Last week, Arch & Alex posted a link on their FaceBook page to a hilarious article written by a guy warning his fellow bros against dating “horse chicks”. It was a hit with girls and guys alike and it got me thinking, has my obsession with horses impacted on my love-life? Or more to the point, the lack thereof. Is this why I am still single? So when Arch & Alex asked me to write a blog, Carrie-Bradshaw-style, from the perspective of a single, horse-mad girl in her thirties (ok, make that late thirties… actually, make that 40. Oh, alright then! Early 40s!!!), I jumped at the chance.
When I sat down and thought about it, it dawned on me that the majority of my horsey girlfriends are single. And many of them are also childfree and single. Compared with my non-horsey circle of girlfriends of whom most are, in keeping with the social norm, shacked up and procreating. Amongst my horse friends, the social norm is inverted and most of them are long-term career singletons. Sure, I do have a few horsey friends with partners. Some of them have even managed to snare and tag themselves every horse woman’s Holy Grail, the Horsey Male (kudos, ladies, kudos). But with the majority of my female friends being sans-partner, it begs the question: Do we have really have to choose between the horse and the man, or is it possible for us to have them both?
In my experience, horse ownership certainly throws up some challenges in the relationship department. First of all, they make it harder for us to meet members of the opposite sex in the first place! There’s no disputing that horse riding is a very female dominated sport. If, like me, your chosen discipline is dressage, then the problem is even more acute. Straight men in dressage are almost as rare as unicorns. And if you find one, you are almost guaranteed that he will be surrounded by a swarm of more devoted female groupies than Justin Beiber (and that’s just at Adult Riding Club level!!!). I have at various times in my life thought about switching to showjumping or polo, just to increase my chances of actually meeting a Horsey Male. But alas, I can’t judge distances and have shocking hand-eye coordination skills. So, dressage it was always going to be.
The other considerable hurdle that horses throw in the way of relationships is that they take up a lot of time. I mean, A LOT OF TIME. Looking back, the majority of my more noteworthy relationships have occurred during times in my life when I have been either horseless or agisting. Agisting takes a bit of pressure off, so that all you need to do is find time to ride, train and compete, without all the daily grind of feeding, mucking out, rugging, harrowing paddocks, fixing watertroughs, etc, etc ……. When you agist your horse, you have more freedom. You can go out for impromptu drinks after work without having to rush home to feed up. A dinner date doesn’t have to start at 8pm to give you time to ride and put your horse to bed (knowing full well that you will be asleep in your soup by 9pm, having been up since 5am). And an “impromptu” weekend away with your current squeeze doesn’t take more organisation and planning than a major military offensive just to organise horse sitters.
Unfortunately for me, the 17hh love of my life (whom, in keeping with the Carrie Bradshaw theme of this blog I shall call Mr Big Horse) has never been particularly keen on agistment. He can fret a bit if he doesn’t see his favourite human every day, eats enough pasture and hard feed for 6 horses (making him very popular indeed with agistment owners), sweats under a light rug at the first hint of sunshine (requiring multiple rug changes a day) and gets bored and destructive when paddocked alone (while being a social delinquent when paddocked with other peoples’ horses). So agistment for Big Horse is never really an option. This basically means needing to find 2-3 extra hours in every day to do horse and property management related chores (and sometimes that doesn’t even include riding!). On top of a busy 10-11 hour a day job in the corporate world, for me this always meant that boyfriends got put on the back burner. Relegated to a few spare hours on the weekend (but only if I wasn’t competing).
If you haven’t already guessed, I have a very close relationship with Big Horse. I’ve had him since he was a weanling and I love him and all his strange quirks. This kind of relationship is common between women and their horses and, I think, can be a foreign and even threatening concept for a non-horsey male. (Big Horse’s habit of hanging out his considerable male appendage when I introduce him to my potential suitors, in a blatant display of showing off, does nothing to soothe the delicate male ego either, I might add!) I love my dogs to bits too, but in many respects dogs fit in with and around life and relationships. Horses, on the other hand, take us away from non-horsey partners for hours/days on end and envelope us in world that must seem almost cult-like to the uninitiated non-horsey observer.
In a busy world of having to juggle priorities, partners of horsey women will soon learn that the horse will always come before them. With a bit of luck, they will be cool with that. Some will welcome the opportunity to go spend hours on the golf course with their mates or in some other time-consuming activity. Others may cross over to the dark side and learn to love their partner’s horse and appreciate their strange sport. They may even, after a bit of training, make useful grooms at shows! Many, however, will feel put-out and will relegate the “horse-chick” to the “Too Hard Basket”.
The only thing that horses consume faster than time, is money. This too can be a massive relationship deterrent. We’ve all seen that popular equestrian tee shirt with the slogan “Easy to Love, Hard to Afford” on it. Sure, in this day and age most of us gals work to support our own horse addiction. But there’s no disputing that our expensive obsession is going to eat into funding that might otherwise go towards that dream house or holiday you both have your hearts set on. The importance of almost all expenditure is going to be weighed up in the horse-girls’ mind against what she could buy for her horse with that money. The coin we shell out on horse floats, saddles, rugs, riding boots and all the other gear that comes with horse ownership would make a girl with a Tiffany’s or Manolo Blahnik obsession look like a very cheap date, comparatively. And that’s before we even get a vet bill….
As I look down at my fingers typing on the keyboard, I notice another handicap that horse ownership has given to my chance of ever finding myself a good bloke. My nails are short and dirty (who knew putting hoof grease on with bare hands would make it impossible to get the dirt out??). My hands are cracked from scrubbing out freezing water troughs on a 1 degree morning. My hair is in a very functional pony tail with bits of Big Horse’s breakfast stuck in there. My breeches are splattered with mud and I smell faintly of sweat (some guys might find the pheromones in female sweat attractive but, alas, the sweat I smell of is Big Horse’s). There’s horse hair and hay stuck all over my jumper (I once had a very unsuccessful relationship with a guy who was allergic to horse hair, what are the chances?!?!?… but that’s another story...). It’s not that I have given up and completely let myself go, as my mum might think. It’s just that I have to go out in the rain and do it all again in a few hours, so there’s really not much point in scrubbing up. Besides, I’m short on time and no straight men are going to see me in this sport anyway, right?
DESPITE all these obstacles and the discouraging precedent set by my circle of horsey gal-pals, however, I remain eternally optimistic that it is possible for a girl to have both horses and a man in her life. Perhaps one day I’ll bump into a nice country bloke that likes horses (oh, please God, a vet or farrier would be nice but I’ll settle for someone that can lift hay bales with ease). He’ll find the horse feed in my hair cute and will look into Big Horse’s eyes (ignoring his willy display) and instantly love him as much as I do… And we’ll ride off into the sunset together (but again, if he can’t ride I’m more than happy if I ride off into the sunset leaving him happily scooping the poop out of the horse float).
But I think the most important thing I’ve realised is that, if Mr Good-With-Horses doesn’t come along, it does not matter to me one bit. Horses are the ultimate soul mate. They not only give us unconditional love, they mirror our own souls, making us more mindful, grateful and authentic every time we are in their presence. They let us use their bodies to feel the thrill of a speed, grace and strength that we could never experience ourselves. And they introduce us to like-minded people who share the same passion. People that will become our closest friends and support network. Perhaps this is the true reason why most my horsey girlfriends are single. The horse gives us a sense of purpose and fulfilment. And although it would be nice to share that with someone, horses are all we really need.