Photography by Sarah Williams

The Equestrian’s Sacrifice – It’s In Our Blood

When most people first meet me and learn that I have a horse, their first impression is that I’m rich or somehow privileged. I suppose, in truth, I am both of those things, but not in the way that people would imagine. I don’t live in a mansion, and I don’t drive a brand new car; in fact, the truck I use to haul the horse trailer I purchased from a friend at an incredible discount, is 16 years old and just this week the air conditioning finally went out as I was making a trip to the local vet hospital to spend more money on shoes for my horse than I have on shoes for myself in longer than I can recall. I have more pairs of worn jeans than I have fancy dresses, my boots are a year old and wearing thin so that when it rains I can feel the dampness soaking into my socks, and I have way too many baseball caps to count. I’ve been kicked, scraped, bruised and rope burned, and my hands have little callouses from reins and pitch forks no matter how much lotion that I drown them in. Now, I’m not complaining, because I am blessed to be able to maintain something I adore, but I feel the need to dispel the notion that I “must have it easy”.

Nothing about being a good and responsible horse owner is easy. The expense alone is enough to make most people clutch a little tighter at their pocket books, and combined with the time, energy, worry, and work involved with not just “owning a horse”, but being a real life, do-it-yourself equestrian is an undertaking that is not for the faint of heart. Just the other day, I was having lunch with a friend who even though I love dearly, just doesn’t understand my “horse habit”.

“Why do you do it?” she asks…just about every time that I see her.

This is usually followed by a quick and dirty rundown of all the other things I could be doing with my time and extra cash. To which I typically provide the well practiced chuckle and quick change of subject, but this time was different; I said something that actually made her stop eating and look at me with one of those tilted head, quizzical glances that only therapists give to their patients. I said, “It’s in my blood. It’s who I am.”

I meant exactly what I said, horses are in my blood as much as my own blood, sweat and, occasionally, tears is in them. As is usually the case, my life with horses began with my parents. They allowed my dreams to become a reality when I got my first furry little Welsh cross pony, and they stoked these dreams like a fragile fire as I moved on to my first Half Arabian show horse, “Jeanie”. She was everything that I had ever managed to conjure up in my head, and showing was something that just grabbed me and pulled me in. My parents made sacrifices; having a child who shows a horse isn’t cheap, but they made it work because it was what I loved to do, and I think that they realized the extreme benefits to my sense of responsibility, focus and compassion far outweighed the sacrifices.

Even then, though, I had to laugh when my classmates would make comments about how I had to be a rich girl to do what I do.

What they didn’t realize is that I was up at least an hour before them every day to go to the run-down ranch where I boarded my mare just so that she could eat breakfast. They didn’t know that after school every day I had a horse to groom, ride and feed, and a stall to clean. I went to bed tired every night, but it was that good kind of tired that only comes from doing something you love.

Fast forward to the present… I still have one Half Arabian show horse, and I still get up early every morning so that I can get to the barn and ride, groom, feed and clean my horse’s stall before I can get on with the rest of my day. Some morning’s I wake up tired, sick, or just mentally stressed, but unless I’m literally unable to drive (which doesn’t happen often), I make it to the barn 7 days per week. If I didn’t have my horse, I would have a lot more leisure time, and extra spending cash to fill that leisure time with the occasional shopping spree, more frequent indulgences of my favorite drink at Starbucks, or whatever else none horse owners purchase. I would get a lot more use out of my high heels, my make-up bag would get used more than a couple times a week, I could trade in all of my old, tattered sweatshirts for blouses and trendy tops, and my car wouldn’t have to double as a mobile tack/feed/horse supply outlet. There are a lot of things that I could do, but the truth is that I wouldn’t change my life in the slightest…as a matter of fact, I find the notion of not having a horse almost too foreign to imagine.

So, for all the do-it-yourself equestrians out there who wake up early just to grab a ride before work, who spend more money on products for their horse’s skin/coat/hair/diet than their own, who understand that “saddle time” is the smallest part of horse ownership…the next time that someone makes a snide remark about how “easy you have it” or how you “must be rich to do what you do”, I’ve got your back. And when then say how “lucky you are”, that’s your cue to smile and say, “you know what, I am lucky; it’s unbelievably hard work to own and maintain a horse, but it’s just in my blood”. Now get out to the barn, you’ve got work to do!

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