It’s a wonderful thing to be in a relationship with someone who enjoys watching Badminton Horse Trials or the Puissance at Olympia just as much, or even a little more, than you do.
I’m happy to say that I’m that lucky guy! My girlfriend and I are both horsey people and have been our entire lives. It’s a great situation to be in. However, that’s not to say there aren’t interesting hurdles to overcome when your relationship includes not one but two people who take part in such a time-consuming and expensive hobby.
Here’s my view on what some of the key challenges are for two equestrians living in a relationship together.
How to decide which horse shows to attend
For relationships with a non-horsey partner, this issue is happily (for you, at least) avoided. You can simply say where a show is, they groan about how far away that is, and the conversation is finished.
In our house, we rarely have heated conversations over whether to watch Poldark or to keep binging the second season of Mind Hunter on Netflix. Deciding on what horse shows to attend though, now that’s a different matter!
To make our decision even more complex, we like different disciplines, this definitely should’ve been a red flag. I love show jumping, and my girlfriend loves showing. I guess that old saying is true, sometimes opposites attract.
Despite our differences, if I want to spend the weekend at our local show jumping show at David Broome Event Centre, I know she’ll support me. But I also know that for her, watching me show jump around a 1m track is akin to watching paint dry. It certainly doesn’t help when I try to casually drop in that there’s well over 150 competitors in my class, and I didn’t realise it was drawn order until we arrive. Whoops.
After much trial and error, the best way to handle these testing circumstances is to offer a Gin & Slim and keep conversation about time to a minimum. If I slip up and mention the remaining wait, I can expect a sarcastic smile that screams, “remember this next time you moan about helping me at a show”.
Our constant battle over how to manage our time wasn’t working and we realised we needed to compromise (read: I buckled under the pressure). I’ve taken up working hunter, a hybrid – I keep telling myself – between show jumping and showing. Surprisingly, I really enjoy it, and it’s significantly reduced our ‘what show’ debate.
Though it’s fair to say I lost this round, I continue to take pleasure in my lack of plaiting skills, which means my girlfriend never wants me to plait, not even my own horse. Like they say, it’s the small victories that count!
Horse shows have become our holidays
It’s no great revelation to say that horses aren’t a cheap hobby. And when you’re both competing, driving up and down the country chasing classes, paying for show stabling plus entry fees, the costs soon start mounting.
Our answer to this is make horse shows into mini holidays. Yes, our non-equestrian friends might talk about their amazing holidays spent experiencing great food, sunshine, and historic cities oozing in local culture for two weeks, but while they’re chatting away, we’re sat thinking about our next holiday to an equally faraway land.
We just try not to dwell on how that consists of a four hour lorry trip to a three day stay-away show, where the forecast is inevitably torrential rain. Accommodation for the (romantic?) weekend away consists of sharing a bed probably designed with a small child in mind, with a leaky roof and no hook-up. Our breakfast buffet comes from the outrageously overpriced on-site burger van, and consists of a rubbery bacon roll and instant coffee in a polystyrene cup.
After a full day’s competing, the evening entertainment involves watching a film we’ve seen 10 times already, on a laptop perched awkwardly on a small table in the lorry. And let’s just skim past the ensuite situation.
It’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with…
The “you should do it this way” never leaves you
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is non-horsey, when they visit the yard, they’re delegated responsibilities that match their level of equine experience. That might be carrying water buckets, emptying wheelbarrows, filling hay nets, and helping haul your saddle to the top saddle rack.
It doesn’t quite work like that in an equestrian relationship.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my stable management could be a bit better. That said, I know I could nail my stable bandages, and still get “helpful” feedback from my girlfriend. Or perhaps she notices me mucking out and decides that her methods are a little more effective, attempting to show me how it should be done.
If you want my advice, a smile and a non-committal sound of agreement goes a long way. And then you can resume your obviously better style of mucking out in peace.
There’s no pretending how much you paid for your new riding boots
We’ve all seen (and thoroughly identified with) the Facebook memes that suggest the amount you claim to spend on a pair of riding boots when your partner isn’t horsey is considerably less than the real price. It’s definitely one of life’s best kept secrets.
Annoyingly, that trick doesn’t fly when you’re both into the same brand of riding boots. In our relationship, I’m the guilty partner that’s often caught browsing online or perhaps sneaking into Joshua Jones with my credit card in hand.
I can’t help it. My addiction will haunt me for all my life and I’m okay with it.
My girlfriend, however, would like me to exercise a little more self-control, to put it mildly. To make matters worse I need to always own a brown and a black pair, a pair for everyday and another for competitions. Those pound signs add up fast…
Equestrianism is one of the few sports where men and women compete against each other
From a societal level, this is fantastic. However, when you’re in a relationship with the person you’re trying to beat in the same class, it can be a disaster. Think sibling rivalry but if you lose you can’t go home and sulk in your own room.
To make matters worse, you have to try and pretend that you’re really happy for them! In reality, you were secretly praying the last fence would get knocked down, either by the horse, a sudden gust of wind, or even by your own sheer power of will.
I’m joking, of course. If my girlfriend has done well I’m always very proud. If she beats me, I’m still proud. But I do need five minutes of alone time to sulk in the lorry while I change out of my loser breeches and overly priced boots. It always helps to be in something more comfortable for the four-hour drive home, where I get to hear how great her round was and relive every single fence.
I also get some award winning advice from my very own Ellen Whitaker about how I should ride a bit more forward, and ‘trust him more’ over and over again until we get back to the yard. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy in the world!
My view of equestrian relationships
Despite the obvious challenges that, let’s be honest here, stem from my naturally over-competitive nature, I love being in a relationship with someone who shares my passion for horses.
With everyone living such busy lives, it’s incredible to spend my spare time enjoying what I love with the person I love. Not everyone has that luxury, and I consider myself very fortunate.
PS. To up my game, I’m taking extra riding lessons on the side that my girlfriend doesn’t know about!