Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The Horse, Explained

You may or may not be familiar with The Horse. Perhaps as a child, you had many Marguerite Henry books, or you watched National Velvet every day after school for four months, or you pretended to be taking jumps over fences during long car rides. Perhaps you held fake weddings for your model horses (in retrospect, your pink My Little Pony was ill-suited for a life with your foot-high faux-Shadowfax).

Some of us, apparently, actually got to take riding lessons as children, which allowed said children to get all of this out of their system at an early age, while others did not gain access to actual horses until moving to the sticks in their mid-twenties and discovering that full-board was cheaper than their city parking space had been.

In your mid-twenties and beyond, the equine learning curve is steeper. You are further from the ground. You do not bounce upon making contact with the ground, so much as splat. You are closer to being aware of your own mortality. (You are mortal, in case you didn't know.)

If you haven't spent a lot of time around horses, you may have the idea that they are like dogs and cats (really big, dangerous dogs and cats). This is untrue. YOU are like dogs and cats, in that you are a predator. Let's not get sucked into the canines/intestines/primates-eating-fruit aspect of our disputed status as omnivores. The fact is, if someone says to you "hey, let's try this new brunch place that has amazing cocktails," there's a decent chance you'll say "great, meet you there." Your dog feels similarly. New things are fun! That is because you are a predator.

Prey animals do not think new things are fun. New things, if you are a prey animal, usually mean a swift death. Horses are like deer. They see something unexpected, they freeze for a second, and then they book it on out of there. They don't like to leave the herd. They have no interest in breakfast cocktails. If you try to take your horse to a new brunch place, you need to convince them that a) you've been there before, b) there are no cave trolls at the brunch place, c) there will be other horses at the brunch place, and d) you will be a royal pain in their ass until they quit dicking around and agree to go to the brunch place.

There's a decent wash-out rate when people begin riding horses, for just this reason. It's also why you should begin your equine journey on a five-thousand-year-old Quarter Horse gelding. They've been to a lot of brunch places, and if you give them something resembling the correct cue, they'll do what you say.

Or, you can be kind of a fool, and buy (see picture) a stunningly beautiful three-year-old half-Thoroughbred mare who, if asked to come up with a list of her fears, would instead come up with a (brief) list of not-fears (her own stall, dressage arenas, baths, treats, boy horses). This is not...necessarily...a disaster, if you have a good trainer (thanks, Aurora!) and are not in a rush. But it's not what you would call a good idea.

What happens, though, when you fall in love with an ill-advised horse, is you become kind of a wonderful bitch, in a good way. You have to be braver than you really are, or you'll get hurt. You have to fake it. You have to convince this beautiful, dumb, flighty creature that you are a strong and bossy person who knows what's best. You need to pretend you're a horse, as a rider, in a way you never really have to empathize with your dog or cat. "Oh, there's a plastic bag drifting across the arena. That's terrifying." "That other mare is in heat, and if I get too close to her, she's going to kick me in the face." "Everyone's getting fed right now, so we kind of want to duck out at the gate."

Horses are sublime. They're gorgeous mythical beasts that emerge from antiquity to destroy your bank account and break your collarbone. They're fragile. They're dangerous. They need new shoes every six to eight weeks. They eat your heart. They fall in love with your vet, and deliberately colic themselves in order to spend more time with him.

You are not vitally important to your horse, not really, not like you are to your dog, ever. They never figure out who you are, and why you do the silly things you do. You have to forge a relationship with your horse while knowing that, given the chance, they'd probably rather hang out with their buddies than spend time with you. But then, one day you pull up to the barn, and you realize that your horse has memorized the sound of your car, as opposed to other people's cars, and has wandered over to the gate to greet you.

It makes you feel lucky. Not just "oh, God, I can afford to do this idiotic sport" lucky, which you should feel every day, but some kind of stupid semi-spiritual lucky, because you've managed to connect with an animal ten times your size, and convinced them to ignore every instinct they possess in order to let you clamber onto their back and stick a metal bar in their mouth. It's crazy. It doesn't make any sense.

You're a horse-person now. Maybe it'll pay off when the zombies come, and the gas pumps stop working.

183 Comments / Post A Comment


I am not a horse person but I sure love reading what you say about horses on your blog and here.


love horses:X @k


Vous allez construire une armée pour attaquer d'autres villages et dès que vous reconstruisez le château de clan, vous serez en mesure de rejoindre un clan et commencer à faire les guerres de clan, qui est l'une des choses les plus intéressantes à ce jeu.

clash of clans triche gemmes


I was obsessed with horses when I was a kid. I thought I was over it but that might not be the case after all...


The minute I can afford that idiotic sport again I am getting back on it. Even seeing horses in fields from the road gives me a deep-down yearning to go and snuffle their velvety noses and give them a scratch on the withers. Aw, horses.


I had to give it up to afford college, but I volunteer at a therapeutic riding facility. Occasionally they'll send me out to ride a new horse they are thinking of buying, and I secretly love it when it's an asshole pony that is not suited to us at all. It's just so fun to ride a challenge again!
Also, once or twice an old student has been horse shopping in my neck of the woods and asks me to come along and ride before they hop on the unknown horse.
I live for those days.


haha, fantastic piece of writing!

I am so glad you explained the predator/prey thing. Most of the domesticated animals we interact with are predators like us, so their behavior instinctually makes sense to us. But not prey animals. It's such a crucial distinction. I adopted a house-rabbit a few years back, and it's always very funny teaching people how to interact with him, because he actually loves to play, just not the hunting and pouncing games that people always instinctively want to try with him. He might like rearranging the living room with you instead, or playing games of tossing things back and forth -- but bunnies do not chase their treats!


@harebell Oh, man. My bunnies loved rearranging/hiding games so much. The funnest! I find it so weird now when I see rabbits on things, clearly meant to be all cute and harmless and I'm like... that bunny looks like it is about to charge and/or completely terrified. Probably not the body language the art dept was looking for.

Speaking of cake, I have cake

'or you pretended to be taking jumps over fences during long car rides'

YES ME TOO. So this IS a Thing!


@Speaking of cake, I have cake YES!! I feel like much less of an outcast-child now. I spent hours and hours doing this on the ride from MA to MD every year!


I did this! and I also set up jump courses in the house and cantered over them. With correct striding, and correct leads!

Hot Doom

@The Kendragon I may have shoved towels down the back of my pants to resemble the long, flowing tail of a spirited palomino, whilst trotting proudly around the paddo..dining room table.


@LolaLaBalc Is this where I can admit that most of my minor childhood injuries came from pretending to be a horse - kneeing myself in the nose leaping over jumps, twisting an ankle trotting on uneven ground. Also that I used to eat grass and raw Quaker oats, and neigh at my mom when she made me mad.

Hot Doom

@MollyculeTheory Oh, there was a feedbag involved. I still have a soft spot for raw oats. So, yes, this is a safe space.


@MollyculeTheory My brother used to sit INSIDE the bin of horse food and eat it.

And my sister pretended she was a cat EVERY TIME we took her to the pediatrician until she was like 5, and never broke character.

I am glad to know my family is not so weird.


@MollyculeTheory That was me, but in dog form.


@The Kendragon i may or may not have tied belts together and looped them around my younger siblings' waists as reins and proceeded to 'encourage' them over my homemade hurdles...


@Sailor Jupiter
I cut pictures of horses out of magazines, glued cardboard to the backs, carefully made saddles and bridles, and held them out in front of me while I ran. I also would hit my calves with those sticks that adjust the blinds and make clicking sounds.


@Speaking of cake, I have cake Car ride imaginary horse jumping, cantering around over improvised jumps, spending quite a bit of time perfecting the perfect whinny....oh, we were cute but we took it so seriously.


@Speaking of cake, I have cake It absolutely is a thing! I did it too. Still do, sometimes. Not when I'm driving though.


@Speaking of cake, I have cake I still do that, sometimes even when I'm driving! And I'm nearly 35, and have three horses of my own...


@Speaking of cake, I have cake haha my sisters and me used to make jumps in the garden with old paint cans and sticks. It's nice to known other people were also doing that.


@Speaking of cake, I have cake ALSO, I may or may not have actually made jumps out of tree branches from around my yard, tied my dog to a long string "lead" and taught him to jump them.


@Bobloblaw I frequently say that 'Pinners are my people... but this thread of vaguely embarrassing childhood horse-related antics speaks to me on so so many levels. I love you ladies!

I definitely created horses out of the post and rail fence in my yard, complete with rope stirrups and reins, and I would ride... and feed... the fence.


@AmeliaBadelia I LOVE THAT. My two neighbors and I loved horses and my poor sister did not so every time we "played horses" we made her be the mean, old stablehand. One day she got so angry at us that she climbed into a tree and got stuck and my father ran outside to get her out and that was the first time I ever heard him curse.


@Speaking of cake, I have cake I'm freaking FORTY and I still imagine jumping the fences on horseback...


Oooh, I forgot to add horseback riding (albeit quite rustily at this point) to my list of "Useful Skills for When The Zombies Come"

If you think I don't have an actual list with that title, you don't know me very well.

Reginal T. Squirge

@cherrispryte Nonsense. The horses will be eaten SO FAST IT WILL MAKE YOUR HEAD SPIN.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter No, you only eat the horses that have died of exhaustion. HAS GAME OF THRONES TAUGHT YOU NOTHING?!

Nicole Cliffe

Um, except for when you eat their bloody, still-beating heart in order to assert your dominance as Khaleesi. Which you do, because you are super awesome in every way.


I was forced into Western riding when I was a kid, because my mom thought I'd make a good cowgirl for some reason. I was somewhat terrified the entire time, because a girl in the organization died when trying to do some kind of fancy trick. I did always envy those who took English-style lessons. It seemed so much more elegant and dignified.


@dtowngirl My dad signed me up for English and my mom was so upset. She grew up in a town of 1000 in Nebraska and had never seen an English saddle until she met my dad, who grew up in Vermont.
Now I know how to do both, but Western still freaks me out a little. I feel like I can't communicate with my horse very well. It's like, English is like my native tongue, bareback is like speaking to someone with an accent, and Western is like trying to speak to a German. (I'm almost fluent, but still have to think really hard to converse).
If that makes any sense?
I am so sorry that you were scared, and stupid tricks bug me! I taught my poor students at glacial paces


@The Kendragon I too learned English first and never got the hang of Western. Too much saddle! Holding the reins wrong!

I was The Horsey Girl in my youth and rode for many years, even boarded my own horse in what is now a posh subdivision (it used to be a farm). I miss it a lot, but I'm much more fearful than I was as a kid, unfazed by hundreds of spills.


I was a hypocrite. All students had to be super careful.
Me? that five foot fence? bareback?


Walter Farley!


I was one of those spoiled kids who got riding lessons from mommy and daddy. For a year. After that I shoveled poo, then groomed, then helped with lessons, then trained, then eventually taught lessons. I have the horse virus bad.
My least favorite moment ever was when one of the parents of a student bought her a three year old Arab stud. She had been riding for about 6 months. I got in a massive fight with him and said she wasn't sitting on him in my lesson. He took her somewhere else for a week and she broke an arm.

It actually ended up being perfect though. I let her ride my scruffy, old as hell, used to be a cow pony but was fine with english, only had 1.5 ears, and scarred up, rescue pony. I got to ride the beast, after gelding.
Eventually they got to a good point, and I think she is gunning for a riding scholarship.
Damn. That makes me feel old


@The Kendragon Oh god, on the first pass through I thought that parents bought their three-year-old student an Arab stud. Lord!


@OhMarie She was seven. Not quite three, but not great!


@The Kendragon My Montana relations continue to question the general purpose of English riding.


I am from Montana. they've actually got a good cross country course in Missoula!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I grew up around horses coming from The Wild West, but the last horse I was on, Peaches, threw me while we were galloping. Cracked my helmet in half (thank god I was wearing it) and damaged my hip.

Haven't been back in the saddle since. Horses can be jerks.

Tragically Ludicrous

I don't think I ever really got the Horse Thing. I took riding lessons at summer camp and it sort of terrified me. They are very large and they have their own brains and are scared of things. And are very large. I still don't have much interest in trying again.


@Tragically Ludicrous WORD. I rode a horse for the first time last year and then again for my daughter's birthday in February; the second time around I was able to get comfortable enough to understand why people might be into it, but they are still some scary ass creatures.


@Tragically Ludicrous I was so excited to try riding when i was younger, was obsessed with the saddle club books and then inequality summer in France my parentslet me go to a stables and ride for an hour or so. It was terrifying the horse was huge i had a no idea what i was doing and the French lady in charge just shouted at me in French... Never going riding again!


@Tragically Ludicrous I felt the same way until I met a couple of utterly unflappable Scandanavian horses who work/live at a therapeutic riding place near my house. They are the mellowest of mellow creatures. Every unexpected *thing* is met by a "yeah, well, wev" from them, and they live to have their foreheads scratched.

In fact, I learned from these two that, if you scratch a horse's ear in just the right way, by sticking your fingers into his ear as far as they'll go and rubbing, the horse will make mmmumph-motions with its lips and then just. . . fall over. At which point you can rub their bellies.

Everything Scandanavian seems to be laid-back and furry. Even the cows I met in Denmark conformed to this pattern: I laid down in a cowfield and they came over, bangs over their eyes, and were all, "Hey. You're lying on the ground. You okay? Okay. Rub my head." I strongly recommend any Scandanavian Animal for getting over your fear of a particular species.


Gah, I still have the bug, and I miss it more than anything. It is quite a feat to be able to continue it into adulthood.


HORSIES! This was beautiful, Nicole.

I was privileged enough to get a couple of weeks at summer horseback riding camp. Mostly I remember being mad that my parents made me wear my rainboots instead of getting me real riding boots, and my bike helmet instead of the little velvet hat. (The bike helmet probably served me better when my horse balked at a jump and I fell off.)

Now, though, I just think they are beautiful and strong and somewhat dim creatures. My commute to my old job went past a farm with a bunch of horses and it made my mornings. Later they added llamas, which was.... perplexing.


@anachronistique off topic, but HELLO FELLOW KORRA FAN. i didn't expect to see you here.




I also refused to talk to my ex for about two weeks because he would get all high and mighty and convinced he knew more about horses than I did, and we disagreed about the breed of horse the prince was riding in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" movie.
Apparently there is still some resentment there....


@The Kendragon SO TRUE. I also hate when Hollywood tries to pass off Friesians (as beautiful as they are) as Andalusians. FEATHERS, people.


I KNOW! Good freaking god, and they are built so differently! UGH


I never did horse riding lessons because when I had the opportunity, aged four, I insisted on always wearing dresses. Apparently that is not suitable horse-riding apparel (despite what films might have you believe).


@katiethegreat I too went through a stage where I would only wear dresses. This was because I did not like the word 'jean'.


@editrickster @katiethegreat
I refused to wear anything with buttons (other than jeans and pants) for about ten years of my life. If mom tried to put me in something with buttons, I would take it off and go naked in public.


@The Kendragon Haha! I still pretty much refuse to wear anything with buttons; I had a nightmare once where I got strangled by a polo shirt?


@katiethegreat When I was 4-5, I would *only* wear dresses because my year-older-than-me-and-kind-of-a-bully best friend told me that if I wore pants, I would turn into a boy. My mom never really forgave her for that...


Though I am a lady who had riding lessons as a child and thus got it all out of her system (Thanks, Tracey The Cranky Pony who tried to scrape me off like a burr onto every single fence post or tree we ever encountered together!), I enjoyed this very much. And your horse is so pretty!


@City_Dater: Ditto, ditto and ditto - just replace "Tracey the Cranky Pony" with "Buster the Cranky Bay."


@Bittersweet Ditto 4x: replace with Jimmy the crabby Welsh fatso.


I was one of those annoying little girls who had their own pony. I miss riding.


@likethestore Me too. It's the #1 thing I hate about now living in a city. I try to ride whenever I go home, but man, am I wimpy about jumping when I only ride every 4 months or so.


@WWVMD When I look back onto my horsey years I can't believe some of the stuff I did that I wouldn't do now for a million dollars (jumping/eventing - was my mother crazy, letting a tiny little girl go on a big horse over 3 foot jumps??, shoveling poop, etc).


@likethestore I was also one of those girls. Lucky for me, my mom never outgrew that phase and still has a pony. I'll ride him a few times a year, but it's nice not making the time/blood/seat/tears/money commitment. Her pony is game for anything I ask of him, except moving expeditiously. He always need me to remind him that I'm the boss.

dj pomegranate

I once briefly dated a dude who said that he thought riding horses was cruel and he would never allow his children to do anything of the sort and anyway, horses aren't all that great anyway, what's the big deal? Obvs, we broke up.

Reginal T. Squirge

@dj pomegranate That was you?


@dj pomegranate I'll bet he ate hamburgers, though. Cause there's nothing cruel about that at all. Plus, the domestication of the horse is the foundation of human culture & technology!


Ever since I read The Scorpio Races, whenever I read or hear something about horses, I'm all like, yeah whatever, but your horse isn't about to EAT YOU ALIVE.

that book was intense.

Reginal T. Squirge

Hey, thanks for doing the EXACT THING I POLITELY ASKED YOU NOT TO DO. Now that we have the process down, can you please NOT post about how to get out of deep, unending depression?

Also, "this... dumb.. creature " and "It's crazy. It doesn't make any sense."

I rest my case.

Reginal T. Squirge

@Where Pies Go When They Die Haha. I was half-joking. But since you asked... yes, I started seeing a therapist a few months ago and it has proved completely useless if not detrimental.

It's a bunch of fucking snake oil, it is. I know I'm supposed to look around for a better therapist but that sounds like such an awful process. I have enough problems with dating anxiety and auditioning therapists sounds like that times a million.

Nicole Cliffe

@ReginalTSquirge@twitter That sounds completely awful, I'm so sorry.

Reginal T. Squirge

@Nicole Cliffe Ah! How did we get here!? I was just trying to make jokes about horses all day! Let's just get back to the horse jokes!

Nicole Cliffe

We can do that! Um, how about: "why are you so neigh-gative?"

Reginal T. Squirge

@Nicole Cliffe Yes! Thank you!

Also, how come nobody ever talks about how much Javier Bardem looks exactly like a horse? Like, the same way Snoop Dogg looks like a Doberman. I think Javier Bardem should start a rap career and call himself Charlie Horse. Somebody get Puffy on the phone.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter This is all I'm going to be able to think next time I see Javier Bardem or Snoop Dogg.

Like, they're gonna wonder why I'm not texting them back now! Damn it, Hairpin. :(



But! Once you fire a few therapists, it becomes way easier to tell other people in your real life "no." I had an amazing therapist a couple of years ago, and now I am way too picky and haven't found a good one again. I went through a "fuck this shit, I don't need no therapy" phase but now I'm ready to have health insurance again so I can go back. Because once you find the therapist who fits, it's so worth it. I dread trying to find the right one in my new town, but therapists are trained to be nice and nonjudgmental and shit, so they're generally super non-threatening about seeing someone else if it's not working.

Reginal T. Squirge

@che The same things could be said about dating, so let's just go ahead and do that...

"But! Once you break up with a few women, it becomes way easier to tell other people in your real life 'no.' I had an amazing girlfriend a couple of years ago, and now I am way too picky and haven't found a good one again. I went through a 'fuck this shit, I don't need no relationship' phase but now I'm ready to have sex appeal again so I can go back. Because once you find the woman who fits, it's so worth it. I dread trying to find the right one in my new town, but women are trained to be nice and nonjudgmental and shit [ed. note: ok, it kinda goes off the rails here but still, women are supposed to be the "fairer sex"], so they're generally super non-threatening about seeing someone else if it's not working."

Both instances sound like equally dreadful experiences to me.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter But *if* that anxiety is something you want to try to rid yourself of, auditioning therapists is an OK way because it's just... less messy? For me, at least. If I go on a date and it sucks, I feel weird and don't want to run into that person around town and maybe feel bad about myself, etc., way more than if I see a therapist a few times and it doesn't work. Maybe it wouldn't feel that way for you, but I have some wicked social anxiety, and I personally find therapy a slightly-less-intimidating social situation. Maybe because I view therapy as more of a business-relationship ("I am paying you to help me") than a loaded personal relationship.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter therapy did nothing for me (i can't talk to a stranger!) yoga and knitting helps, a lot! and keeping track of your cues. know what upsets you so when upset you can step back and know what's bothering you instead of drowning in depression or screaming at everyone.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter I used to see a shrink and it was fun whining for a bit. I am having a rough spot now, and while I feel other people would tell me to go back, I like to just ask myself snoopy-shrink-questions and then spend an hour telling the shrink in my head why it's useless to talk to them because it doesn't help anything. It doesn't help anything, doing this either, but should someone tell me to go see a shrink, BAM will I ever have a rebuttal. aaaaahg stupid brains.


(I am afraid of horses.)


Oh my yes me too so much. Strange perhaps, given that a horse would probably never bother you unless you purposely harass it.


Somewhere in the big pasture in the sky is a black quarter horse mare named Beauty who used to do lessons at the Aqua Barn outside of Seattle. That horse was a SAINT, okay. Bless her. No matter how ridiculous the child on her back was being, you couldn't get more than a half-hearted trot out of her.

I was the worst kind of Horsey Girl: the one who was convinced she knew everything despite never really riding beyond the zoo ponies. For a year, I had a mostly-Arab gelding who was 12 and had never really been well-trained to riding. I was 10 and wanted to do Western, which would have dwarfed him. He threw me weekly, neither of us knew what we were doing, and I miss him every day. I'm 31 and I still have been known to ask to pet police horses.


@ipomoea ...are we not supposed to still pet the cops' horses? I have no compunction about it at all, because HORSE HORSE HORSE.

There's a place in heaven for the schoolmasters of the world. The first time I came an English lesson after years away, I got halfway up into the saddle and almost fell off. The elderly gelding waited until I was back on the ground, then he sighed, shifted all of his hooves outward for better balance, and stood like a rock until I was up. Everyone in the barn adored him, he was a mainstay of the TR program, and he ended his life being loved to pieces.


Oh man, last year I started taking riding lessons and totally fell in love with it. I was always given this incredibly stubborn and incredibly lazy horse named Chestnut. My instructor said to think of him like a stoned out frat boy. Then I got my boyfriend to start taking lessons with me and I pawned off Chestnut on him.

Had to put lessons on the back burner though, I just can't afford it.


@ginalouise the image of you and your boyfriend taking riding lessons, with him on Chestnut the stoned out frat boy horse, oh my god. i'm dying. it's so cute/hilarious


"Oh, you really want to go to the brunch place? Okay, I thought we were just dicking around out here."


As silly and delightful as this article generally was, it was still hard for me to read. :( My horse (my own beautiful but flighty Thoroughbred mare) was killed this January in a barn fire, along with twenty one other horses - some of whom I'd known and ridden since I was in high school. I'd had my horse for eight years, and she was more than a friend or a partner or a companion or a pet. I miss her all of the time. I still try and ride every weekend - on all of the new, flighty horses that we've picked up (who'd mostly been abandoned) to try and regain what we lost in the fire - but I miss her, and what I had so much. Horses have been an incredibly important part of my life, and it's always hard for me to explain that to people. They're really amazing creatures.

Nicole Cliffe

So many condolences for your loss. I have nightmares about barn fires. I hope she's spooking at wheelbarrows in the great, grassy pasture in the sky. <3 u, rivetingrosie :(

Hot Doom

@rivetingrosie I'm so sorry to hear that. It sounds like those horses were well-loved.

Amanda Davis@facebook

@rivetingrosie OMG! I am so sorry! That is my worst nightmare and I cannot imagine losing my mom's two "boys" (as we affectionately call her horses) like that. They truly are amazing creatures and I hope once she crossed over the rainbow bridge to the pasture in the sky that she is looking down on you and your new horseys. I hope you find one who can bring the bond you used to have with her again. :(

Liza Oestreich@facebook

@rivetingrosie Somehow every single time you mention Tecca I end up crying in my studio apartment in NY. A non horse person will never and could never understand that kind of loss. My heart goes out to you all over again...


@rivetingrosie Oh, internet hug for you. That is terrible.


@rivetingrosie I'm so terribly sorry for you. I'm welling up with tears for you just thinking about it.


@rivetingrosie That's so horrible. As someone who's had plenty of dogs who've died, it's still so hard hearing about the violent death of a horse. I was a kid when my mom's horse spooked while on cross-ties (not quick-release) in a barn with a concrete floor. He reared up and fell down very hard, hitting his head. My mom pulled me out of school the next morning so I could be there when we buried him. Thinking about it now makes me cry and that was almost twenty years ago. I'm so sorry for your loss.


All I think of when I see this is, "Pretty horsie in the picture. Pretty!"


I'm not really a horse person but I did have the sweetest pony when I was kid. This was only possible because I lived in the middle of nowhere and my dad was a veterinarian.

Said pony ("Frosty") would let me fall asleep on him while I kept my mom company when she was clearing brush. Once he stepped on my foot and I sat down and bawled (I must have been like 6 or 7) and he came over and nuzzled me until I shut up. What a sweet guy!


@geometree Awwww, I had a totally cranky, super chubby brown pony and he was awful to ride, but I used to sleep on him all the time. Dusty, sun-warm pony backs are the best napping ground ever.


@christonacracker I really hope he looked like Kate Beaton's Fat Pony



@geometree not that far off, actually.


@geometree Awww that's adorable! I once fell off my horse while cantering and it accidentally stepped on my hip (actually she was very close to breaking it but managed to only pinch the skin, not the bone). She immediately turned around, walked over to me and started nuzzling me.


I'm so excited about this post I can't believe it. So, I was an insanely lucky and grew up the daughter of two horse trainers, have been through my fair share of serious injuries but managed not to break a bone! Knock on wood. Today I was running to make my train to work and tripped on the top step of the down escalator to the platform and honestly thought I'd broken my leg. In all honesty my first thought was, I have spent 20+ years jumping possibly actually insane horses around obstacle courses and of course I'd break my leg just trying to get on the stupid train in the city. Turned out I'd just twisted my knee. Anyway, I've been waiting to relay this anecdote to someone and I'm glad I was finally able to get it out on the 'Pin.


After spending the last 3 years in physical therapy after a 15-year old ranch horse inexplicably became terrified of a pair of discarded paid of neon running shorts and decided to smash several of my bones -- I am down with petting horsie noses but not so into the idea of climbing on top of such an unpredictable, dumb animal again. The 4 other horse-women in the ER with me that day agreed (the horse carnage in a rural ER is on a holiday weekend is spectacular).


@christonacracker I once had a patient come into the Planned Parenthood clinic where I worked and announce that, given that she had a broken pelvis (sustained the day before), she needed the NP to be particularly gentle during her pelvic exam.

When I asked how she'd broken her pelvis, she said it happened while she was trying to stop a stallion from running down the barn. She'd held on to his halter as he ran. I asked why she hadn't just let go, and she said, (looking at me as though I were an idiot), "That would've taught him it was okay to run away."

Horse people have balls.

Amanda Davis@facebook

Everything about this is SO true! I grew up with a mom who owned horses in her teenage years, but as a child, due to financial reasons, we couldn't afford horses/riding lessons....so it wasn't really passed down to me. Until my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 and a half years ago and she decided she wanted to live the life of her dreams. After she fought the cancer for a year and went into remission, my parents moved to a new home with a barn and miles and miles of trails around it. Now she has Rio (a 6 year old Paint) and Breaker (a 6 year old Quarterhorse) and I fell in love with them and riding immediately (and I'm 25!) I take lessons, go on trail rides, shovel shit, get stepped on, get thrown off, etc etc whenever I possibly can! I LOVE every thing about horses...even shoveling the shit, seriously.


my childhood horse obsession manifested itself via coming up with like, a million awesome (awful) horse names all the time. for horses i did not own, and would never own. for horses i saw driving by. for horses i drew (i also "drew" a lot of horses).

you know the type. starfire. sunshine. rainbow. apple. sunapple. firerainbow. starshine. chelsea. starlight. lightshine. ummm what other combos am i missing here


@redheaded&crazie also i went to horseback riding camp and got bitten by a horse and also maybe let one of the horses escape by accident


thus ended my horse obsession


i still dream about sunapple

raised amongst catalogs

@redheaded&crazie I wasn't bitten by the horse at my summer camp but it stepped on my toe and broke it. HOOOOORSE!


@vanillawaif i don't care if that horse is prey or some shit, he's a total friggin jerk!!!!!!!!

raised amongst catalogs

@redheaded&crazie Also, this seems to be the only place I can share this where people might understand. When I was in elementary school, there was this great girl who was our Horse Girl. I know every school, possibly every class, had one. She lived and breathed horses. She drew horses all of the time. We would write our own stories and illustrate them, and then present them to the third-grade class and hers were always. about. horses. She came to my house one day to play and we went nuts playing with My Little Ponies, and then we turned on the t.v. and horse racing was on and we screamed with joy. She had one leg that was slightly shorter than the other and so she had one tall shoe and one regular shoe. Her family was so polite and she and her brothers all said, "I beg your pardon?" instead of "What?" or "Huh?" as most of the other kids did.
She moved away in sixth grade and I always thought of her somewhere, still polite and probably still in love with horses.
I Googled her three nights ago and found out she died almost ten years ago at the age of 26.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. She is so alive in my mind and perpetually an elementary schooler, but she is actually dead and has been for so long.


@vanillawaif oh wow. that is so sad and scary. nobody expects to die by age 26 eh?

I have to say I've been feeling kind of morbid lately! Very like, I could die in a car accident tomorrow. Your story makes me feel slightly more reasonable about it. (Is that bad?)


also very worried about people in my life. mostly my siblings. i think that's an older sibling thing.

also just to tie me being morbid back into horses, i also (i think everyone) struggle with depictions of horses in wars and battles and that kind of thing. horses getting hurt! because of humans. ugh i can't even.


@redheaded&crazie I had over a thousand imaginary horses, all documented.

raised amongst catalogs

@redheaded&crazie I also have the morbid thing going on right now -- it is not uncommon for me to say to my boyfriend, "See you later, unless I die in a car accident on the way home." He thinks I'm nuts but IT HAPPENS TO PEOPLE EVERY DAY. I also spoke to a good friend recently who said that he keeps thinking about himself falling out of a window in a tall building, but he's not depressed or suicidal or the like.
I am also extremely worried about the people I know and love! What is doing this to us?


@vanillawaif maybe it's because the world is supposed to end this year - gotta take advantage while we still can!


Marguerite Henry books - check
National Velvet - check
pretending to take jumps on long car rides - check

I haven't really ridden since I stopped lessons in 10th grade, and every once in a while I will think that I miss it and would like to maybe take it up again, but then:

"You are further from the ground. You do not bounce upon making contact with the ground, so much as splat. You are closer to being aware of your own mortality." CHECK!


@mustelid Yes to all of the above. I even dragged my very understanding father to Chincoteague on a road trip up the East Coast.
I think Nicole forgot Black Beauty in this post, but she did put it in a previous post about awesome free Kindle books.


Ah, this made my night! Everything is so true, and also hilarious. I am a horse person on horse-hiatus, unfortunatly being poor doesn't go along well with horse ownership. But as soon as I can...back to being that crazy horse person!


Oh gosh guys wow gosh ohh am I ever excited about this post. I did a lot of sewing for my Breyer horses (saddles, bridles, gorgeous cloaks - the basics) and then shoveled so much poop to pay for lessons, yes! This whole post is delicious fantasy wish fulfillment for me, since I live in the city and have a huge big dog who is partly a substitute horse? More please.


@photoalice Mine had the fanciest paper towel horse blankets that barn ever did see.

i kant even

horses are amazing, and amazingly expensive. i tell any friends who are thinking of getting their kids riding lessons or starting riding themselves to practice lighting their money on fire. haha. but whatever, my horses are awesome and they make me so happy, so it's money well spent.


I've always been afraid of horses! Too much watching old movies where horses and their riders roll off (thanks for all the viewings of Dances with Wolves, Dad). But wanna hear about a time I went horseback riding a few years ago? Yes? No? Yes?

Sometimes I am filled with overconfidence in abilities I don't have. I always felt like I should be into horses even though I never was, so when my friend agreed to let me ride (read: let her trot us around a ring while I sat in a saddle) I was like sure yeah why not! So I rode around on her horse named....Albert? Sure, Albert, why not. After our "ride," she let Albert out in the field, which she said that the horses took as play time. While Albert was calmly eating some hay in the field, sans saddle and reins, we got into a discussion about how it looks so glamorous to be that girl riding bareback with her hair blowing in the wind. We thought it wouldn't be hard at all to do. So, calling forth my awesome horse-ing abilities, I sized up the enormous horse and decided that I'd go first. My friend (she should have known better, right??) hoisted me up on Albert and I sat there all proud, like psssh this is easy. And, of course, thinking that I was playing, he just takes off galloping into the field. I clutch his neck in a death grip and think CRAP I HAVE TO GET OFF THIS HORSE.

All these thoughts came to me, like do I jump? Do I hang on? Do I ride out west and herd cattle? Do I stand up like I'm in the circus? By this time, I wasn't even sitting anymore I was just laying on Albert, like planking on him. Of course, then gravity and a slippery horse decided that I was just going to ever so slightly slide to one side and do a nice tumble/somersault into a recently cleared pile of brush. Then I curled up into a ball and hoped he would step on my head. Haven't been on a horse since.


@EllyHigginbottom That should say *wouldn't* step on my head. Bad, right?


You always call those 'unscheduled dismounts'
NEVER 'falls.'


i just bought a three and a half year old baby mare too! her name is cleo, and she is perfect =) 3/4 warmblood, 1/4 tb, and when i got her she was fat and lazy and now she is muscled up and wild and every time i ride her with other horses in the ring she squeals and tries to gallop and GOD I JUST LOVE HER. sorry, rant over, just thought some people here might understand my horse love madness! because it's the best kind of madness ever.


@Creta_Kano Warmbloods are so awesome. When my mom had a warmblood, he had the nicest disposition and was such a dream to ride. Oh and I was super far from the ground in kinda scary but mostly super fantastic way. I'm a short person who's mostly ridden overgrown ponies and Arabs, with the occasional quarter horse thrown in, so yeah, warmbloods are so big and awesome. Cleo sounds great!


This is the story of what happens when a horse (aka a prey-type person) ties to ride a horse.

One time in my early 20s my mum and I went to visit my cousins. One morning I woke up to the sounds of my mum and my uncle having a huge hairy screaming fight downstairs. Afterwards my uncle was rattled and wanted to take me to the barn to meet his horse, I guess to try and salvage some good memories from the day. I felt a lot of pressure to go with him, despite having no desire to meet a horse.

We got to the stables and my uncle brought out an enormous young stallion and got on him and they raced around the barn alarmingly for about 10 minutes while I watched in creeping terror, knowing my uncle was eventually going to try to make me ride this horse.

My uncle got off the horse and stood beside him grinning proudly. The horse looked very excited. My uncle really wanted me to try a short "walk-around" on the horse. I felt enormous pressure to help him turn this bad day around, and equally enormous misgivings. I knew literally zero things about sitting on being near or riding a horse.

I climbed on very awkwardly. My uncle did not give me a helmet (foreshadowing!). I felt like I was a million feet off the ground. My uncle let go of the stallion's reigns and after two seconds the horse was moving just way too fast. I had no idea what to do so I clung to him, digging my heels into his sides. He immediately shot forward -- now we were racing at a blinding speed towards the wall. I saw the wall getting really big and I had no idea how to make the horse turn or whether I could even stay on him if he did, so I kind of hurled myself off and to the side. Apparently my head hit a metal beam.

I woke up vomiting into straw and not knowing who I was. Then I got an MRI and had a black eye and a concussion. Now I start sweating at just the thought of being around horses.

oh! valencia

@kapitalk OMG, that is horrible.


Oh, man, so many feelings. I am fortunate enough right now that I have a place to ride (ponies! I'm just barely short enough for the larges, lol), and it is what is keeping me sane in grad school, let me tell you. There is nothing that will keep you grounded like a three year old pony who has to use all of his brains to balance with a rider at the walk.

ANYWAY. Nicole, if you are still reading this, I feel like you would appreciate this anecdote. Once upon a time, several years ago, I was a working student at a barn, and the owner took on a couple of horses to make into trail horses. The owner of these horses was a middle-aged woman who was relatively new to riding. The horses were two year old Thoroughbred fillies who were barely halterbroke and on a diet of sweet feed with a ridiculous amount of corn in it. We had three months to accomplish this task, most of which involved transitioning them off the corn. One of the fillies put on a show like a rodeo horse when she first had a saddle on, but ended up being relatively quiet. The other filly, who was stunningly beautiful, broke quietly but routinely jumped out of the 4.5 foot high paddock she was kept in. She did not become relatively quiet, but she remained breathtakingly beautiful and could have sold for a fortune as a hunter or show jumper. The owner never came to visit and watch them work, and then was shocked when she got them home and they were two year old fillies who knew how to go under saddle and had been on trails, but were still Thoroughbred fillies. As far as I know, they are still rotting in a field. The end. Moral: Thoroughbreds are beautiful, but you have GOT to know what you are doing.

Why is this relevant? Because I have nothing but admiration for your commitment to the TB mares of the world. And you are totally right about Quarter Horses.


All of this beautiful post. All of it. Except I'll probably never own a horse. I was horse-mad as a girl, gave up at 19 and returned to it in my thirties. I'm stuck in a kind of arrested development wherein I think that every horse someone lets me ride is simply AMAZING.

I'm operating on a kind of bucket list principle now. My last ride was a classical dressage lesson on Sasa, who's in this video at 1.25. Purebred Lusitano, 8th in the world at working equitation, worth more than every other horse I've ever ridden combined. Before that I rode a big, grey hunter sidesaddle (over jumps!) and then there was this Arab-Barb called Mel, and and and


I write books about horses now and it's never going to pay me enough to own my own, but I have some crazy adventures lined up, I do.


We've all watched 'Buck', right?


When mystified people ask me why i do it, I generally say that they're like crack. Expensive, addictive, and dangerous. Can't stop though! I've got three of them, used to ride and rehab problem horses for a living, and still teach at the place where I keep them to help with the keep bills. I had to give up doing it as a career after breaking my neck and being lucky enough to walk away from it, and then a car crash that reawakened the old injury. I needed a job that 1) paid enough to keep them and 2) I could do from a wheelchair if I had another serious accident. I miss working with them though, every day that it's not raining! I am a total fair weather rider these days. And it's my youngest chap's second birthday today - happy birthday Dexter! (Yes, named after Dexter Morgan.)


@Es My cocker spaniel is named Dexter, also after the blood spatter analyst.


What an awesome piece. Thanks for bringing me back to my horsey days!


I will say, favorite horse name ever was "Crack Cocaine" I didn't realize the thinking behind it until I rode him at a show, and was announced as "Number 1811, The Kendragon, on Crack Cocaine."
I was forcing back laughter so hard I think I nearly cracked all the ribs.


Thanks for this, Nicole! I definitely teared up reading the part about the horse memorizing the sound of your particular car. It is so true, and probably one of the best feelings in the world when you realize they're not entirely indifferent to you after all. I plan to print this out and hang it on my fridge...just to remind myself how blessed I am that I get to experience this wonder that is the horse every day.


@Equestrienne Me too! I got a new car in November and mine haven't learned it yet.

Elvis Costello's Spectacles

I have just started riding again, and am going for a hack on Sunday! My steed is a stubborn Fjord horse with an amazing punk-rock black-and-white mane. I like him because food is his favourite thing in the whole world, and I can identify with that.


I finally, FINALLY, got to ride a horse a couple of years ago. I had always been a wee bit apprehensive about the whole horse thing after my childhood best friend and I were offered the opportunity to get on our neighbor's horse. I let Nicole go first. She promptly fell off, the horse spooked, and completely crushed her leg. Needless to say, I did not get my turn on the horse and it took 25 years for me to finally get one!

I had fully planned on taking riding lessons after I got this big raise at work. But then my loser husband got laid off and didn't get a job for a year. And now loser husband is major loser ex-husband and I don't have enough money for lessons :-( I wanna ride a horsie.


Waah, this makes me so nostalgic! I rode Western all through middle school, but it got crazy expensive, & also the stable near where I live shut down? :( I want to ride again so badly, but the only thing I sometimes get to do is trail rides & they never let you do anything fun on those.


This post perfectly demonstrates why I feel at home at The Hairpin. I never thought I'd find an article/group of people/lively discussion about childhood horse memories. And speaking of which, did anyone else completely DEVOUR The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series?


@orangeyouglad THE SADDLE CLUBBBBB oh good god


@orangeyouglad YES! I read all of both series... religiously. I also read the "Misty of Chincoteaque" books and then was totally dumbfounded that Chincoteague is A REAL PLACE! Then I went there and met all the ponies and took 8 billion pictures and it was the best thing I've ever done in my whole life.


@AmeliaBadelia and the little ponies at Chincoteague are little goddamned assholes, which still makes me sad. They have: stolen popcorn out of my adoring niece's hands, bit me, bit my daughter, and spit on my car. LITTLE JERK PONIES WHERE IS MISTY?


@orangeyouglad YESSSSS!!! And did you get SO MAD when they did that weird crap with the Thoroughbred series where Joanna Campbell stopped writing them and then they jumped forward like twenty years and suddenly Ashleigh was in a coma and her daughter was riding eventers and SOLD WONDER'S LAST FOAL?!!?!?!? WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT ABOUT!?!?!?


Second-to-last-paragraph does sound remarkably like a cat, though.

And now want to take a horse to brunch.

Samantha Calmly-Week@twitter

I have a pony picked out for my daughter already. She isn't due for another 2 and a half months.

My poor, poor, husband did not know what he was getting into when he married me.


Oh man. This gave me so many Feelings. I grew up with parents in the horse business, and I was mostly on horses, in stalls, haylofts, tack closets and show arenas between the ages of 4 and 18. At that point, I had to (i.e. was not given a choice) sell my baby, my angel, the horse that bounced off me immediately after crashing over backward on me, which prevented me from dying under his weight. Parents divorced while I was in college, and no more horses for me. Tiniest violin, I know, but it's amazing to think of how horses completely defined my early life and how I now haven't been on a horse in probably 10 years.

Nicole, your mare is a stunner! What a face and an attractive neckset and such a shiny, shiny coat.


I always think of the zombie apocalypse as my horse moment to shine. Since I fall into the late 20-something category of this article, a college career of jumpers is already out of my timeframe.

I really love every word of this and I love you, Nicole. Can't wait for Really Good Books about Horses. Can. Not. Wait.


I was a Horse Girl but my only time riding was at age six on an old pony. WELL. Sitting, not riding. I was nervous. Then when I was 27 or so I thought it might be fun to go up to the mountains with a group to go horseback riding. Well. My horse was an old jerk, I wasn't authoritative enough to come off as anything but a prey animal, my horse kicked my friend in the leg, and I actually used the words "I want to go home." Then I stepped in manure just before we got on the van to go back but didn't realize it until we were well on our way. SIGH.


I can see the concern on your mare's face. Maybe if she learned that the new brunch place has a buffet table.

that one girl

oh, horse memories! my horse was afraid of the standard paper bags and cats, but also children riding bikes. which was unfortunate, since the stables were in a suburban development, surrounded by bike trails. good times! if i hadn't fallen in love with the trapeze, i'm sure all my disposable income would be thrown at horses.

Much Ado

Oh, horses! This post & the comments make me so, so happy and also totally teary.
My horse was a gorgeous, cranky bugger of mostly Arab with a little TB thrown in for extra crazy, pretended to hate everyone but would be waiting with his head hanging over the fence to say hello at the exact time I got home from school every single day. Or would let himself into the house via the laundry door to join me watching tv in the basement. I miss his face.


Thanks for this lovely post! I always was, and always will be a horse-person.


Totally awesome! You've definitely pegged us to a "T"! I gave up riding years ago when my Arabian passed away. Kinda lost my nerve. But I did find the most awesome substitute- MINIATURES! Sweet, charming and gentle, I can do almost anything with them that you can with a biggie but ride them! And MUCH cheaper to feed! I have a gelding that pulls a cart and I can pretty much drive him anywhere. If you not sure about the big'uns, please go meet a Mini- you'll fall in love!


@TxMiniatureHorse aw this sounds lovely :-) I don't think I could ever afford to own a normal sized horse so maybe I'll look into minis someday!


Why say get a quarter horse when you start out "later in life"???? A older well broke gated horse makes much more sense unless someone just loves getting bounced around! If you ever ride gated-you will never want to bounce on a quarter horse again!!


My mom doesn't have /very/ many reasons to be disappointed in me, but her biggest one is probably the fact that I never inherited the "horse crazy" gene. Even though I grew up w/ a mother who loved horses and kept horses, my riding career was a few brief years of late childhood-early teenhood, and then I quit for good.
That said, I have managed to learn a few things, and some of them directly apply here, namely:
*More and more, it's becoming less advisable to shoe a horse, or at least to keep them shod year-round. Our horses are unshod, and just receive regular visits from the farrier to get their feet trimmed.
*Clicker-training does WONDERS w/ horses.

Ruben Procopio@facebook

I'm a horsehusband and totally understand every dot and comma you wrote! It's as if you were peaking through our window... Every horse owner should read this!


I love... LOVE... horses. They are my favorite animal. I grew up all around horses but to be honest, I never felt totally comfortable being in control of one. I think this is because the horse my mother owned for my entire life up to age 14 (RIP Kayne) was a spirited little Arabian gelding my mom broke herself (I don't think she did a very good job. Then again, it can be HARD to break the spunkier breeds). So, needless to say I was never given responsibility of him other than feeding and I got thrown a few times. I still love to ride, though. Just no more Arabians. Give me the 15 year old quarterhorse gelding any day. :-)


Ahhhhhhh, I rode for YEARS but could never afford to lease, buy, or show. I wore out our tapes of National Velvet and The Black Stallion. When I saw The Black Stallion Returns I was so emotional that my mom put me to bed. And eerily the only video in our collection that I wasn't allowed to watch as a kid was Equus, which I naturally became obsessed with as a teenager, much to my mother's concern, again.

Cathy Atkinson@twitter

Great blog! And I have to agree with you, your mare IS stunningly gorgeous. Like anything else, sometimes you fall in love first on looks and then discover the other stuff you are gonna have to deal with/retrain, LOL. :-)

Nicole Cliffe

@Cathy Atkinson@twitter FUGLY!!!! I love YOUR (old) blog.


@Cathy Atkinson@twitter No waaaaaayyyyy! All of my favorite corners of the internet are colliding, I had no idea that you were a 'Pinner.

I'm in the process of pony-shopping for my 4 month old son, so, uh, yeah, I'm a horse person and this article really speaks to me. (It would be "his" pony, but it's one of those gifts that's really for me. I want a driving pony!)


Let me tell you, when you're The Girl With Horses in grade school, you never know who your real friends are. Everyone just wants to come over and ride your horses. After years of early morning feeding/stall mucking/hoof picking/etc, all I wanted to do was giggle over Teen Beat and talk about the latest The Babysitters Club books.

EVERYONE came to my birthday parties, though.


As someone who competes in eventing, I love the analogy of getting a horse to go to a new brunch place. It takes a lot to get them to trust you because they don't know if the new brunch place is frequented by alligators or actually a cover up for the dullest dressage lesson ever.
And I'm still horse crazy after 16 years.


This is an excellent article on the basics of horse riding in general. I love the way you have presented factual information in a manner that is not too difficult to understand. As a fan of horse racing since the past few years, I had to really struggle in order to find valuable information about the sport. Recently, I came across this online game called Horse Racing Fantasy which is available for a free download. It contains great 3D graphics and excellent gameplay features which make it an ideal gaming solution for horse racing fanatics as well as casual fans of the sport.

Erin Smith@facebook

Love this! Just bought a mare in January. : )


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