When my boyfriend told me that he was afraid of horses, his tone was solemn and measured, as if he knew full well the gravity of such a statement upon his ardently horse-loving partner.
I shrugged. “So?” I replied. “Lots of people are.”
He was taken aback. I think that he was expecting a temper tantrum of sorts. He held both my hands, his face endearingly sincere, “I want you to know that I will get over it. I don’t care what it takes. I’ll make sure I learn how to ride a horse.”
He had never even been in the vicinity of a horse in his life.
I laughed and ruffled his hair. He was looking more and more confused as the conversation went on. “You don’t have to learn how to ride a horse, silly. As long as you can carry saddles and take decent videos, you’re golden.”
A few years ago, my reply would have been much less accepting. I was the little girl who dreamed of becoming an equine veterinarian and then marrying a fellow vet (or a farrier or a professional rider – I wasn’t terribly picky). When I was a teenager, my trainer’s husband assured me that as I grew older, the towing capacity of a man’s truck would trump other, more aesthetic qualities in my search for a life partner.
I went on to date a guy with a beautiful truck. Then I dated a cowboy. Then another guy who knew how to ride. All three relationships ended in shambles. In retrospect, these men all ticked superficial boxes that had nothing to do with being a compatible partner.
As time wore on, I became a better judge of character, and of figuring out exactly who “my person” might be. My mother encouraged me to have some “non-negotiable” qualities that I absolutely required in a boyfriend.
Gradually, I drifted away from daily riding because of work, and those qualities became centered around finding someone who would be supportive of my unique and time-consuming career. I realized that whoever met my increasingly stringent criteria would probably also make a decent horse show boyfriend when the time came.
As you may guess, these required aspects ran a little deeper than “nice truck” and “rides horses.” For example: the ability to be a happy sidekick while still maintaining their own goals and independence. Patience. A lack of ego. A sense of humor. A curious mind. And of course, a die-hard animal lover, because true animal lovers will love any creature under the sun and are generally “good people”.
“It’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid of horses,” I said to my mystified boyfriend, “better, in fact. You have to respect them.” As he nodded, I recalled his first dinner with my family. Within moments of meeting my uncle’s German Shepherd, he had the massive dog in his lap. He was grinning ear-to-ear as puppy slobber practically dripped from his face. I think that may have been when I fell in love with him. “You’ll be fine,” I said to him, with certainty.
I contemplated: this guy had a few odd knacks, like french-braiding hair and shining shoes, that I knew would translate quite well to plaiting manes and cleaning tack. What’s more, his pleasant and helpful demeanor meant that he would most likely enjoy those tasks. He had already offered the services of his video camera. Being a little shy of horses really did not matter, in my eyes.
A few days after our “horse talk”, we were admiring an old sports car while on a walk, and he asked me what my hypothetical ideal vehicle would be. There was no hesitation: “A decent pick-up and a two-horse trailer,” I stated, beaming. He replied by enthusing about the aesthetic appeal of vintage trucks.
“Excuse me!” I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, planting my hands on my hips and frowning. “No vintage trucks! Can you imagine having one break down in the middle of some mountain highway with a trailer full of overheating horses? No! You buy the newest one you can afford and maintain the crap out of it!” I shook my finger at him and couldn’t help but crack up into laughter. You can put a horse girl in the city, but you can’t take the redneck out of her.
He raised his eyebrows at me and nodded, “duly noted.” I looped my arm around his and patted his shoulder. “You have much to learn, young grasshopper.”