Over the past 20 years a significant portion of my time has been spent in indulging my passion for horses, as such, it is little wonder that being a horseman is huge part of who I am. How many days have passed within those twenty years wherein I did not dedicate at least some portion of my day to horses whether it be at home reading about horses, shopping horse sites or watching training DVDs, or in the barn, cleaning up after, caring for and riding horses. Even my social life is largely comprised of friends whom I either ride with or speak with about our horses. So much of my life comes back to horses from my clothes, to my truck to...hell, even the length of my fingernails. It all amounts to a tremendous amount of time, hard work, worry and yes, joy. It also resulted in stress on my personal relationships, my body and my bank account. It is a constant effort to limit the time, energy and money I put in to horses because, if left unchecked, I would be at the barn all day and I would spend every dollar I had. And it still wouldn't be enough. Some say horses are an actual addiction and no different than any other addiction, it can be detrimental to your health, relationships, responsibilities and financial security. It is easy for me to call to mind women I know who have neglected their responsibilities, endangered their children, frustrated their husbands to the point of divorce, and placed tremendous financial stress on their family all for the love of horses. We use the term "Horse Crazy" flippantly. This very blog is named "crazy horse woman" and "horse crazed mind". What if horse crazy is actually just crazy... At what point does it become an emotional dependence or mental instability? I knew a single mother who couldn't afford to buy winter jackets for her children but managed to pay board on her four horses. That isn't right. Of course there are undeniable benefits, it has now been scientifically proven that horses are an effective tool when used for emotional and physical therapy. However, there is science behind the health and emotional benefit of having a glass of wine in the evening too... just not for an alcoholic.
A few weeks ago I listened to an interview on the CBC with a novelist who had written a book based on her struggles with alcoholism. She said something that really stuck with me. I cant recall her exact words but it went like this: "If there are consequences to your drinking, drink less. If you cant drink less, don't drink at all. If you cant not drink, get help." I have to admit that my life is negatively impacted by my obsession with horses when I have made poor decisions and allowed myself to get "out of control". To be clear- while I am using alcoholism to draw parallels between addiction to alcohol and "addiction" to horses, I fully recognize that these are two vastly different issues and I in no way mean to belittle the seriousness of substance addictions. I make a choice to indulge my passion for horses. Learning to make that choice deliberate, measured and responsible is what I have failed to do in the past and what I am determined to do in the future.
How much time do I want to spend at the barn on a daily basis? How much do my horses actually cost once I have accounted for all the direct and indirect expenses (boots, tack, vet, shows, lessons, alternative treatments, supplements, trailer insurance, barn supplies, gas to and from barn, jeans etc..) How much money do I want to spend on horses in a year? What can I afford? What other activities have always wanted to try but never have for lack of time and money due to horse costs and time. Would I elect to spend all of my time and money on horses if it meant that I would not be able to pursue any other interests? Other interests like...
More than anything else I want to travel the world. I could write a book about all the places I want to visit and things I want to do but closer to home I really want to: Kayak, canoe, boat and sail. I grew up boating, fishing and crabbing on the Ocean and it is apart of soul. I want to get back on the water. Take some martial arts class and go to daily yoga classes. I also want to learn to paint and have always wanted to sculpt bronzes. I would also love to take classes at the local college in woodworking (furniture building), art, and photography. There are many trails in our Provincial Parks that I have always wanted to hike and I would also like to do some 4x4ing trips to provincial historical sites and BC's many spectacular vistas. I also grew up in a family that renovated and decorated homes (mainly kitchens) and have a passion for decorating which has gone painfully and obviously unexpressed in my own home. I would love to do a room by room reno. All of these are recreational activities that I don't do in a large part because horses take up so much of my expendable time and income. Traveling is the only single activity that really competes against my passion for horses. All of the rest, individually, just don't compare but collectively they make up an entire lifestyle which I find really appealing. All of the above are relatively affordable relative to horses and require far less daily commitment.
Can I have some part of that "other" life and horses? I believe it is possible but only with a plan, self discipline and some sacrifices along the way.
In this post I have tried to summarize some of the internal debates I've been having with myself, and frankly, with my DB, over the past year with respect to my life plan going forward and how horses fit in that equation. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was simply admitting to myself just how much time and money my horses require. Second was admitting that I need to make some serious changes in my behavior, decision making and time management and that it was going to be a process, not an overnight change. Third was deciding that I was unwilling to cut horses out of my life entirely. Horses need to be apart of my daily life no matter what the cost with this proviso- so long as I can effectively manage the time and money I put in to horses. I find it very difficult to say that I am no longer going to invest my time and money in trying to become a better horseman. I spend a lot of time on the internet reading about health issues, training and watching videos. I also constantly want to improve my tack and saddle fit which requires research and shopping and I am often sourcing and researching any supplementation or alternative therapy for my horses soundness and health. It makes me feel like a lesser person to say I am not willing to take the time to actively learn about horses or maintain my horses to best of my ability. So much of my self worth is tied up in being the best horseman I can be. And even that comes with its pitfalls. Because I am no where near the horseman I want to be despite all of the time and effort I put in to it. My self respect flags when I am not successful at horses, which is more often than I care to admit. I am so wrapped up in horses that it defines me. And by default, it also then controls me. I needed to change.
That process began with taking stock of current situation, setting a goal for the future and finally devising a successful plan. At the time I owned two horses, Abby and Hola but I actually "had" three as I was 100% emotionally committed to Marmalade. In no way shape or form did maintaining three horses fit in to any kind of life plan. I decided that the horse that was least likely to take me where I wanted to go was Hola simply because of her size and her current state of training (or lack thereof) so I found her a great home and let her go. For reasons unrelated to her, she came back three weeks later. In the time that she was gone I realized how much I love that little horse and that letting her go was the wrong decision- The very reason Hola exists is because I decided to indulge in a bucket list item which was to breed, raise and train a horse that I could keep for its lifetime. Hola is that horse. She isn't big enough for me so I am going to have to get smaller. It is that simple. Ultimately I can only keep one horse and I decided that horse was going to be Hola.
That left Abby and Marm. Because of Abby's breeding and training (she is bred up the ying yang and was a finished reiner) I don't have to sell Abby to eliminate the cost of her maintenance. I can easily let Abby go back out on a breeding or riding lease and leave myself the option of getting her back when or if I am in a different place in my life. Given how much I have invested in that horse I just don't feel it makes any sense to sell her so my focus will be to get her leased out in the New Year.
Which left Marmalade, whom, technically speaking, I did not even own. I was incapable of walking away from that horse. I love Marmalade with all my heart and soul. She is the horse that carries me away when the world gets to be too much. She is the horse who makes me laugh and makes me crazy. She was mine. And I was hers. Only I didn't own her... yet. The only way I could let Marm go was to own her. That sounds conflicting right? Her current owner, my good friend, needed to sell Marm if I wasnt going to continue leasing her. I know that L would have tried to find Marm a great home but I needed a home I knew and trusted. And, if I owned Marm, I could take the time to find her the right home and I could also have a contract in place that should make sure she would never be lost to me. There were also a few other things with Marm, physically and in the saddle that I needed to figure out before letting her go but it was next to impossible to justify spending time and money on a horse that I wasn't going to keep. I know a good number of horse people who could provide Marm with a good home but few who would be a good match and fewer still who were looking for another horse. Knowing it as a long shot, I contacted one of the best horsewomen I know who I thought might like untangling the Marm puzzle knot. With full disclosure on what I knew of her, I asked her if she was interested in Marm. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I went to DB and told him that I needed his blessing to buy Marm and after that I needed to spend some significant money getting her physically right (this on top of all of the money I have already spent getting work done on Marm) and then I needed to spend some time and money getting her started at a job and then, I promised, that I would find her the right home (but would keep her as long as it took to make that happen). I told him I needed to do this and it was more important to me than anything else. Bless his heart, he gave me his blessing. I bought Marm and had a soundness exam done (not for purchase, just to help me figure out what was going on). She vetted sound. The problem was that she had thin soles and he suspected she was chronically bruised from being barefoot but without xrays there was no way to tell. So we did xrays and they came back clean. He recommended shoes and pads so I had her shod. I then left her off for a good chunk of time as I wanted to give her time to physically adjust as the shoes and pads eliminated those compensatory muscles and posture. I then got really busy between my back issues, getting Abby ready to show, showing her and then trying to give myself a break while going through physiotherapy. Once my back was strong enough I turned my focus to Marm. I knew from the rides I had gotten in and from seeing her move around the field that the shoes made a significant difference in the way she moved and in her topline. I had decided to see whether or not I could run some barrels on her or maybe rope. I also wanted to take her out and try her on an extreme trail course, on the flag/cows and I wanted someone to try jumping her. I also went out and watched some penning and even the drill team. I needed to find Marm a job, the problem was that I wasn't experience in any of the above. Finding the right people to help me introduce her to those things proved a challenge. I knew Marm could potentially be a fair prospect for any one of those sports but which one? I became really frustrated and daunted by how hard it was going to be for me to get out and started and the cost of just maintaining all three horses was overwhelming but I was determined to keep trying. One night, just a few weeks ago, I popped over to a friend's blog and read that she was contemplating what her horse future might hold and whether she should look for another horses. My heart stopped. This was a woman I knew to be experienced, knowledgeable and compassionate and one I knew looked after her horses very well. Everything I knew, and I felt I knew enough, was that this could be a fit and this could be a great home. I wrote an email and attempted to paint a brutally accurate and honest picture of Marm. In order to do so, inevitably it all becomes about the negatives and I often put up cautions in front of the positive. I sent the email. The next morning I re-read it and decided that I was the worst horse seller in history and that it was highly highly unlikely that I was going to get a positive response. When I received a reply from saying, "Yes, I am interested" I literally had a panic attack. A few days later we had a long telephone conversation and from that moment on everything just fell in to place like it was always meant to be. One week ago today I put Marm on a trailer. I knew the depth of my love for Marm and that it was going to be hard to let her go but I didn't expect the physical response I had to the actual act of letting her go. I had multiple panic attacks. I have stress rash. I found myself struggling to go to sleep and to wake up, I had absolutely no energy and even at the barn I just wanted to lay down on the concrete floor and bury my face in my arms. I tried to stop crying but found I couldn't. And all of this when I could not be happier with where she went or to whom she now belongs. I realize there is no way she could have gone to home I didn't know and trust. I cant stress enough how perfect of home she went to and how grateful I am that she is where she is... It is still just hard to not have her within reach. I only hope that her new Mom falls as hard in love with her as I did. Luckily she was kind enough to send many emails which allowed me to focus on the positive- just how excited I am for Marm's new and bright future. Marm lucked out, big time and I did too.
So where does all of this leave me? I have decided not to show Abby this Fall. I got to tick off a bucket list item this summer when I showed her at that is more than good enough. To show her is going to take too much time (to get her fit), too much work (to get her tuned up) and more money than I am willing to spend. If there are any cheap and local shows where I can run a pattern I will go but I will not be going to any of the big shows. I will ride her enough that we both stay in shape enough and then lease her out for next year. I am going to continue working on my weight and get Hola broke this Fall. Next year I want to do a ton of trail riding on her which, thank god, is very accessible to me and highly affordable. Away from the barn I am going to stay as non-horsey as possible. No perusing the internet for tack, horses, or even training videos and such. I plan on being at the barn most days and I still want to chronicle my time with Hola here as it actually helps keep me on track but my goal is max of three hours a day total and my horse budget will be kept to a minimum too which means that I need to prioritize what my horse actually needs vs. what is optimum care. I have a certain standard of care that I will not compromise on but it will be the bare minimum of that standard, not the top.
I have committed myself to making a change. It has been hard and I still have days where I dont know that I am making the right decision by limiting just how much I am willing to indulge my passion. Should a passion as deep and profound as mine be given carte blanche? I have no children. My responsibility is to myself. But at the very least I want to make a deliberate decision. To give myself over completely, as one does in young love, or to give myself over in measured does after careful consideration as one does later in life, when the unbridled passion of youth has proven too costly a price.