“Life is too short. Buy the damn horse.” “Horses are like chocolates. One is never enough.” Instagram is full of such memes today, my inbox full of equine sales websites emailing to ask me: ‘Is this your dream horse?’ It’s a constant chant of ‘Buy another horse, buy another horse’, but I’m not listening. When it comes to chocolates, I fully agree with the sentiment that one is not enough (unless you’re referring to one BOX of chocolates), but horses? One is plenty.
I’m a one-horse owner, and I plan to keep it that way for the rest of my life. I’ve had a few spells of owning more than one, and it’s been full of problems. It mainly occurred in my youth, when I’d outgrow one pony and not quite manage to find them a new home before the next size up equine arrived. That was all right in the heady days of long school holidays, but not so much fun in winter when Scotland is lucky to get about 45 min of daylight per day in which to ride, and there was no such thing as arenas and floodlights for me as a horsey kid, just a muddy corner of a not very flat field (insert violin sound here). But I was lucky enough to have a couple of small stables and a paddock at home, which means an extra mouth to feed isn’t too much of a strain. But two horses on full board at a stables? That’s a whole different bag of carrots.
The last time I did the two-horse thing was a few years ago. I had a lovely ex-racehorse with the spectacularly inaccurate name Tricky – he was anything but. He was sweet and easy going, he picked up things quickly and he had a super jump. I adored him, but there was always a niggle – he was 16.1hh and just a bit too small for me, and his prowess lay in jumping whereas I wanted to be more competitive in dressage.
I’d owned him for a few years when I’d gone to visit my boyfriend’s racehorse Rosie – a gangly four-year-old lacking any sort of talent on the racetrack. She was having a spell of box rest and when I patted her, she nipped me on the arm. Despite this, I was smitten. She was bigger, closer to 17hh, and had an impressive topline for a Flat racehorse who was currently out of work. I’d said to my partner, when she retires from racing, I’d love to have her for a while to see if I can retrain her. I foolishly thought it would be at least a year before that happened.
Two months later she was mine.
Now I should add that I already struggled to find the time to ride and compete one horse with a full-time job, let alone two. Nor was my accountant impressed when I told him my salary was stretching to keeping two horses, when I was already struggling to keep one in the style to which he was accustomed. Needless to say, nothing that fitted small, compact Tricky came close to my larger new arrival. I needed new tack, new rugs, new everything. My credit card was cracking under the strain. My partner already questioned the need for one horse to have a new set of £80 shoes every five weeks, and now I had two. It was amazing that our fledgling relationship survived.
Everything became rushed. I’d get to the yard, groom and tack up at speed, ride one, cut the ride short, untack, then repeat the process with number two with barely a pause for breath in between.
I wouldn’t say my horses adored me – the grooms at the yard fed them, so I was just the person who rocked up and made them work hard – but I’ve never felt more guilty paying attention to one horse while my other horse looked outraged: BUT SHE’S MY OWNER! WHY ARE YOU SPEAKING TO THAT OTHER HORSE INSTEAD?
I’d given myself a few months to teach Rosie the basics and decide which horse would stay and which would have to be sold. It didn’t help that Rosie was so weak and slow to progress, interspersed with flashes of potential that filled me with excitement. Was I mad to sell my lovely, easy gelding in order to keep my accident prone utterly green chestnut mare who seemed to be developing a bit of a crush on my vet, given how often she demanded to see him?
Eventually, the toll of having two came to a head and I had to make the decision. Rosie would stay, Tricky would be sold. By that time, it was winter, and nothing was selling, and in the end it took AGES to find him the right home. In fact, as well as putting me off owning two horses ever again, the whole process has left me hoping I’ll never have to sell another horse in my life, but hey, that’s a whole other story.
Becoming a one-horse owner again was such a blessed relief. I had time to focus on training my mare, and her way of going improved rapidly. I could just spend time being with her, and our relationship improved. She stopped being so accident prone, incidentally just as I had decided to keep her and took out an expensive insurance policy that covered vet fees. And £80 shoes every five weeks? Way better than having to pay double that.
Don’t get me wrong. If I had unlimited time and money, I’d have more than one horse – hell, I’d have a different one for every day of the week if I could. But the fact is my resources are limited in every sense of the word.
Riding is my hobby, not my profession, and I’d much rather have one horse to concentrate on than struggling with two.
So the next time I see one of those memes telling me horses are like chocolates, I’m not going to fall for it. Whether it’s horses or chocolates, overindulging is bad for your health.
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