Some, very fortunate, riders meet other riders with whom they fall poll-over-croup in love and lead a horsy-ever-after life. Other lucky riders are still young enough to have some degree of back-up from parents or relatives. Very few horse people, however fiercely independent, can do without help to keep their horses unless they are stabled at a livery yard, where, should the worst come to the worst, there will be someone with horse experience to call on.
Many of us acquire a spouse or partner who didn’t realise horses were part of the “for better or worse” scenario. The party animal, assiduous student, business whizz or (supply your own unlikely situation!) who undergoes a drastic transformation and succumbs to, or is re-smitten by the horse bug can be a traumatic surprise for their beloved. A Damascene conversion can wreak havoc on the household budget, daily agenda, notion of holidays, content of wardrobes and even the geographical situation of family home.
So, when you’re hoping for long-term happiness between you, your horse and your partner, here’s a subjective list of ideal attributes needed in the perfect horse-husband or wife, (convert from masculine to feminine as appropriate):
1. Flexibility Never knowing what’s around the corner and always expecting to take second place to a horse is a required state of mind. Partners who expect their every domestic need to come first may as well check out at the first hurdle. If they are able to, and regularly do turn their hand to any household chores they are likely to pass the next test…
2. Trainability They may never have had a dream of standing in a muddy field or a draughty stable, but a willingness to learn and help means that horses won’t always come between you. They may get a taste for riding and eventually you can canter off into the sunset together. But, at a starter level, knowing what goes in the feed bucket, how to put a headcollar on and how to tie a quick release knot are easy basics.
3. Kindness It’s unlikely that, having fulfilled the first two needs a person will not be kind. However, once the basics are acquired, some partners may want to take control and boss you and your horse around or get too critical about your riding or try to separate you from your horsy friends. Anyone else “disciplining” your horse, shouting or applying physical force in a “masterful” way needs it to be tactfully explained to them; that is not the way we work with creatures who do not think like us.
4. Generosity Nobody likes a meanie, yet a spendthrift can quickly drive the family budget into a deep ditch. There is no way to cut corners when it comes to equine wellbeing. You can either afford to keep a horse, without being extravagant, or you can’t, so if the partner accepts this and is willing to forget jewellery and give tack as presents, so much the better. As with all these virtues, they must of course be two-way. If he lusts after a particular tennis racket or pair of trainers, a concert ticket or special bottle of wine, an all-weather jacket and wellies will definitely underwhelm. If it’s the day of the big match, lay on his favourite beer and join him if you can bear it or at least leave him (and his mates) to enjoy in peace.
5. Courage People who have ridden since they were fearless children with rubber bones forget that many people have never been at close quarters with an animal larger than an average dog. If you only get to meet one in adulthood, the first horse you stand next to usually appears gargantuan, with teeth like tombstones, feet like sledgehammers and a back-end like a bus. Of course they’re terrifying!
6. Fitness And following on from the above, you need to be nimble to avoid crushed toes, strong enough to provide a leg-up, capable of carrying a saddle or a couple of haynets…..there is also likely to be a difficult difference in outlook between partners whose attitude to diet and exercise is at odds.
7. Tolerance A partner with a secure ego, sure of your affection and not dependent on you, alone for company, entertainment and a social life will be more indulgent than an attention-seeker who needs a lot of ego-bolstering or requires a trophy partner in the looks/wealth or fashion department. One who can put up with hay in your hair and that unmistakable, and to us, priceless, perfume, “eau de cheval”, should be treated to a cleaned up, dressed up, even glammed up version of oneself, once in a while – if only to prove you can still do it!
8. Patience Gushing about Dobbin’s latest genius jump, piaffe or bravery in the face of scary plastic bags may incite initial admiration. Do not abuse. Learn to recognise the earliest signs of eye-glazing.
9. Land Management Skills You know how gardening couples often divide into the flower-bed queens and the kings of lawns and/or veg. plots? A green-fingered partner who fancies himself as a landowner can sometimes find great pride and pleasure in the management of pristine pastures, perfectly maintained fencing and being the owner of an equine property as pretty as you can afford. Particularly if you formerly lived in a city flat.
10. Handsomeness I refer back to the word “ideal” in my initial premise. Ideally I should like to look like Cindy Crawford. Ideally one’s partner shouldn’t send visitors fleeing in fright. But the handsomeness I refer to here comes from the old proverb “handsome is as handsome does”. If your partner has the manners, charm and personality which have you and your horse eating out of his hand, you have chosen wisely and well.
Never forget to cherish him and thank your lucky stars!