I’m on the phone with a friend I haven’t spoken to in years, and I’ve just gotten back from the barn. I dump off my purse and jacket on the nearest chair, and as I walk down the hallway, I catch my reflection in the mirror. I’m wearing riding jeans that are at least 2 years old, 2 sizes too big and since the button has fallen off, they are being held together with a safety pin (which often stabs me in the stomach). My sweatshirt harkens back to my college days – at least 15 years ago – and has tattered sleeves, and my socks are wet because my boots need to be replaced. I woke up with a migraine that’s still pounding slightly behind my eyes, but I had to get to the barn because that’s just ‘what we do’. “You’re so lucky to have horses,” she says to me, as I’m staring in disgust at my ‘no-makeup face’. “It must be nice to live the dream, right?”
All Glamour and Beauty?
These exchanges are not uncommon when it comes to my “non-horsey” friends or acquaintances. They know I have a horse and the first thought that comes to most of their minds is that I’m independently wealthy, spend my days riding down the beach with my hair flowing in Bo Dereck fashion, or that I, quite possibly, vomit rainbows. Horses are a “dream”, after all…something that “all little girls want”, and most adults think only belong to a class of people who wear top hats, eternally shined tall boots and stark white shirts, but we know the truth; horse ownership is just as hard as it is rewarding.
While everyone who isn’t “in the know” thinks that I spend my mornings driving up to the barn – where the sun is always shining and I have a team of grooms and helpers standing at attention – and somehow manage to magically get on my horse, have a fabulous ride and head home without even getting dirty, the truth is that, mathematically speaking, I actually spend the majority of my time with my hands dirty, my clothes sweaty, and my muscles screaming at me for overworking them from dragging around bales of hay or hoisting bags of grain.
Real Horse Ownership
Horse ownership is mucking my own stall (even though stall cleaning is included in my board), mixing grain and supplements, checking every inch of my horse’s body for bumps and heat or swelling, giving daily medication that requires me to wear rubber gloves, grooming, cleaning, and worrying about my horse’s welfare and health both when I’m there with her and when I’m away. Horse ownership is never knowing when and where your next bruise or even broken bone is going occur; it’s budgeting your horse’s necessities and sometimes going without yourself – I can’t tell you how often I’ve drank a protein shake for dinner, but my horse never misses her daily supplements or bag full of grass hay. This is why I have to laugh when I imagine the impressions that a lot of people have of the horse world.
Horse Ownership Through My Friend’s Eyes
Once, a friend from high school came to visit me and she literally begged that I take her out to the barn to show her my horse and “how I spend my riding mornings”. Normally, when I have company in town I try to rearrange my schedule so that I can avoid the “trip to the barn”, but she wanted to go, so I obliged. I knew that it was going to be interesting when she came out of the bathroom wearing perfectly clean skinny jeans, a designer top, tennis shoes that looked like they had been purchased the day before and perfectly flat-ironed hair – a stark contrast to my riding jeans, sweatshirt, boots and ponytail threaded through a three year old baseball cap. Once at the barn, she gave my horse a few quick pats and then had to go wash her hands before coming back and watching as I groomed, cleaned my stall, and mixed grain.
The Truth Revealed
“Wow, this isn’t as glamorous as I thought it was,” my friend said, as she watched me picking my mare’s hooves. “When do you actually get to ride the horse?”
“Well, that comes after all the rest is done,” I answered, hands stained with purple thrush treatment. “And some days I don’t get to ride at all, but all this stuff has to be done anyway.”
My friend looked at me quizzically before responding with, “This isn’t anything like I imagined it would be. I have a whole new respect for horse people now.”
One of the Most Rewarding Things in Life
My friend was right…horse ownership is usually not “glamorous”. It takes a lot of time, money, dedication and effort. It’s a lot like having a child in many ways; you do the work because it’s required and because you care. You do the work because you love the reward and can’t imagine your life without it. Sure, I can’t go to a party without someone eyeing my beautifully browned arms (just up to where a t-shirt sleeve hits) and stark white legs, or asking where all the strange bruises around my knees and thighs came from, and I’ve been to the emergency room at least twice this year with “horse related injuries”, but that’s just a part of my life…it’s who I am.
So, fractured wrists, hands that won’t hold a manicure for more than a few days, the fact that my horse’s hair is shiny and soft and my own is pulled back in a ponytail (no pun intended) most days doesn’t really matter, because I’m a horse owner, and as tough as it is, it’s also one of the most rewarding things in my life.
Photo credit: Sarah Williams