When Austin Bell met Meg Banks at Davidson College (N.C.), he knew she was interested in horses, and thus he imagined he’d spend some time at the barn with her. But little did he know that he’d soon be spending his days—and many of his nights—at horse shows across the country, launching a popular twitter account (@horseshowbf) to boot.
Now Bell, based in Wellington, Fla., and Tryon, N.C., with Banks, the social media and online content manager for Equestrian Sport Productions LLC, has turned his year of immersive education into a book he hopes will illuminate the sport to outside observers—and make those inside the show world laugh. Chapter titles for Horse Show Boyfriend: My Crazy Year On The Hunter/Jumper A-Circuit include: “Jumpers—What Your Friends Think Is Racing,” “Hunters—Not A Fox In Sight,” “Wellington—I Saw Beezie At Publix,” “Breyerfest—I’ll Stop Collecting When I’m Dead” and “Pony Finals—What Am I Doing Here?” You can learn more about the book at horseshowboyfriend.com.
What was your level of horse knowledge before meeting Meg?
Basically nothing. I went to Cumberland Island (Ga.) for vacations, and it has horses on it. I watched the Kentucky Derby like everyone else and pretended to care about it.
What’s your day job?
When I was out in Los Angeles, I worked in post-production of music videos. Part of what I was doing was blurring out the logos on alcohol bottles, so they could appear in rap videos. Right before we left, I’d switched over to slightly more steady work doing captioning and subtitling. When I moved, I started doing that remotely. It’s really flexible, and that made it all possible—the fact that I didn’t have a real 9-5 job.
Why did you decide to write a book?
It’s partly a joke I mention in the book, but there’s a grain of truth to it. After experiencing Pony Finals (Ky.) and just sitting there—taking the same pictures over and over, trying to get the miniscule amount of time the horses are over the jump—I just felt like, “What exactly am I supposed to be doing here?”
At that point, I’d already started the Horse Show Boyfriend Twitter in May 2015. No one looked at it for the first three or four months, but then it grew really organically, so I’d already discovered I had this Horse Show Boyfriend voice. Then after doing Pony Finals for a whole week, I was like, “I really need something to show for this.”
I sort of worked on it off and on from May of last year until January/February. We stayed at a place that was quite nice in Tryon. They had a small pool, and we were at their pool house. It was a constant battle between sitting out by the pool and working on the book and also playing video games. The reason it took me so long is the writing part usually did not win out of those three.
Which show ended up being your favorite?
It depends on the length of time I’m going to be there, and then more generally what I’m looking for in a show. If I want to see the best people, then we’re talking about a Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) grand prix, or a Miami Global Champions Tour grand prix, or even a Tryon International Equestrian Center five- star grand prix.
If you’re talking about spending three weeks at a show, Tryon, hands down, is the most boyfriend friendly show.
Do you have any interest in writing a book describing dressage next?
One thing I will say about dressage is I have a begrudging respect for it. People like show jumping, but people who do dressage love dressage. People will die on the cross for how important dressage is to them, and I have nothing but respect for that.
But if the mechanics of show jumping are difficult for someone to follow, dressage is really out there. I also have a sort of personal…dressage takes a lot of songs I like and really ruins them.
The logical next step is European Horse Show Boyfriend.
Which horse on the show circuit would you most like to ride?
I got on Meg’s retired horse once. It was super uncomfortable, and I was like, “Why do guys do this?”
That was my only riding experience in six years. Then we went to Upperville (Va.) to do a trail ride, and it ended up being Meg on a trail ride and me on a horse with a pony lead. That was very controlled.
So I don’t feel at all qualified to answer which horse I could actually ride. I guess to modify the question somewhat, the horse I have the biggest spectator crush on, by far, is HH Azur. Every time I get to watch Azur go, I feel like I should be paying money to see it.
Are you a public figure at the shows now, thanks to your Twitter account?
Nobody knows me. I like that it’s sort of purposefully vague. Maybe five people who follow me on Twitter know who I am, and I don’t know if that’ll ever really change—unless I start wearing rust-colored breeches around the show like George Morris, which I think would be a good thing to start.
Part of me is just hoping I don’t offend anyone with my lack of knowledge. I do have a great respect for people who do this sort of thing. If I had a daughter, and she was into horses, I would probably encourage her to do this, even if I didn’t have a million dollars to commit to the sport.