Horse Obsessed: Heartbeats, hoofbeats and why money doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
We are "healthy eccentrics"
I don’t know how many of you need to hear this but the love of horses and horse sport, the passion that fuels the heart and soul of every committed equestrian I know, isn’t normal. We are “healthy eccentrics” as described by Psychologist David Weeks. I personally think normal is a word people use to fit us into boxes for their own comfort anyway.
Because we are eccentric (in a healthy way) it's not surprising that we figure out how to have horses in our lives one way or another. One common characteristic among the eccentric is not caring about society's approval or disapproval of ones lifestyle.
It seems to defy expectations to acknowledge a large percentage of horse owners and equestrians aren't wealthy, and may even be living paycheck to paycheck. People tend to think you have to be “rich” to have horses, especially if you want to compete in the Olympic style equestrian sports. But that’s not true.
We triage our priorities
Oh to be sure, wealth removes a lot of obstacles and allows more freedom of choice for training, horses and equipment. But you may be surprised to know how many successful and competitive equestrian athletes come from humble beginnings. Most of my closest friends in the sport do not operate big checkbooks or enjoy trust funds. Rather, they make choices and triage their priorities to feed this healthy eccentricity (and their horses).
Charlotte DuJardin for example, left school early to work as a stable hand, putting herself on the road to Olympic gold via mucking stalls and other glamorous activities. Many successful equestrian athletes and lifelong riders began their careers as working students and stable hands to ride and train without the benefit of a fat bank account or some other kind of significant financial support, myself included.
And let's not forget that legendary jumper, Snowman, started life as a plow horse and was purchased for only $80. A great horse may be expensive or not. Exceptions abound.
This doesn't mean there isn't great wealth among horse people. But all horse people are not necessarily drowning in money. The idea that great fortune in the monetary sense is necessary to be an equestrian is factually incorrect.
Horses are not negotiable
We horse people sometimes bewilder our friends and family members outside the circle of equestrian life. If our horse isn't leading our priority list, they are very near the top. During a particularly challenging time for my family financially, a friend of my husband advised him to just “get rid of the horses” to solve the problem. But you see, the horses are not negotiable. They are here to stay.
Money isn’t going to determine whether our horses live or die, nor will it be a reason to set them adrift in a world that may not value them as we do. Our horses are family and I don’t care if the rest of the world doesn’t understand.
So how do we do it? How do we juggle the expectations of friends, family, jobs and finances, while immersing ourselves in a life resplendent with vet bills, feed bills, board bills, training bills and entry fees?
It starts with embracing the fact that we make this choice because it makes us happy. Giving up happiness for a trip to Europe or a new car doesn't occur to us. And once we embrace this truth, the next step is to find the inner strength we need to support it. Because while we can do this without a trust fund, success requires some grit and creativity.
The very words we use to describe our brave, determined equine dance partners can be assigned right back to us.
When a horse overcomes the odds by sheer force of will, whether to win a race, jump the highest fence, or overcome their own flight response to perform in the scariest places for us, we call that “heart”.
Our hearts beat in time with hoofbeats
What we have, dear horse people, that keeps us in the game against all odds and inspires us to reach for our dreams is also “heart”. Our hearts beat in time with those courageous hoofbeats. And the heart rhythm we share with horses is what drives our journey.
So don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t have what you want whether it's horses or travel or higher education or all three. The limitations we impose on ourselves out of habit and the expectations of others shouldn't cause you to put on the brakes. Don’t worry about the approval of people who will never understand a heart that beats in time to cantering hooves. (And tell your cardiologist to calm down because that's normal for us)
I am telling you this today because I used to think the horse of my dreams was out of reach. But Chance the dragon proved me wrong. When I retired him, I thought maybe that was it. Maybe it was time to quit or settle for something a little more, I don't know, safe and within normal expectations for a retired cop with a tiny tack store and a middle class income.
But with the support of my amazing husband (don't settle for less there either, btw) the story hasn't ended. I haven't hit my limit. A new chapter is opening and a new beginning is forming. Because when we open ourselves to possibilities instead of scaring ourselves with imagined obstacles, crazy things happen. Crazy, wonderful things.