There’s a lot of buzz these days about the “equestrian lifestyle.” Magazines depict it as perfectly turned-out people wearing impeccable hunt coats, $400 breeches with brand names you can’t pronounce and exotic-hide boots that cost more than a good two-horse slant load.
They might be standing next to a sports car, or a horse trailer the size of a cruise ship. In the background, a private tree-lined road leads to a lush, manicured equestrian estate that stretches until the curvature of the earth (or maybe it was the edge of the page) cuts it off.
In the cobblestone-paved barn with its oiled mahogany beams and crystal chandeliers, immaculately groomed horses poke their noses out above rows of blanket bars with precision-folded embroidered sheets and coolers. Equestrians relax and visit with their veterinarian and farrier (who are wearing shirts and ties) in a wood-paneled lounge filled with craftsman furniture and pristine ribbons.
I would like to know who these people are and what kind of weird, dirtless, equestrian vacuum they live in.
Let me introduce you to my “equestrian lifestyle.”
I don’t have $400 breeches. My whole barn wardrobe doesn’t add up to $400, unless I can include the cost of the porcelain veneer I needed after my horse clocked me on his way out of the trailer.
If I did have a $400 outfit, you wouldn’t see it at the barn. You’d probably see it in my vet’s office where I’ve traded it as payment for the most recent after-hours colic bill. Or for sale on eBay, if hay prices keep going up.
There is nothing sporty about my car. It is covered with dirt, has fencepost-shaped dents and is a sort of purgatory for stuff that won’t fit in the tack trunk and is too disgusting to bring into the house. You may not photograph it. I won’t even admit that it’s mine. I have rented cars to drive to parties.
As for my horse trailer—well, once the nervous mare has filled it with half her body weight in amorphous droppings, you won’t want to photograph that either—unless you dig action photos of women using power washers and don’t mind the possibility of poopy water coming at you really, really fast.
The barn property does not have tree-lined roads.
If you want to park your sports car in the shade, you have three choices. You can park under the edge of the lean-to next to the paddock with the big grey gelding that eats paint and metal. The second you’re out of sight, he will extend his neck like a hook-and-ladder and will have removed your hood ornament and half the front grill before you finish your first mojito in the clubhouse.
The second choice is under the eucalyptus trees where the great white herons roost. Your car will come out of there looking like it’s been bombarded with white napalm. If you don’t wash it immediately you’ll be paying for a paint job. But don’t use the water from the hose connected to the well. That will eat the paint too. Almost as fast as the grey gelding.
Or, you can park under the pines, where the hawks like to sit and eat the rodents they’ve picked up from the pasture. You’ll return to find half-eaten carrion on top of your car. If you left the sunroof open you might not find it until you reach in to your center console for some Tic-Tacs.
Our “equestrian estate” is a sturdy tin barn with pipe paddock turnouts and a shed out back where we store parts that fall off of things, paint for touching up jump poles and stuff we are someday hoping to sneak into the “biohazard” dumpster. The barn has no patterned cobblestones, but the aisle does have decorative hoofprints in a lovely shade of Kopertox.
The blanket bars on our stalls are empty. Folding something neatly on the blanket bar is not some secret horse language code for “Wow, that’s expensive crap, I’d better not touch that.” It translates more to “Here’s something for you to drag into your stall and pee on.” Blankets are kept out of reach in the tack trunk where they are still not folded. And we don’t pay an embroiderer to have our names put on them. That’s what the black Sharpie in the tack room is for.
We don’t relax with our vet in the lounge in the middle of the afternoon. For starters, vets don’t come in the middle of the afternoon, because horses don’t get sick until the middle of the night. The vet is not wearing a shirt and tie. He is wearing a glove that goes up to his elbow and has his arm halfway in…. let’s just say nobody is “relaxing” in this scenario.
You might see the farrier in the daytime, but he’s not in the lounge either. He’s in the pasture chasing the recalcitrant school horse that throws a shoe every Saturday before lessons.
Our “lounge” has an old couch we scored at the dump, a microwave that works if you hold the door shut and a mini-fridge filled with ice gel packs and frozen burritos (which make good backups for the ice boots if we run out of gel packs). The walls are lined with remnants of ribbons from 1982 (I think…it’s difficult to read the dates under all the fly poop), which commemorates the last time anybody could afford to go to a horse show.
Though this in no way resembles the way of life depicted in the magazines, we are all equestrians. It’s a shared spirit that connects us regardless of outward appearances.
Beautiful things are transitory. The smell of DMSO and that green stain on your shirt are everlasting. So go on. Go to that party sporting dirty muck boots, jeans with duct tape on the seat and helmet hair. It’s the equestrian look. And it’s a privilege to wear it.
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