world of horses before you married into it?
The answer is a resounding no.
Although I currently have the closest thing to Noah’s ark I will ever have, I knew little to nothing about horses before I met my wife. I knew from my youth that girls had some affinity to them (based on a small amount of empirical evidence which can be mostly attributed to me accidentally stumbling into my middle school girlfriend’s room one summer’s day to find hundreds of miniature plastics horses adorning her shelves). I knew that cowboys rode them in westerns to get from town to town, that some people taught them how to dance, and that they were undoubtedly expensive to keep. Fortunately, I had been partially raised in the country where I was surrounded by livestock of all sorts and knew well enough to respect an animal’s space when presented the opportunity. I had helped my cousins show their animals in FFA for years. I had slept on a pig’s gut, shaved goats, and held chickens upside-down while they were inspected by bourbon-sipping Southern gentlemen in overalls who spoke too fast and thought too slow.
I was surrounded by animals in one form or another in my formative years, so when the day came for me to meet Bailey’s horses I thought I knew what I was in for. Looking back, the whole situation seems so alien as I’m sure it does for most: Tentatively approaching a chomping creature that weighs a ton, not knowing where to put your hands first and trying your damnedest not to get kicked. Honestly I can’t remember exactly how I felt when I met the red mare Joy and the Appaloosa Apple. Part of me wants to feel guilt for this, but another part of me thinks that it must have come more naturally than I think it did and I shouldn’t question it. Somehow it wasn’t awkward or tense at all. Bailey had led me to Joy’s stall and I saw her, Joy, munching on what I would later learn was alfalfa (a name I had only attributed to a member of the Little Rascals, not a weird sticky hay). Joy turned around slowly and drooped her head over the stall door as Bailey passed by, headed toward the tack room, leaving me with this moose.
“Hullo,” I probably said.
“’Hullo’ yourself, dickhead,” Joy probably thought.
I raised my flat hand to her nose and let her sniff me. She seemed indifferent so I proceeded to massage her cheeks or whatever you call them. She didn’t seem bothered. Okay, I thought, I guess we’re good now, right?
Just you wait, motherfucker, thought Joy probably.
So that is my experience with horses up until Bailey came along, which prompts another question I’m frequently asked: What tips do you have for a significant other who knows nothing about horses? Besides the obvious answer of ‘run,’ I’ve actually acquired some wisdom in the department.
Most people in the Equiverse know that the introduction of their horse(s) to their S.O. can act as a barometer for how the relationship will end up. The first thing a lot of Bailey’s friends will text her when they enter a new relationship is “He handled the horses well!” or “This guy was wicked awkward with my horses” or even “I don’t know who this person is, but my horse has just bitten his hand and I need legal council.” That last bit was a joke and you can’t prove anything. This first meeting between let’s say a boyfriend (for convenience) and his girlfriend’s horse is not the most important part of dating someone involved with horses. It is, of course, helpful in gauging how the person treats other animals and, in turn, other human beings, but it is not the key to being with someone in the Equiverse.
A very important lesson I’ve learned: The most important part of your relationship is the longevity of your understanding; knowing that this person doesn’t view their sport, whether it’s dressage, eventing, etc., as a hobby. This was a lifestyle choice that Bailey chose long before my dumb ass came along and it will be here long after I’m gone. After Bailey had prefaced her involvement in dressage by telling me her extensive history with it, how could I rationally think she would ever give it up for little ol’ me? More so, if I truly love her why would I ever ask her to give it up? There should never be ultimatums.
A lot of potential boyfriends will play it cool for a little while, displaying their alacritous gestures proudly; holding tack, dispensing hay, going to shows, etc. But some fall prey to the Law of Diminishing Returns and quickly grow tired of the habits that affect all people in the Equiverse. I once wrote the following in a novice attempt at coping with dating someone who practiced dressage:
As any large thing tends to do, horses require a lot of care and, naturally, a lot of time. I’ve heard of boyfriends getting angry [with] their girlfriends for spending too much time with their horses. While I understand the frustration, I don’t understand that reaction. That’s like a father getting mad at a mother for looking after her child; a thing in which she has invested thousands of dollars and many years. It’s senseless to get upset about someone caring for their investment and doing something they love.
However, it is frustrating at times. Schedules need to constantly be flexible (something not everyone is good with). Dinners may be later than expected, weekends may be a little more busy, and an ever-evolving show and training schedule may dictate when you see your boyfriend or girlfriend. It isn’t easy. But the worst relationships I have ever seen are those in which one or both of the people involved are selfish with their time. They may feel entitled to monopolize their significant other’s time slots. This leads to clinginess, which can lead to paranoia, which can lead to anger. This is everything I try my very hardest not to be. And so should you.
Put yourself in the horse-owner’s shoes. Think of every tiny chore that needs to be done before they feel satisfied with their work. Having their significant other breathing down their neck the entire time would not a happy relationship make. Believe me, I know it can be stressful for you, but at least you don’t have a giant dog rolling in the mud with its intestines in a knot and missing two shoes.
Your significant other’s time is not yours. What makes the time you spend together so special is the fact that they are choosing to be there with you. They want to have you around. I can’t imagine having to balance family, friends, a girlfriend and a horse. Empathize. It’s one hell of a balancing act. The time I get with Bailey is what keeps my chin up, and every second in between I think about the last moment I had with her and prepare myself for the next. It’s good to live in between moments like this, because when they do come, they knock you off your feet.
Ah, the halcyon days. This advice that no one had asked for still rings true after years of focusing on this balancing act.
Now just because I’m dishing out this advice doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated. Of course I’m annoyed when I’ve made dinner and I’m made to eat it alone because Bailey needs to catch that last bit of daylight for a good ride. Of course it’s inconvenient when I want to travel but we have to move mountains to find someone who can watch over the “farm.” The thing that keeps me going is not only the all-important unconditional love, but also the longevity of understanding and empathizing with someone who loves their sport. Not everyone can hang with someone who has a horse and I get it, it really is a lifestyle change in every sense of the word. It takes more sacrifice and more patience and more everything than an average relationship. But when viewed as an opportunity to show your devotion to someone you love, it really is all worth it.
Bailey recommended I plug my Tumblr here since I’ve answered a lot of your questions, but it seemed hacky. So just know that this is not some elaborate ruse to get you to fall under the control of Bailey and I’s MULTIMEDIA CONGLOMERATE. Anyway, it’s got some more in-depth answers, on introductory and more in depth topics such as: If You Love Your Girl, You Must Love Her Horse, “Here, Hold This”, Be Genuinely Interested or Genuinely Uninterested, It’s Okay To Worry, You Can’t Be Selfish With Your Time, Dressage is A Tricky Business - about managing drama in the equestrian world from an outside perspective, and Look Where You Want To Go, in addition to plenty more bad jokes, guidance, and behind the scenes looks. (I am plugging these because I think they are valuable and lovely, no matter your relationship status or riding discipline! - Bailey)
Hope this helps!
SOME RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Q: What movie would best describe you?
A: I love so many I’m not sure I could choose one…I recently saw Phantom Thread and deeply related with the protagonist’s work ethic. I suppose Magnolia would be close as well since it sort of highlights a lot of facets of human behavior. Or Brazil. Damn, good question.
Q: Ever want to ride Joy?
A: I did once or twice! Granted it was after she had been worked, but it still counts! I got my eye on Posey, though. Her and I are simpatico.
Q: One thing you’ve always wanted to do with the horses?
A: Put Apple on Joy, Posey on Apple, then tour the country with my horse-balancing act.
Q: What was your favorite part of Ireland? Do you have any history with the country?
A: I didn’t have any history with the country until March 11, 2018. My favorite part, besides marrying Bailey, was the sheer scale of the cliffs. I’ll never get over it.
Q: What are your goals with regards to riding? If Bailey is open to it, would you want to ride Posey?
A: I don’t have many goals with riding except for a few trail rides here and there. Riding is Bailey’s thing primarily, I just help when she asks me. I’d love to ride Posey once she’s old enough, though! I think we’d connect well.
Q: Favorite breed of horse?
A: Any horse that’s not a dick.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a horse dad?
A: Getting to help birth Posey was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and getting to watch her grow has been pretty amazing.
Q: How did you know Bailey was the one?
A: I don’t think there was a catalyst; I just went with my gut. It was a very natural feeling so I went with it. A lot of people keep waiting for a single moment where ‘it’ kicks in, but if every moment feels natural, go with it. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops as David Mitchell says.
Q: Would you want to do dressage?
A: No, I like having money to my name too much.
Q: Were you ever shy around horses?
A: No I was never shy, but a healthy dose of caution doesn’t hurt. I’ve met a ton of people who are scared of horses and I think it’s mostly because they haven’t had much exposure. Some advice for your bf would be to not rush him into petting or feeding a horse. Let him come to you with questions, maybe sprinkle in some general safety knowledge here and there. If he doesn’t come to you, ask if he’d like to help you groom with a curry comb, or feed, or something simple, and that natural curiosity should kick in. Try not to overwhelm him with knowledge all at once. He might also be shy because he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself, which is a totally viable fear. I was in the same boat at first. But keeping him present when you’re doing typical barn chores will help educate him through osmosis.
Q: Favorite thing about each horse?
A: Apple: He tries to act casual and fight his maternal urges but always shows his true colors. I think the effort is admirable. I also like his innate understanding of who he’s dealing with. He’s a very understanding pony.; Posey: Incredibly kind and bright. We knew that really quickly. She’s going to be a star.; Joy: Her devotion to work is outstanding. Annoying, but impressive. She’s an incredibly hard worker and very goal-oriented.
Q: Any advice on how to teach a non-horsey bf about dressage?
A: Make sure he understands that it’s not as simple as getting on the horse and letting it do its thing. Break down that stigma right off the bat. Let him know that there are incredibly nuanced gestures that cue the horse to do certain moves, and then let him know what those moves are. Half passes, pirouettes, flying changes, and even extended trots are something that are visible enough to start explaining as a baseline. For instance, I didn’t know what an extended trot was but I knew it looked like the horse was gliding forward. So giving names to those visually obvious movements makes watching someone practice dressage seem less arbitrary and can engage him more by trying to label each movement. I think that’s a good place to start.
Q: Would you want a horse for yourself?
A : I’ve told Bailey this before, but no I don’t think so. Judging by my experience with my little animals and Posey, I would get far too attached and if something went wrong, I don’t think my heart could recover.
Q: Is Bailey actually a crazy horse girl?
A: Unequivocally. But in the kind, empathetic, generous way. Not the spiteful, glitzed-up, back-stabby way (you know who you are). She’s also really messy, is that a horse girl thing or just an isolated incident? Either way please send Marie Kondo our way if you see her. (Thanks, honey. - B)
Q: What’s your biggest takeaway from the horse world?
A: There are so many but a major one is that we all have secret lives. As incendiary as that sounds, it’s actually a really fascinating concept that I had forgotten until I met Bailey. On the surface, I’d never think she was a home-schooled dressage rider (casting no aspersions to either of those demographics at all). Then suddenly I got to know her more and more and discovered this new world with a new sport. It was a sport that drew in people from all walks of life from young women to retired women. It was filled with drama, intrigue, drama and even more drama! My point is that I got to peek behind a curtain into a world that I would have otherwise missed. That changed the way I looked at everyone I met. It made me think of secret talents or hobbies they might be withholding. I didn’t pry or judge, but I expanded my mind to the possibility that the person across from me might be an ex African witch-doctor or the creator of New York’s premier vampire cult (both true stories, ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!). (Can confirm both these things happened, and I have the texts to prove it. -B)
Q: Recommendations for dealing with a boyfriend who is jealous of the horse?
A: This is a tricky one, but super common. So common, in fact, that I wrote about it when Bailey and I first got together. I struggled with it too, but I had to gain some perspective and realize that if Bailey was jealous of me doing what I loved, I’m not the one who needs to make mental adjustments. Of course you’ll need to meet him somewhere in the middle, but trust me I know how hard it is to make time for life outside of your sport. There’s a link to that post above (sorry I’m not trying to hawk my old stuff, but it’s probably easier this way).
Q: If you could rename the horses (including the donkeys) what would you call them?
A: Donkeys: the twins from the Shining; Joy: The Thunderdome; Apple: Mr. Belvedere; Posey: I’m actually struggling here because she’s always just been Posey. But we call her Po, which I hope will fade because that’s Kung Fu Panda’s name...unfortunate.
Q: Is there anything you have learned from being a horsey husband that you weren’t expecting?
A: Almost everything actually. It’s all been new to me. I didn’t expect to be involved with any form of organized sports as I think they’re bullshit, but the devotion to any sport is constantly admirable. I’ve learned that I get far too attached to animals. Didn’t see that one coming. I’ve learned there’s an Underground Railroad for horse tack which is buck wild to me. I’ve learned that people can sometimes be inherently kind (DEFINITELY didn’t see that one coming). But the main thing I didn’t expect was learning how to birth a filly. That was...an experience. I’m sure there are others but those are some highlights...