What Do You Do With the Unsupportive Horse Spouse?

In this excerpt from her book Riders of a Certain Age, journalist and horsewoman Fran Severn explores the challenges we can face when our significant others don’t accept the significant role horses play in our lives.

You come home from the barn bubbling with excitement. You trotted today. Trotted! And then you and your barn buddies went on a trail ride. Nothing much, just once around the perimeter of the pastures. And you discovered that your horse loves watermelon. You must buy some tomorrow on your way to the stable.

You tell this to your husband, eager to share this great day with him. And all you get is a grunt. Or, “When is dinner?” Or, “You and those damn horses.” Or, “I don’t know how you think we can pay for that.” Your happiness deflates like a ruptured balloon.

When riders trade stories about their families and horses, conflict is a common theme. The issue of spousal support or lack of same routinely comes up on social media groups, forums, chat rooms, and gripe sessions at the stable. Some stories about spouses and horses are wonderful, positive tales of partners accepting our hobby with good—or at least bemused—grace. Significant others might decide to share the adventure. They learn to ride and eventually get their own horses. Then, there are those who don’t ride but share the chores, buy equipment, build barns and jumps, learn how to trim hooves, and willingly make economic sacrifices to afford the horses. They learn to hook up and haul a trailer. They help you memorize your dressage tests and reining patterns. They cheer you at horse shows.

Supportive spouses sit through yet another viewing of The Black Stallion and have listened to your comments long enough to recognize good and bad riding in movies. Some partners are not enthusiastic but think this is a phase and are happy to let you work this out of your system, figuring that this flame will burn out and you will soon return to normal.

Occasionally, clever women use proactive techniques to win over their spouses and keep them contented while they ride. They organize an “intro to horses” session to teach partners the basics of handling and grooming. They know that many macho men are actually afraid of horses but don’t want to admit it. Get them together, and they feed off each other’s egos to see who can do the best job of grooming and leading their horse. Finish the day with a cookout and barn party for couples, and new friendships start.

Photo by Barbara Olsen

If your significant other doesn’t share your excitement, you might just get a wave as you head out the door on your way to the stable. That’s most often true when partners have their own hobbies and interests. More often, the stories are of pushback and negativity: dismissive attitudes, complaints about expenses, discovering new responsibilities that require your attention, and general fault-finding that has nothing to do with horses.

That attitude doesn’t wait to surface until the relationship is permanent, either. Engagements end when the prospective groom announces that the horses will have to go so that they can buy a house and, if not now, certainly when there are kids. Or first dates being last dates when the love interest dismisses riding and horses as trivial and silly.

Much of the conflict is because horses are more than a hobby. Once you progress beyond weekly lessons, horses become a lifestyle. That’s an unexpected and often major shift in the family dynamic. Like horses, people want predictability and routine. While change in our lives is inevitable, it is not always welcome, especially when you are not the one initiating it. The enthusiasm for your new interest can be unsettling. If you’ve generally had a good relationship with your significant other until now, it’s probably not the level of affection that’s changed, it’s the change itself that’s creating the reaction. Your dream of devoting more time to horses disturbs your partner’s sense of regularity, well-being, and security. If your spouse reacts with annoyance, these complaints can segue into making you feel guilty about spending time at the stable.

Communication is the first step in trying to solve the problem. A familiar proverb claims that a good marriage is a never-ending series of conversations and compromises. Sometimes, all that is needed is a heart-to-heart conversation, either by just the two of you or with a counselor or therapist to steer the conversation and serve as a referee, if needed.

Tell your partner how much horses mean to you and that you don’t want to live your life regretting not trying something you’ve dreamed of. Point out that after spending years fulfilling obligations to the family, you’ve earned this. Explain that spending time with horses is a great stress reliever and cheaper than a therapist.

This excerpt from Riders of a Certain Age by Fran Severn is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. You can purchase Riders of a Certain Age here.