Before the trailer pulled up in front of the boarding barn with my precious cargo inside, I would have told you I was ready for horse ownership.
I have ridden my entire life. I’ve taken lessons consistently as an adult. I’ve stuffed my brain with books, podcasts, internet articles and as much related information as possible.
My professional and social life has long involved horses, too. I’ve worked at a dude ranch and on a breeding farm. I’ve helped friends at horse shows, rodeos, and big conferences like the Midwest Horse Fair.
More than once, I’ve had a front-row seat to the glorious parts of horse life. I’ve watched foals take their first steps, felt the thrill of winning my first blue ribbon, and witnessed the magic of watching a green horse grow into a seasoned professional.
Once, a tough woman I knew told me, “Be careful, horses will break your heart.” Before I had a horse of my own, I thought I knew what she meant. Even though my name wasn’t on their registry papers, I’ve cried to sleep over various steeds—some dead, some sold, some neglected. I’ve tended colics and lameness in all weathers.
One night, at 10 degrees below zero, I took a stallion’s temperature because he had stopped eating. I remember clinging to his side to stay warm as my fingers went numb.
So when the time finally came to claim my own horse, I thought I knew what I was getting into. Prior to the horse arriving, I made sure I had a vet, a farrier, a feed supplier, and tack that fit. I made emergency plans if the horse got sick or if I did, if I lost my job, or if my horse was too lame to work anymore.
Sure, the mare had a breathing condition, but I knew how to handle it. I knew exactly what I was doing.
As I wrote the first draft of this essay, the pen stopped crossing the page because I was overwhelmed by the number of things I wasn’t prepared for. Horse ownership, whether it is your first horse or your 40th, always comes with disproportionate servings of humble pie. And as an owner, I have sampled a smorgasbord of unique flavors.
After the first few months, my new horse got in such good shape that the saddle stopped fitting. I then got to experience the Dante’s-Inferno-like task of tracking down a saddle that a) Fit, b) looked good enough that I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and c) didn’t require selling a organ on the black market.
Next was the rude awakening that the things that kill your horse budget sometimes have little to do with the horses themselves. I have often wondered how much I’ve spent on gas, toll roads, and the snacks I bought to avoid passing out or committing hunger-induced murder on the drive home. How many months of board would those snacks pay for? That math sounds depressing.
One distinct never-say-never moment came one morning as I dumped grain in a rubber feed tub. I once scoffed at those whose grain concoction had so many add-ins, it seemed like an over-priced witch’s brew. “I would never be one of those people.” I stupidly told myself.
That morning, I cringed staring down at the medications, amino acids, and omega threes swirling around the tub like a bowl of Lucky Charms, and knew I needed to be less of a judgmental jerk. Those people were just doing the best they could for their horses.
But maybe the most surprising part of actually owning a horse is how fulfilling it is. Despite my moaning, I am sometimes shocked by how happy having a horse makes me. Partly out of necessity and partly out of luck, I have built up a community of horse-crazy humans who would be there no matter the time or the weather.
Having a horse has forced me outside, out of bed and out of my head, all for the better.
Nothing prepared me, though, for the deep wordless connection that comes from the hours, the responsibility, and heck, even the problem-solving of having a horse of my own. There were horses in my life that I knew for decades, but with this one, I see every ear flick and side-eye in a way I didn’t before.
I will never say never again. But I hope I never forget how lucky I am.