I’m a horse husband.
We’ve met before. I’m the bleary-eyed guy struggling to unhitch the trailer on chilly Saturday mornings, toothpaste on my sweater. You might have seen me over by the concession stand, counting out quarters for a hot dog and a cup of coffee at 9 a.m. You might even have seen me leaning over the show ring fence, dutifully snapping video for my wife to obsess over later.
I wasn’t a horse person. I’d seen a live horse up close maybe two or three times. Outside of celluloid Westerns and the occasional sad movie, horses and I lived on different planets. We didn’t even seem to share the same basic parts. Point to your gaskin. Ever have your stifle act up? Remember that time you bruised your croup?
So I hesitated the first time my wife asked me to hold her rescue horse’s reins while she dug gunk out of his feet. Hooves, sorry—I’m still learning.
We were in the process of rehabilitating a 1901 farmhouse and the accompanying 13 acres of property. The long-term goal was to replace the worn-out pony barn with something a little more watertight and maybe, maybe keep horses there someday.
One theme I’ve noticed regarding horses is “someday” happens a lot sooner than you’d think.
My wife received a tip about an off-the-track Thoroughbred that had been kept in less-than-pleasant conditions for some time, free to a good home.
He wasn’t in great shape. You could count his ribs from across the barn, and he really hadn’t been ridden since he left the track.
“You sure about this?” I said on the ride home.
“Yes,” she said simply.
And that was that. We owned a horse. I was now a horse husband.
Knowing that we still had months (years) of work left to be done on the farm, we put our new horse up in a stable with an arena and a trainer on-site. My wife immediately set to fattening him up and working the rust off of his muscles.
He was still pretty jumpy when my wife handed me the reins. I tucked my hands into my pockets.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said. In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself dangling in the air, dodging vicious kicks and bites, struggling to get this 1,200-pound animal to behave. I’ve had cats that would pelt me for delivering five head-pets instead of three. What chance did I have against a horse?
My wife pulled my right hand out of my pocket and slapped the reins into it.
“If you’re calm, he’ll be calm,” she said.
And you know what? She was right. He stood (relatively) still and didn’t fuss. He even let me stroke his muzzle, despite the way I jerked my hand away at every stray snort. I didn’t speak horse. Apparently, they’ll make all kinds of confusing and vaguely threatening noises just to tell you that everything is fine.
And everything really is fine. Being a horse husband has its share of peaks and valleys, trials and tribulations. But it’s not without its share of triumphs, too. You just have to grab the reins.
I’m still not a horse person, but I’m a horse husband. Glad to meet you.
Dan Hilliard works as a steel trade journalist and aspiring gentleman farmer outside of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He and his wife have an off-the-track Thoroughbred, two bratty goats, two spoiled dogs and three chubby cats. He enjoys writing, fishing, metal detecting and cursing at his 1987 Wheelhorse.