By AMY MILLER
“What happened to you? WHY do you look like the cat who ate the canary?” my husband said by way of greeting, coming in the door after work late one recent evening. “What did you do?”
His next words hit me like a punch in the stomach, quashing comforting illusions, however far-fetched, of concealing the truth.
“Did you fall off your horse?”
And like that, in less time than it takes to canter once around the ring, I was caught with my breeches down. Am I that hopelessly transparent?
The fall was a blow, and not only because of my injured pride, my shaken trust in the promising young horse I just started leasing, or my stinging bottom and wonky knee (a sprained ligament, my doctor later said).
My husband is a reluctant horse husband, and a relatively recent one at that. Before I met him more than 25 years ago, I had pretty much safely buried my burning childhood passion for riding.
But once both time and money became more available, he was the one, in all his goodwill and naiveté, who nagged me to return to the sport, unleashing my insatiable appetite for more.
At the time of his well-meaning encouragement, he had not a clue about the financial, emotional, and obsessional rabbit hole called riding.
And why would he? He wasn’t around in the days when I zealously pursued babysitting gigs, with seven hours of work (in the early ‘90s, the going hourly rate was $5) which would earn me the coveted second lesson, augmenting the wholly inadequate once-weekly allotment generously funded by my parents.
And he certainly wasn’t around in the earlier days when a perceived better ride – or, heaven forfend, more jumps – on the part of my brother, who shared my semi-private lessons with me, was enough to send me into a fit of tearful rage.
That was all ancient history by the time a global pandemic made the impossible possible. To the barn I returned in 2020, with great anticipation and a little dose of trepidation, some 20-plus years after I had retired my beloved helmet, chaps, and boots.
As was to be perfectly expected, by me, you, and every equestrian – but not by my uninitiated husband – in no time at all one lesson per week was completely insufficient. In short order, two weekly lessons escalated into talk – between my trainer and me, with very tentative feelers delicately extended towards my husband – about a half lease.
You know how it goes. But, as I said, the “addiction,” as he rightly labeled it, took my unsuspecting husband entirely by surprise.
Convincing him that we should go for half-lease on this (or any) horse was a huge coup. To ease into the time and money suck, I had negotiated a three-month grace period of just one-third lease, primarily for his benefit.
We were just one-month into that grace period, when all hell – in this case, a small piece of fabric fluttering softly in a light breeze – broke loose. Bam! In one terrified lateral dash, my horse, who really does try so hard to please, lost both his concentration and his rider.
Later that day, examining my battered body for any physical manifestations broadcasting the morning’s mishap, I was consumed by fears for the fate of the fragile lease arrangement in light of one potentially flighty horse husband.
There are women who hide their bruises, inflicted by abusive partners, from the rest of the world. Then there are women who hide their horse-inflicted bruises from their concerned and cautious non-equestrian horse husbands.
I thank my lucky stars that I belong to the latter, extremely fortunate group.
To my huge relief, what I first thought was a massive bruise turned out to be nothing more than an expansive patch of sand plastered to my back side, having made its way under the protective vest. Washing away the sand lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, convinced as I was that all would stay under wraps, he’d never have to know, and in two days I’d be back at the stables.
The all-knowing clueless horse husband is a fascinating portrait of contrasts. On the one hand, because he does not consider riding a sport, he liberally dispenses his “insights” with great authority. For instance: “You might want to try Western. They don’t only ride in circles.” Or, when my right-leg was injured, he helpfully offered: “You’ll probably have to get on the horse from the left side.”
(Notably, I know very little – and pointedly say even less – about hockey and mountain biking, two potentially dangerous sports which he regularly enjoys.)
On the other hand, he does really “get” the riding sinkhole (even if he doesn’t accept it). Tossed into the mix alongside the entertaining inanities are astute observations that catch me off guard. Like: “You organize your entire week around your rides.” Duh. That’s completely obvious to me, but how in the world did he catch on?
Or, more profoundly, “You know where it starts. You just don’t know where it ends.” So true. He was addressing the dollar figure, but it’s so much more than that.
His deeply resonating words are comforting as I bide my time in a temporary timeout from riding. With a bum knee and the doctor’s admonishments ringing ceaselessly in my ears – “Just be careful! BE CAREFUL!!” – I’m facing an uncertain continuation of the lease, and not simply because of my horse husband’s hesitations.
I can’t say exactly when and in what iteration, but what I do know is that soon I’ll be back in the saddle. And, just as inevitably, my horse husband will be there right beside me for the ride, trying his best to keep up.
Amy Miller is a writer who uses a pen name to protect the privacy of her horse husband.
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