“You Can Always Be a Horse Person”

Photo: Courtesy of Meg Vondriska

Writer Meg Vondriska contemplates quitting, loss, and community

BY Meg Vondriska

I’m a writer whose name you might recognize from posts like, “Advice on how to stop your horse from bolting?” and “Why can’t I stop my lower leg from swinging?” The text itself may have been hard to read due to the number of tears shed over my keyboard.

As an adult amateur who returned to the sport with fantasies of achieving childhood dreams and nothing but her own money to spend, I was humbled quickly. Suddenly the three-foot fences from my youth started to more closely resemble the Great Wall, and the budget I’d set aside for horses had me feeling like all I could afford was a hobby horse. But like all things with love, I made it work.

A few months after a move to a new city, I was the proud owner of a sleek off-track Thoroughbred who looked like a knock-off from The Black Stallion. My budget precluded me from white fences, Dutch doors, and a covered arena, but nevertheless I found a home for Poe and I with an amazing trainer.

It wasn’t long before my dreams crumbled into the arena sand. Of course, there were the “me” problems: the sport itself was heinously expensive, the commute was too long for even Taylor Swift to save, and anything bigger than a cross rail had me feeling like I was thundering down to a gate with the Ledbury Hunt. But there were also the horse issues; a Kissing Spines diagnosis, ulcers, and a custom-fit French saddle to name a few.

Needless to say, I’ve considered quitting horses a time or two. A recent post in The Plaid Horse Adult Amateur Lounge on Facebook had me waxing poetic about the cost of the hobby. Of course, there’s the financial hit you take every time you so much as smell the air in a tack shop, but there’s also the emotional cost. The joy and heartbreak of doing the right thing by your horse and getting them a surgery they need, with weeks of no ride time, culminating with a shot of tequila in the privacy of your horse’s stall in the hopes you’ll forget it ever happened.

Without horses, I could afford the fancy career in New York City, several designer handbags, or even pay well above the minimum on my student loans. I could take up other, more affordable hobbies, like pickle ball or golfing or Formula 1 racing. In a horse-free life, my vacations would look more like sun-drenched Italian terraces instead of freezing mornings warming a bit in my palms. My perfume would be santal and not sawdust, the soles of my shoes more red-soled than manure.

Without horses, I would probably still be in a depression so deep I often felt like I was watching life simply pass me by.

Every time I’ve thought about leaving horses in the rearview, I come back to my first summer in Austin. My life looked like a bad country music song with only two friends, my boyfriend and my dog. Until I bought Poe.

In the years since, I have made friends with my barnmates, with foxhunters in different states, with horse girls I found on Twitter. I have cried about Poe and into him, I have learned patience and how to set, and re-set, my goals. Horses have kept me honest about what I can do and what I want to do. They’ve built my confidence not only in the saddle but in an office chair. It’s not an exaggeration to say the spine you build to stand up for what your horse needs is not dissimilar to the one you use to set boundaries at work.

Horse owner, leaser, rider, or lover, we are all of us horse people. I have learned I was just as much a horse girl all those years without a horse of my own, when the closest I came to breathing in that sweet smell of fly spray was scrolling Instagram, as I am now. So are you.

It’s why so many of us need to remember that it’s never easy to walk away from horses. Too many times I’ve read articles or lengthy Instagram posts of people rationalizing why they left. Sometimes it’s burnout or money, other times it’s a health issue or the heartbreak of putting down their horse. Regardless, there’s always an underlying note of guilt and fear of being burned at the stake for saying farewell to something that has taken up so much of your time, love, and money.

Posts in forums asking others if they’ve left horses, if they’ve returned, and what it felt like are usually met with support; but without fail, there are always a vocal few who swear that they’d never live a life without horses. Others chime in to say they did and were miserable or that once you put up your irons, you’ll leave the sport for good. Suddenly, “quitting horses” becomes something spoken of only in hushed tones, and the horse girls you thought were your friends for life leave you in the dust, as if your worth could only ever be measured by time spent in the saddle.

Horses give us something that is hard to find and harder, still, to quantify—a community. One that you should feel like you can be a part of whether you’re riding horses, volunteering with them, or watching them on TV. None of us should ever be afraid or ashamed to walk away from horses, and as equestrians; we should never put each other in a position to feel that not riding means not caring.

From rated shows to reading your battered copy of King of the Wind, you can always be a horse person.