I’m sure you’ve all been there before. You start talking about your life, which of course includes horses, and you can see the glaze of detachment shutter over the person to whom you’re speaking. Not everyone gets horses. Just as an animal, even. When you start to throw in words like “diagonal,” “frog,” “heat,” and “martingale” it’s all just a bit too much for most.
Last fall I bought a new set of clippers second-hand. The guy was nice enough and when we completed our transaction offhandedly asked me what exactly I’d be shearing. I proceeded to excitedly tell him about my 16.2 Thoroughbred. At the time I’d only had Star for about four months, and the thrill of new ownership was still a bit heavy on me. I rambled on, watching the poor guy get more and more uncomfortable. Finally he asked me uncertainly, “So…a horse?”
We are a special subset of humanity, horse people. Somehow the smell of dirt, hay, manure and sweat is comforting and gross in equal measures. I don’t remember a time when horses (both real and mythical) didn’t completely occupy a corner of my heart. Sure I had time away. Sometimes very long periods of time, but that never seemed to matter much in the end. Despite the falls, the tears and all the other bad, there’s never been a moment when I couldn’t be moved into joy by a horse.
It’s difficult to remember that not everyone is as happy or comfortable around our Equine friends. Both my mother and father are afraid of horses to some degree. I think my mom is getting more comfortable with Star, because I’ve told her to think of Star as just a really big dog. This pleases Star more than me, though, because now she just gets tons of pats and attention. After a recent ride when my mom was in town, Star knew she had done well. She proceeded to immediately approach the fence where Mom sat with her husband and demanded pats. My mother thought it was pretty adorable.
In some ways, being a horse person at heart is sort of like having a native language that few understand. You’re perfectly fine speaking your second language, but it’s difficult sometimes to express or explain things because that first language sticks with you.
Recently I met a longtime friend of my sister-in-law. She’s a horse person who has created quite the business for herself finding and importing warmbloods from Europe. We’ve sort of known about one another for a while, but meeting her was lovely. Not only did I get to see another side of my sister-in-law, but I got to speak my native language with another fluent speaker.
“I’m hoping to eventually get Star to low-high Amateur Owners, I explained, but right now we’re trying to focus on Trillium Meters,” “I’ve got her pedigree approved with Swedish and Dutch, but I’m taking her to a RPSI inspection this summer,” and “She’s older but super green; spent most of her life as a brood and pasture pony,” were all met with understanding nods and commentary. When she explained her currently find was a German stallion with a stellular pedigree, she admitted she’d like to sell him straight out of Europe so she wouldn’t have to make the choice of gelding or keeping him intact and dealing with importing a stallion. I knew she was referring to all the extra quarantine and expenses that come with importing a stallion, but no one else seemed to. It was funny to see the glazed look on everyone else’s faces that, for once, I hadn’t been the cause of.
The other thing about horse people is, while we take ourselves fairly seriously, amongst one another we’re a bit more relaxed. It’s always easier to be self-deprecating around your peers, but horse people have the added benefit of seeing each other through falls, disqualifications, and equally upsetting incidents involving horses, poop, and mud. Laughing about it is easier together, because we’ve all been there. Right, wrong, or otherwise, I never truly trust a rider that’s never fallen off. It’s as much a part of riding as pinning the blues (er…reds, now that I’m in Canada). When you can smile about an easy fall, it makes everyone rush to defend you over a dirty stop.
This comradery means that when you step into the ring, the only one you compete against is yourself. It’s not about beating him or pinning higher than her. It’s about going and doing the best you can at something you love.
I know there are bad horse people. There are people who would happily trot over their competitor’s prone body and pump their horse full of anything just so long as it doesn’t test. That’s fine, because they’re missing out on what the true heart of being a horse person is. Despite the money, time, and power associated with riders, none of it matters at all without the knowledge that we’re all in this together. I’m going to get cheers coming out of the ring whether I’m first or last, because you better believe I clap for everyone else. Even if they went off course or off horse. Wanting to win and not being a jerk can happily coexist inside all of us.
Any true horse person can tell you that you never stop learning; can never truly reach perfection. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to obtain it. Because we’re horse people. And horse people are some of the best people around.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Trillium Jumper Circuit. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.