From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Horse Mania— An Incurable Affliction

Every family has one or knows one—a young girl afflicted with horse mania. Symptoms to watch for:

• Her room is filled with miniature horse statues on the dresser, horse pictures on the walls and horse books on the shelves.

• She can rattle off the pedigrees and racing records of every Thoroughbred of note since Man o’ War.

• She sits for hours watching reruns of National Velvet and Seabiscuit.

If you’re observing any of this behavior, you have a horse maniac in your family. Boys usually are not prone to this malady, but with girls, it seems to be a nationwide epidemic. I speak with authority because I have been horse crazy since say, age one. My first words, I am told, were not “Mommy” or “Daddy,” but “Oosie, Oosie.” I remember constantly begging for a horse, but being a city girl, the answer always came back, “When you grow up and have your own place, you can have as many horses as you want.”

Well, I grew up, married and had a nice home in the suburbs, but the passion still burned to someday have a horse of my own. My husband, bless his soul, finally said, “Let’s not always be saying someday. Before we know it, time will fly by and all we can do is look back on those somedays that never happened. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it now.”

So, we sold the house, packed our belongings and with two little boys and a dog we moved onto a ten-acre ranchette, complete with a small barn and corral. It was there I realized my lifelong dream and along the way learned some very important lessons in horse ownership that I would like to share with you today.

Rule #1. Familiarize yourself with the language of “horsemanese” so you can decipher some of those glowing terms as you search the classified ads for that special creature. For, like any other sales pitch, there may be a world of difference between what they say and what they mean. For example:

“Gentle, but spirited.” You can get into the saddle before taking off at a dead run.

“Needs experienced rider.” You’re lucky to get one foot in the stirrup before taking off at a dead run.

“Loads well.” You won’t have any trouble getting this horse into your trailer, but you may find him upside down by the time you get where you are going.

“Definite show potential.” Every horse ever foaled is definite “show potential” to its owner.

“In the ribbons every time shown.” Shown once, placed sixth out of six.

“To good home only.” Anyone with cash in hand will be found to have a good enough home.

“Twelve-year-old gelding, sound, no vices. Reason for selling, daughter has discovered boys are more fun.” This ad might be the one to follow up.

Rule #2. It is impossible to own just one horse. You will soon discover you want one for your husband so he can join you on trail rides, plus ponies for the boys until they are old enough to have a horse of their own. However, by that time, they probably have figured out that horses are synonymous with work and they would rather play baseball.

Rule #3. If you have a mare, an unwritten rule dictates that you will have a foal—and then another and another. You justify this passion by stating you will sell those foals and turn this whole thing into a money-making venture. But if you thought you had crying spells when you wanted a horse so badly, it is nothing compared to what will happen when it is time to sell one of those babies.

Rule #4. With your ever-increasing band of horses, you will find you need to enlarge that small barn behind the house and your horses will spend their time idly watching as you spend your time building barn additions and more fencing. Endless discussions with your spouse will follow about whether to put a second mortgage on the house for the Kentucky-style, white-rail fencing you want, or pay attention to the pocketbook and settle for the much cheaper barbed wire.

Which leads to Rule #5. The propensity to get themselves hurt in a barbed wire fence is directionally proportional to the cost of the horse. Your “for fun” family-types might manage to stay sound (horseman’s word for healthy), but your newly acquired, registered show horse will invariably get himself caught in the barbed wire. The series of vet calls, medication, shots and a whole summer of unridability can make barbed wire one of the most expensive forms of fencing you can put up. Like a horseman friend of mine told me, “Horses and ‘bob-wire’ don’t mix. Cattle, yes—horses, no.”

Rule #6. If you have a horse, eventually you will want to show that horse. From past experience, I put owning a show horse on a par with the IRS in getting rid of any extra money you might have lying around—rather like pouring your life savings down a black hole. The purchase of the horse is nothing compared to the numerous and very expensive equipment you suddenly need in order to get into the show ring. But, like the rest of us horse maniacs, when you come out of the class with a ribbon clutched in your fist, you’ll be the first in line to empty your pockets for the next show.

After reading this, if you still decide to go ahead with the adventure, let me be the first to welcome you to this wacky, wonderful, upside-down world where success is measured in strips of colored ribbons and the show ring becomes the center of the universe around which everything else revolves. And when you find yourself sleeping in the barn, waiting for your favorite mare to give birth to her first foal and you hear those never-to-be-forgotten sounds of new life rustling in the straw, you will admit, yes, you are a horse maniac; yes, it is incurable and yes, you wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

Jacklyn Lee Lindstrom

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