Horse husbands have been all over my social media lately.
On a Facebook group, one horse owner left a desperate plea about how her boyfriend tried to sell her horse on the sly to a coworker without her permission.
On Instagram, a pixelated, middle age man holding a photoshopped cardboard sign is making the rounds. “Please Help,” it reads, “Not homeless, need money, my wife has horses.”
This winter, a video of Richard Hammond from Top Gear ranting about paying for his wife’s horse also went viral.
This conversation of male spouses, horses, and money is as archaic as it is ubiquitous, crossing all income levels, disciplines, and breeds. I too have been a part of these conversations. Usually, it’s ugly and involves manipulation, and almost always it is about power.
There are many husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, family members and other fantastic humans who are financially supportive of the horse-loving person in their life. There are also many people who finance their horse habit exclusively out of their own pocket. I have even met a few badass women who make the majority of their household income through their work within the horse world.
Still, the shadowy figure of the man with the checkbook is always looming and often a problematic feature of an industry that is 90% female. He is the asterix on many horse show class rosters and bills of sale. So why aren’t more horse-owning women able to exist without him?
One reason: we are paid less.
As of 2019, the wage gap between women and men in the United States was 80 cents for every dollar. Yes, this is partly because women are discouraged and often even chased out of high paying, male-dominated professions, including construction and the STEM fields. However, this is only a teeny tiny part of an equation that includes social norms, bias, and family.
The wage gap also spans all jobs. The New York Times reported in April that even female food preparers make 87% of what men earn and female surgeons make 71% of men in the same position with the same experience.
It is even worse for working moms, who according to USA Today, make an average of 69% of what fathers make for the same work. Last, but certainly not least, it takes an average woman 49.7 years to make the same as what her male counterpart will make in 40.
Let’s break the wage gap down in horsey terms. “Horse Industry by the numbers” published by Equo stated that the average horse-owning household made 60,000 dollars a year. Now for simplicity sake, let’s say that this is just the yearly income for the female horse owner and not anyone else. This woman, like most, makes 80 cents on the dollar. So, if she made the same as a male counterpart that would be 72,000 dollars.
That is a difference of $12,000 a year.
Twelve thousand dollars may not buy the left hoof of an Olympic level warmblood, but it would allow many equestrians to enjoy their hobby in relative comfort. It could cover the average board for one horse and the majority of the vet and farrier bills for the year. Or instead, it could go towards tack, lessons, a few horse shows, or be put toward bigger purchases—all without getting one’s spouse involved at all.
Of course, this example is a generalization. Just like what we do with our horses, what we spend on them varies, yet the wage gap is an equestrian issue. Imagine if the dynamic of horsey and non-horsey relationships was based on equal opportunities, leaving us less worried about disparity and more worried about getting our saddles gleaming for the next show.