by Bonnie Marlewski-Probert
We’ve all met those couples. The wife is horse crazy and the husband thinks the whole sport is nutty or it is the husband who spends all his free time in the barn and the wife doesn’t understand the attraction to smelly animals that slobber on you every chance they get!
When I initially met my husband, I knew that he had no experience around horses and didn’t have any feelings about them, one way or the other. I saw that as an advantage because he didn’t hate them YET. In order to encourage his interest, I invested in a secret weapon (mint flavored Tic Tacs). I had little boxes of those things all over my house so that when he came for a visit, I was ready. I would invite him down to the fence line and ask him to shake the plastic box that the tic tacs come in. Since all the horses knew what that was, he could stand safely outside the field fence, shake the little plastic container and a whole herd of horses would come charging to see him and they would happily stay at that fence line as long as he was willing to provide the little mint treats. Of course, I taught him first how to feed with a flat hand (last thing you want to do is have him lose some fingers!)
Doing this allowed him to stay out of harm’s way, he loved it, the horses loved it and it lit the fire in him. While he is not an avid rider (only because we travel all the time and there is rarely enough time to really focus on getting him up to speed as a rider), he could happily spend all day just hanging out with these wonderful, large buddies.
If there were one piece of advice I could give to anyone who has a spouse that hates horses, I would say this:
Remember that we tend to hate most, that which scares us the most (terrorists, spiders, IRS agents!). The trick is to eliminate the fear factor first and that is done by making certain that you bend over backwards to never allow that person to feel the need to be afraid. For example, if you are 10 years old and trying to teach your little sister to love horses, you don’t put her on the back of a hot headed Polo Pony and go for a hand gallop across an open field (been there, done that and she now hates horses). If I had kept her in a riding arena, selected an older, quiet, kind hearted horse and kept her at a walk for an hour, she probably would be an avid horseman today.
If you are trying to introduce your spouse to riding for the first time, spending the weekend in a State Park camping out is not the place to go. Not only will your spouse be head-bobbing-lame by the end of a few days of hard riding, but you can’t control the environment in the woods and that means just about anything bad could happen.
When I was teaching full time for a million years, I consciously built a rider’s confidence level by holding them back. If you have a rider walk their horse long enough, no mater how many fun exercises they do while walking, they will ultimately beg you to let them trot. Remember that you can always move forward with a rider’s confidence level, but trying to undo a fearful experience is all but impossible. Slow is better.
When you think of this as a marathon, not a sprint race, it is easier to take your time, invest in some riding lessons for the two of you (while you may not think you need lessons, it will help to keep your spouse company and we can all continue to learn if we give it half a chance).
The other advantage of investing in a year of riding lessons for both of you is the bonus that comes from riding at a local stable, meeting other horsemen and getting involved in the social side of the barn. I am a big advocate in recommending that people invest in a year of riding lessons at a local stable and during that year, volunteer your time at the barn to muck stalls, clean tack, exercise horses, or whatever else you can do to help out. This is actually something I recommend people do for purely selfish reasons because the person who benefits the most is YOU.
So, your spouse is not into horses (yet). Here are some simple tips to help get them started:
- Never put them in a position where they could be frightened or injured – slow is best.
- Look for ways to introduce them to your own horse(s) in a non-threatening, fun way. (tic tacs or carrots over the fence, tack cleaning in the barn while watching the horses in the field, etc)
- The holidays are just around the corner and buying them a package of beginner, semi-private lessons (for both of you to do together) is a safe way to get him a basic education (from someone other than you), it is also a great way for a couple to spend time together and the only trick is that YOU have to decide to NEVER look like a know-it-all before, during or after the lessons. This is their time to learn and their time to shine, so don’t hog the limelight.
- After you finish the package of semi-private lessons, if your spouse is still interested, you could purchase a package of beginner adult group lessons for both of you and that would not only continue their education, but it adds the social element into the mix as you will be meeting other beginner adult riders in your classes.
There is nothing better than a couple who enjoy their horses equally, safely and with enthusiasm. If you are willing to be patient and remember that cultivating this love can be a marathon, you can enjoy the benefits of sharing your love of horses with your partner for many years to come!
Find more interesting stories in our section on Recreation & Lifestyle.