This post is meant to serve as a warning for those equestrians who wish their husbands, spouses, significant others or what have you shared their passion for ponies. Be careful what you wish for!
Two of the riders In the photo above are husbands. One is a father of five sons, the other has no children. Both men work stressful, high pressure jobs; my husband has been pulling sixty hour weeks for over thirty years. The young man at the far right is a high school honor student who works after school and every weekend. Needless to say, none of these men have very much “free time,” but when they do, you can see how they like to spend it. Inconspicuously absent from this photo are two wives and a steady girlfriend.
There was a period of time when I thought nothing could be better than having my husband share my interest in horses. He was an ardent animal lover and I thought we could enjoy some quality time riding and caring for horses together. When he actually started to show some interest in riding I got him into lessons, then encouraged him when he began dropping hints about getting his own horse. He was inadvertently playing right into my hands! We got him a horse, started riding together and spent the better part of most weekends hitting the trail. It was a lot of fun and we both enjoyed sharing quality time together.
But as all good stories tend go, things gradually changed. A few years into this idealistic scenario we forged a new friendship with a couple of other riders, two who were men that lived close by. Their wives rode with us occasionally, but not regularly enough to make us a predictable group of six. More often than not, it was me and the three men who rode out every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. At first I found this enjoyable, even flattering that the guys would treat me like one of the gang, but as time wore on I began to feel like a bit of a third wheel. No stranger to male bonding, I knew there was an added benefit of men spending “guy time” together, talking about …. well, whatever it is guys talk about when they’re together. (I’ve heard tractor hydraulics and anything with a motor rank pretty high on the list) But the men seemed to hold back and refrain from verbal banter when I was in their midst. They didn’t hesitate to ride flat-out, expecting I’d hold my own with them, but even that didn’t make me one of them. I gradually began to think I was encroaching and started to bow out of joining them on their adventures.
A few years later I was forced to undergo spinal fusion surgery that went horribly awry. When I emerged from the subsequent three surgeries I was a changed person. Disabled and not expected to do much of anything physical again, it was strongly suggested that I forgo riding, preferably permanently. I promptly discarded that advice, but I knew I wouldn’t be in any kind of shape to ride with the guys for a very long time, if ever. And so began what grew to become nearly fifteen years of riding solo. Fortunately, I had the perfect horse. My mare and I had been together long enough and had experienced enough things that I knew I could trust her to take very good care of me in any situation. And that she did.
My husband and I fell into a regular routine of dividing up the chores. Whereas before we always did things together, I was now “retired” and at home full time. Routine feeding and clean-up became my responsibility Monday through Friday morning. Since our horses don’t stay inside there are no stalls to muck, but at my insistence we pick our paddock multiple times a day. We also feed hay 3-4 times a day whenever possible. Those responsibilities became my job until Friday afternoon, when my husband was slated to take over.
From very early on I started nagging my husband to come home early on Fridays to go riding. He runs his own business and can certainly allow himself a little time off, but given his strict work ethic he resisted my suggestion for many years. But after he met his new riding buddies that all changed. Suddenly he realized that other people actually went home and had their own life after 4:30 or 5 PM. Instead, his usual routine was coming home at 7:00, eating dinner and going to bed a scant three hours after getting home. Thirty years of habit can die hard, but suddenly he started leaving work on Friday at 3:30 or 4, coming home and heading out to ride with his friends. Part of me was really happy for him, but part of me was steaming pissed off. Why couldn’t he see the value in that when it was us riding together? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is that I was always glad to see him walk through the door early on Friday afternoon, only to become incredibly sad as I stood on the porch waving goodbye as I watched him trot off down the road.
For many years those Friday afternoon rides morphed into late night gallivants around the countryside. Given how little time the guys had to ride, they often made up for lost time by riding late into the spring, summer and fall nights. By the time my husband arrived home from these rides, dinner had grown cold and the movie for the night had long since been watched (by me) alone. I grew angrier and angrier. It was his job to feed the horses Friday night through Sunday night, but with him off traipsing around the woods I would inevitably end up doing his chores. While I couldn’t bear to make the other horses wait for their supper, it fried my eggs that I had to feed them myself. That was HIS job and I didn’t think it was fair that I was getting stuck with all the horse chores while he just got to enjoy them. Obviously, by the time he got in I was a fuming, sputtering mess.
At some point this pattern of ours was going to have to change or it was going to tear us apart. I tried tying a pocket watch to his saddle, but you have to look at a watch if you want to know what time it is, and he refused to do that. I stopped holding dinner for him, but he didn’t care. I threatened to stop doing his barn chores, but he knew that was an empty threat. Finally, we came up with a solution that made us both happy: Humor. We struck a bargain. The deal was he would give me an estimated time of arrival …. give or take an hour. Knowing his disdain for keeping his eye on the time, I figured he’d usually err on the side of running late. And so our saga went. He’d give an estimated time of return to which I’d tack on an hour or even two. If he got home before I predicted I was happy. If he didn’t then he still wasn’t “late” according to his perception of time. I admit, it was a pretty goofy arrangement, but it worked to diffuse my angst. I was still sad at being left behind, but that was something I was going to have to fix by myself.
The second big hurdle in sharing my equine life with my partner is our different methods of doing barn chores. Every Monday morning it looks like a bomb went off in the barn over the weekend. The floor is littered with hay, the grain bin has empty grain sacks wadded up in the corners, the wheelbarrow is overflowing, the utility knife is MIA and the hay rack has several lengths of green bailing twine dangling from it. This morning I was irked to discover all the bales I set out on Friday had been fed out and the next candidate sat open …. six tires above my head. Huh? Call me OCD, call me anal retentive, call me whatever you like, but when I do chores I do them a certain way and it drives me bonkers that my husband can’t seem to figure that out. So we go about doing chores our own separate way. Monday through Friday I run a tight ship, only to have it thoroughly trashed every weekend. *Sigh* I guess that’s the price you pay for having your wish granted!