Unbridled & Saddled: Settling for 3rd Place

Living with a horsey partner – and by extension, the horse as well – is a challenge not every mortal is capable of meeting. At its most demanding, it requires reserves of diplomacy that can have ambassadors offering you chocolates, military-grade levels of resolve in the face of adversity and a Solomon-esque ability to apply judgement fairly and honestly. If you can cultivate this particular set of skills, you’ll need them because they will be tested, possibly on a daily basis.

It’s important to maintain a sense of perspective around horses

It’s not without its advantages, of course. For those keen to enter the world that their chosen one inhabits, there is an often intoxicating mix of shows and events to attend, a wider circle of horse-world friends and acquaintances to sift through and a fair degree of fresh air and sunshine to be had. There’s also the sense that none of this lifestyle is ‘normal’, which you may find invigorating as you compare your weekend activities with those of your more conventional mates.

If (or when) you’re less keen to embrace the whirlwind, you also have the advantage that its demands on your partner’s time allow you to spend many hours doing things that you enjoy in a rather more guilt-free way. “What’s good for the goose…”, eh?

There’s a bit of self-deception in all this, though. You could call it the elephant in the room – a frighteningly accurate metaphor, only it’s not quite as big as an elephant and for all its omnipresence, it’s still not quite made it physically in the room. It’s the fact that for a sizeable proportion of the time, this thing will outrank you. And you’ll have to deal with that. It’s also fair to point out that you may actually dislike the shows and events and you may have little in common with the horsey friends you’re now thrown in with. The vagaries of British weather may lead you to bemoan the outdoors lifestyle and you probably will have concluded that stables and ‘fresh air’ aren’t exactly the closest of bedfellows. You may also crave the normality you left behind as you smile thinly at the tenth “don’t forget your racquet!” gag when the pub finds out that you’re going to Badminton.

You have some choices at this point. You can peer through your heavy eyelids, leave a dramatic pause and complain that “there are three of you in this marriage, so it’s a bit crowded” or you can, to use the popular vernacular, “man up”.

Real life is about relying on compromise to reach a common goal, managing situations where you don’t have full control and achieving wisdom through understanding, not just power via knowledge. In short, having horses in your life is a distillation of all the stuff you’re going to have to equip yourself to deal with, either way. It may be a concentrated version of the seemingly less demanding lifestyle you could have had if you hadn’t gone and fancied ‘the one who has a horse’ but if you’re not up for these challenges, you’re kind of admitting that you’re not very good at handling life itself. Do you really think having kids is going to be any easier?

It may not always feel like it but there are few better preparations for the frustrations and disappointments of normal life than those that regularly accompany horses. Your relatively mundane arguments about excessive amounts of time or money being lavished on an animal will pale when the animal in question shows its gratitude simply by digesting something wrongly (requiring more time and money to correct) because now, there is something more important at stake: life itself.

As little more than an observer of the piece, the horse may seem to you to exist in a constant state of peril, permanently seconds away from bringing about its own demise, possibly in the most ridiculous of circumstances. The effect of all this jeopardy on your partner is palpable, which means that, like it or not, the effect on you is also palpable. That is, in a nutshell, the very defining characteristic of being in a relationship. It’s probably best to point that out before you go any further.

Obviously, you don’t always have to go along with every aspect of the arrangement. You will occasionally be right to point out that sometimes, the horse shouldn’t automatically come first. Assuming you’re both able to see each other’s reason and approach your point of contention like grown-ups, the strength of a well-made point will be sufficient to sway a reasonable person. Even one who has a horse: “I know he needs mucking out today but it’s your sister’s wedding – and you’re the maid of honour. Can’t someone else do it, just this once?”

The opportunities for such SAS-style precision attacks on (lack of) reason will be few and far between. For most of the time, it’s more advisable to adopt a watching brief, graciously accepting the status as the third-most important party in the relationship, thus strengthening your moral authority when you do reach the point at which you decide to intervene and make your case. For example, openly accepting your third-place status is fine. Being expected to smile at the presentation of a yellow rosette with a “3rd” on it to represent that fact is not.

The rules of relationship always cut both ways and anyone in one should expect to be reminded of that from time to time. There are complications that go with horse ownership and you may well find yourselves spending more time than most (but not that much more) in a state of disagreement – although if you do, don’t blame the horse. The real cause is usually a little closer to home…