One of my favorite old adages that I try to employ every day is “to treat others how you’d like to be treated.” I particularly embrace this mentality when gift shopping, and I had particular success when my groom became a groom.
With a recent upswing in the celebration of Horse Husbands, Boyfriends, or Significant Others, I must share my experience of making my horse husband a horse owner. Meet Jonathan, my high school sweetheart, who has developed quite the ringside eye, horsemanship to make him fit for a five-star CDI, and videography skills to rival Spielburg.
When I planned to give my husband a horse, everything was perfect. After a few mentions of how romantic and perfect and heavenly it would be to trail ride with me, when opportunity knocked, I answered! I found a free lease on an older, sane, school master Western horse who you could shoot a rifle off of, would go, stop, and steer while listening to me, had a million show miles, and could go into the pen and win when ridden with expertise.
I presented him to Jonathan like I would want my New Gift Horse presented to me—as a surprise, with a big bow of baling twine on his halter, and no bills to be paid! Having never owned a horse of my own (that dream will happen eventually), it only crossed my mind for a moment that I was giving away what I wanted for myself. However, what I got back from giving that gift to Jonathan was something that cannot hold a price tag.
Similar to that childhood book “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie”, when you give your husband a horse, he will ask for help. …and new jeans, more comfortable reins, and ask questions dozens of questions like “what is a half halt?” and “how long it will take me to rein like that!?”, while pointing to a video of Shawn Flarida. I’m smiling, laughing, and trying to ignore that sinking feeling in my stomach—is this what I sound like to him? On most occasions I encouraged him to ask for direction, steered him towards good horsemanship, and sat back to relax and enjoy the journey.
There are different breeds of Horse Husbands, and all of them deserve oodles of adoration and attention. From loving supporter to groom aficionado, they come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of dedication and education. I am lucky enough to be blessed with a husband who is hard core in his desire to at least know what I’m doing, even if he doesn’t do it for or with me.
I don’t like to share my work anyway, so I doubt I’d let him truly groom for me. But when I open the computer and the browsers are open to YouTube videos of dressage stars in the show ring that I didn’t look up, I get this warm fuzzy feeling inside. The next day, he’d surprise me at the barn by coming to watch my lesson, and at the end would boast his new education by congratulating me on my “throughness”, and telling me “the angle on that last half pass” was my best of the ride. Nothing gets a smug, I-want-to-smother-you-in-kisses smile on my face faster! Yes, his horse made him do that.
Suddenly, he owned this giant, pooping, free-thinking animal for himself. He had watched me clean a stall for hours and hours, often while we caught up talking, laughing, and falling in love… but doing it himself gave him new appreciation for having to do them every day, and developing a good sense of efficiency! The pride I saw when he had finished his horse’s stall (even after 30 minutes) was similar to one that a great drive on the golf course evoked!
When he tacked up, the saddle pad went on backwards the first ride, the girth wasn’t tightened quite enough to keep the saddle on the horse the second ride, but by the third ride, he was grooming, riding, and rewarding his horse with genuine enjoyment.
Giving my husband a horse taught me how to communicate better by letting me learn how Jonathan thinks. My fluffy descriptions had to get trimmed down to simple commands, and he had to learn how to trust me, let go of the mane, and occasionally just “woah” and start over. I had to stop asking if he was OK once I learned the rigid look on his face indicated concentration instead of frustration—something he himself had asked me a dozen times!
When life piles up, the exhaustion sets in and the homework is overwhelming, so it is no surprise that eventually I had to tell a pouting Jonathan that I just couldn’t fit in a lesson with him and his trusty steed one night. Surprise found my face as he said to me “No, honey, it’s fine! I’ll just ride on my own tonight!”
After weeks of diligent work and lessons, and years of observing me, I concluded perhaps it was time for him to do it on his own. What better self-confidence boost? Up the hill to the barn he went, as I settled in with my graduate studies, admiring how great he looked in jeans and boots!
I have to say, it was more than surprise that found me when the door slammed shut, announcing his return a few hours later. In trudged my husband, making no eye contact, not saying a word, stomping up the stairs. I was perplexed. I had watched him through the window to make sure disaster hadn’t struck. Their ride followed the same pattern as it did when I was looking on, no major upheavals.
When I tiptoed upstairs for an explanation, what my husband had to say swelled my heart more than the Grinch on Christmas. Exasperation and frustration oozed off of him as I awkwardly attempted to be supportive. Soon, he cracked, turning to me with a big sigh.
“Honey, now I know exactly how you feel on days when you have a bad ride.”
The sky parted, angels sung, and happy tears stung my eyes. I let out a huge sigh of relief, gave him a big sigh, and said the only thing I knew could turn his mood around.
“It’s OK, honey, it will be better tomorrow. I can’t wait to learn how to golf.”
While I don’t suggest everyone run out and grab their Horse Husband a horse of their own, it did a lot for our relationship and communication, and definitely sprinkled some humor on my straight-laced barn atmosphere, which is usually focused on lessons and training. Jonathan was a charming student to humor my extravagant gift, and I’ve since taken more of a liking to golf than I ever would have guessed—the similarities to dressage are actually numerous! If it suits you better, instead of a horse, perhaps just give your Horse Husband a cookie and surprise him by asking to participate in his hobby. You never know where it may take you!
Chronicle blogger Lauren Keeton is head groom at Jan and Amy Ebeling's The Acres. She also appeared in a story "A Good Groom Is A Horse's Home Base" in the Sept. 9, 2013 Horse Care issue of the Chronicle.