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July 25, 2014

Horse Ownership 101

Few milestones in life are anticipated with greater joy than bringing home your first horse. Having a horse is in many ways like having a child who will never grow up, get a job and move out of the house. Also like a child, until you actually have one of your own you really don’t know what you’re in for. To assist with your transition, I’ve cataloged some of the life changes that you can expect as a new horse owner.

You will discover that your plan to keep your horse in your backyard “because it’s cheaper than boarding” is fundamentally flawed. You’ll need new fencing and a barn for hay storage and shelter for your horse. If you wish to train and ride at home you’ll need an arena. That means (among other things) more fencing, quality footing, and a tractor, harrow and water truck to keep it maintained. Once you’ve run the tractor into the fence a few times, you can use the sections you’ve knocked down to build jumps. You’ll also need a truck and trailer so that you can take your horse to the vet, evacuate in case of an emergency, or vacate the premises after your house is foreclosed on and sold at auction.

You will never have a savings account. This is because horses have a unique ability to expand to fill any budget. I don’t care if you have a million bucks squirreled away—your equine charge will eat through it faster than a bag of unattended carrots. Your vacation money? A few bouts of after-hours colic will take care of that. The kids’ college fund? You’d be surprised how few horse shows, clinics and new saddles it takes to wipe that out. Have a retirement account? By the time you get to retirement age you won’t. Better liquidate your stocks now and take that second mortgage out while your credit is still good.

Your definition of “clean” will change radically. In Barnspeak, “clean” is a relative term meaning “less dirty than it was before.” Your horse is clean when you can identify the color of its coat. Your hands are clean after you’ve dipped them into a bucket of water, saddlesoap and dead flies. Your crossties are clean when you’ve shoved the pile of manure into someone else’s. Your car is never clean. After a period of adjustment and futile attempts to remove dirt, kittycat paw prints and horseshoe shaped dents, you will give up and make peace with it. On the positive side, nobody will ask you to for a ride. Ever.

You will become immune to dirt and odors. The scent of horses, hay, perspiration and manure will be what you consider normal. Your only barometer for how bad you actually smell is the level of disgust that registers on the faces of others. Still, you are oblivious to the fact that restaurants clear when you walk in, and nobody will get into the Express Checkout line with you. You just assume you have good timing.

Due to the above, you will develop a list of places you can’t go back to. The need to run errands in dirty barn clothes is inevitable. Grocery stores/post offices will probably tolerate you, but if nicer shops get an identifiable image of you on their security cameras, you won’t get in the door again. Disguising yourself with a mask or hood is discouraged, particularly if one of your stops is the bank.

You will become persona non-gratis at social events. Even if you are wearing clean(ish) clothes and have taken a bath in Lysol, all it takes is getting caught one time reaching your Kopertox-stained, destroyed-manicure hands into the chip bowl, and you’re blacklisted from polite society. Fortunately, you’ll be too tired to have a social life beyond the barn; your typical Saturday night will consist of going to the feed store, posting photos of the cute thing your horse did today on Facebook and being in bed by 10.

Your Significant Others will require extensive re-training before recognizing and accepting their new position in the food chain. The hierarchy is: 1. Horse (because…well, because Horse) 2. You (because you are primary caretaker of Horse) 3. Everything Else. Item #3 is further subdivided into Section A: Things that directly or indirectly benefit #1 and #2 and Section B: Other Stuff. A smart SO will quickly adopt behaviors that assure a spot in Section A. These behaviors include willingly listening to a play-by-play account of your day at the barn, having dinner ready for you when you get home, and foregoing flowers and chocolate for stuff from the tack store. Bonus points if they know basic horse terminology and do not refer to your chestnut gelding as “brown.”

You will learn some things the hard way. For example, to not tie a horse to anything you do not wish to pay to replace. The fencepost is not stronger than your horse. The feed room door is not stronger than your horse, nor is the grill of your Chevy. Unless you want to see your steed galloping down the road with any or all of the above in tow, do not leave your horse tied and unattended.

Your vet and your farrier will become the most important people in your life. They will replace your mom and your best friend as the first two numbers on your speed dial list. It is very important to maintain a good relationship with your vet and your farrier as you will be putting their kids through college.

Your priorities will change. You will no longer care what the stock market is doing or who is running for what office. Your only concern will be whether you will need a light or medium blanket tonight. Buying the new horse trailer will be the clear choice over spending the money to replace your leaky roof. No matter if the house becomes uninhabitable—that’s why you bought the trailer with the living quarters. Plus you can go to horse shows.

To summarize: Once you have a horse, life as you know it will be irrevocably altered. You will be broke, tired, dirty, smelly and a slave to your equine companion’s every whim. You will give up activities you once enjoyed and abandon all hope of a social life to spend more time at the barn. In short, you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been and won’t be able to imagine life without your four-legged friend. It’ll be the best decision you ever made. You can’t put a price on that.

After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she's an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle's first writing competition. Her work also appears in the Dec. 2, 2013, Amateur Issue print edition of The Chronicle of the Horse

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