Many years ago, when we first opened our restaurant, Dino Houpis, our mentor supplied by the Service Core of Retired Entrepreneurs said to me,
“If you knew everything right now that you’re going to know a year from now, you wouldn’t be opening a restaurant.”
If asked, that’s exactly the advice I would give to a non-horse person planning on marrying a horse person: If you knew everything right now you’re going to know in a year, you wouldn’t be marrying this person.
When Carol and I first met, I had one horse. She had been riding at a dude ranch twice. Between our engagement and our wedding, we had two horses. Almost thirty-three years later, I don’t really know how many horses we have. Somewhere between 30 and 40? The good thing is that Carol also does not know how many horses we have! Of course, we’re leaving for the Netherlands next week. By the end of the day on Tuesday, after we visit our horses in Nuis, she’s going to have a better idea, because I’m pretty sure she can count…unfortunately. It’s not that I purposefully try to hide horses from her. I don’t. I just sometimes say things like, “Gee, that foal in the Prinsjesdag Auction is pretty cool. Maybe I’ll bid on him.” And, I do. And, I buy him. And, I tell her I bought him…if she asks. If she doesn’t ask, well, I usually remember to tell her. Usually. Of course, the horses in our backyard are a little more difficult to slide by her because, as I mentioned, she can count.
I can’t tell you how many times a woman is here looking at horses, and will casually mention something like, “my husband doesn’t know I’m here,” or “I’m going to give you cash because I don’t want this to show up in the checking account statement,” or “don’t post this on Facebook–I need to find the right time to tell my boyfriend.” Please, don’t take this as sexist. It’s just that the vast majority of horse buyers in North America are women.
Reread the last paragraph. I am male. I am guilty of the same horse-addicted scheming. On this continent, there are just way fewer men duping their non-horse wives than there are women duping their non-horse husbands. And, in fairness, a person of higher moral character might try to dissuade these women from making such a purchase. Not me. I understand. I also need an intervention or to attend an HHA meeting (Horse Hoarders Anonymous).
One friend bought a filly from us two years ago. I saw her recently. I asked her if she had told her husband yet. She replied,
“Telling Joe (using a pseudonym to protect the innocent) is on a need-to-know basis, and he doesn’t need to know yet.”
It is an addiction. We are addicts. There is no way a non-horse person can fully comprehend the depths of our addiction until the lights have gone out because the money for the utility bill went to a new bridle with a jeweled browband and a new Sprenger bit. OK. That’s a bad example. We’re not going to let the lights go out. If we did, we’d be doing horse chores in the dark and we also couldn’t use the new grooming vacuum. Ramen. That’s a better example. Our spouses won’t realize the depths of our addiction until they’re eating their fourth or fifth supper featuring some creative Ramen dish because we scrimped on groceries for the new bridle with the jeweled browband and Sprenger bit.
A young horsewoman and her fiancé came to look at our mares a couple months ago to make an in utero purchase. The fiancé is a non-horse person with a capital NON. At one point in time, he said to me,
“I’d like to have a better grasp on the financial implications of horses. When do you make money?”
I smiled politely while trying to contain my amusement, gave Carol a look indicating she was the better person to have this conversation, walked off with the young woman to look at the mares, and left Carol to converse with the fiancé. Later, we waved as they pulled out of the driveway. After the car made the turn by the beaver pond and started up the hill out of sight, Carol turned to me and said,
“He has no clue what he’s in for.”
Not at all to make light of addictions other than ours, again, unless you know what it’s like to need a fix, be it Jim Beam, a Marlboro Red, some illicit drug, cliff diving, or chocolate, you can’t really understand the Dopamine rush that comes with buying a horse, nor the Serotonin release once you do. So, I guess what I’m saying is horse people should marry addicts if they want to be understood. No. Kidding. LOL. Seriously. That would be stupid. We can’t marry addicts. There’s too much risk that they will be dealing badly with their own addictions and not be able to financially support ours.
There are other aspects of being a non-horse-person spouse to a horse person that the potential spouse/already-legally-bound spouse doesn’t grasp immediately. For one, did you know not everyone likes the smell of horses permeating every piece of clothing you own and every piece of furniture you sit on? Isn’t that nearly beyond comprehension? What could be more soothing to the soul than the smell of a horse?
Carol has a rule that barn clothes, and especially barn shoes, stay downstairs, in the mud room. (She even had a shower installed in the laundry area adjacent to the mud room for some strange reason). Although I would prefer not to change my clothes twelve times a day, I am willing to make this accommodation to maintain a happy marriage.
I can see someone finding it charming early in the relationship if you show up to a date with hay in your hair. It’s probably not as charming a couple years in when that same hay falls out of your hair and into the eggs you’re cooking for breakfast without your noticing it. Kind of the same as when I joke about spending most of the summer with my arm up a horse’s ass and a green-brown stain circumnavigating my upper right bicep. It’s funny to talk about, but not so funny to jump into the car because we’re late for a dinner reservation and I didn’t have time to shower. I don’t even notice anymore. The older I get, the less I care or want to notice.
Floris, my new stallion, is boarded 45 minutes away from us until the new barn/indoor is completed. Many days I change into my riding clothes before leaving the house, which means if I have to do an errand on the way there or back, I’m going to be the large man with riding breeches and Hoka sandals walking into the grocery store or Tractor Supply. Maybe this is a common sight in Wellington or some places in Southern California. In Keene, New Hampshire, or Bellows Falls, Vermont, I’m a large man in sandals and very tight-fitting pants that may or may not have been washed since the last time I rode. Just in case, I have a line ready to use for some distracted cashier or fellow shopper, “Keep your eyes up here, buddy. It will be better for both of us.”
On one of our first dates, Carol and I went to the movies. At one point she turned to me and sniffed. “What’s that smell?” I replied, “Home.” I still had my barn shoes on.
Another aspect of being married to a horse-person spouse is the company he or she keeps. Early in our marriage, Carol said to me, “As much as I love them, the problem with hanging out with most horse people is all they want to talk about is horses.” As riveting as I find conversations about pedigrees, genetics, conformation, training methods, semen shipping, etc, even I get a little glassy eyed after the third or fourth hour. Carol doesn’t last that long. One night, we had some horse people over for dinner. A couple hours into the conversation, the observant husband that I am, I realized Carol was no longer in the room. She had gone to bed. Yes, we’re still married. But, back to my point, after all the vet bills, horse disasters, endless horse-related conversations, days-long horse events, and 30-plus years of foal watches, shit shoveling, and dealing with an obsessed husband, I’m not sure how.
One year, at the KWPN Stallion Show, long before we had our ringside table, we stood by the rail at C and watched hours of low-level dressage tests. I was so busy studying the horses and thinking about breeding picks and the future of our program I didn’t realize until about two hours in that Carol was teaching herself how to tie and untie the laces of her shoes with her opposing toes. She must love me.
Marriage is hard enough without being married to a horse person. Throughout the years, Carol has developed an incredibly good and accurate eye for quality. She loves the physical exercise of cleaning stalls and unloading hay. She loves every baby we breed. Every time I say it’s time to cut down on the number of horses, Carol responds with a relieved sigh, and says,
“Good. Let’s do it.”
Then, I start naming the horses that can go…
“No. What are you thinking? We can’t sell her.”
I say another name.
“What? Absolutely not. I love her. She can’t go either.”
Needless to say, I’m not the only one to blame for us having somewhere between 30 and 40 horses. My non-horse spouse almost always gets the final say. As a matter of fact, at Carol’s insistence, we have an air conditioner in the barn for the mares and babies, but Scot is not allowed one in the house.
So, I guess that’s my final warning to you non-horse people considering marrying a horse person: The addiction is contagious. Horses become part of your life. You’re not marrying a person–you’re marrying a life that is full of pain, a seemingly never-ending drain on your finances, and just enough joy to make it all worthwhile.
Scot Tolman is the owner, with his wife Carol, of Shooting Star Farm, a family-run, Platinum Level breeding farm with the KWPN-NA. Scot, and Shooting Star Farm, have been written up in several equine publications, here and in Europe. As a writer, Scot has been published most notably in Warmbloods Today magazine (no longer published), and he maintains Scot’s Journal on the Shooting Star Farm website.
Scot stands three Dutch Warmblood stallions, including Floris, his riding horse. Click to view their Stallion Profiles on WarmbloodStallionsNA.com:
Top Character and New Pedigree for North America
The most popular dressage stallion in North America!
World-class expression and athleticism!