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Life After Racing: Horses and Husbands
Friday, January 22, 2016 - by Charlotte Gelston

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Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s riding or driving, for show or for pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite Standardbreds. This month, Charlotte Gelston writes about the men behind the women in the pleasure horse world.


Photo by Sandy Kean https://baskwoodphotos.smugmug.com/
The author rates Dana Rindge, shown with wife, Kathie, and her Quarter Horse, "Dazzle," as an "11" on her scale of spousal enthusiasm for the pleasure horse hobby.

There is a phenomenon in the equine pleasure world known as the “horse husband.”  Although these kind-hearted men have no personal interest in horses, they nevertheless permit their wives to indulge in their own equine hobby.  “Horse husbands” range from the extreme of “barely tolerant” on one end of the spectrum to “unabashedly enthusiastic” on the other. The former (a 1 on the scale) adopt the attitude of “I’ll let you have a horse, but don’t expect me to have anything to do with it.” The latter (a 10 on the scale) are the ones who regularly help around the barn. Husbands in this category accompany their wives on driving events, whether acting as groom, navigator, or simply a spectator cheering them on.  


On this topic, a friend’s husband jokingly said, “A lot of horse husbands fall into the category of ‘Ex’!”  (I’d rate those as minus 10 on the scale).  Another said, “I am “emotionally supportive” (a 6), but I adhere to my ‘one fence rule.’  There must be at least one fence between me and the horse!” A third friend’s husband, not content with acting as navigator, learned to drive. This put him over the top, an “overly enthusiastic 11,” and now she has to share her horse.


My husband, Todd, rates himself as an 8, in his own words, “happily supportive.”  Having been raised on a dairy farm, he understands cows better than he does horses, but he does know how to produce excellent hay. He cultivates and harvests our hayfields in addition to working as a full-time aeronautical engineer. He built a hay barn to store the hay in the loft, and lets me use the first floor for the horses. I cannot call it a horse barn. The horses are secondary to the hay, because the surplus hay is sold.


I truly appreciate all his hard work. Without our hay crop, I would not have been able to have horses of my own, or board for others at a reasonable rate.  He also does the fence installation and upkeep, and drives the trailer many times a year when I go to club-sponsored pleasure drives. However, he does not do any barn chores on a regular basis. This seems a fair division of labor to me, as I do not know how to build a barn, make hay or drive a Ram 3500 diesel pulling a 21-foot stock trailer.


Once in a while, however, he will surprise me by offering to help me clean. One particular day 11 years ago, I was behind in my manure pickup detail. It had rained for several days. I was about to start cleaning the run-in shed and field, which my recently adopted Standardbred stallion, “Jet” (Lord John), shared with “Neal,” a boarder’s Morgan gelding.  Much to my delight, Todd offered to assist me. 

“Wonderful!”  I said, ”But remember, ignore Jet. You are a total stranger to him. He will leave you alone as long as you leave him alone.” I thought I had communicated clearly.

As soon as we started cleaning the shed, Jet came in to inspect the stranger accompanying “his human” (me). He stood between Todd  and me, scrutinizing him from head to foot.  Ignoring my advice, Todd decided to move Jet out of the way so he could proceed with the shoveling.
Photo by Pam Rhodes
Gale Rhodes, husband of Pam Rhodes, rates himself a "6" on the scale, but maintains a "one-fence rule" when around his wife's horses.


“Move over!” he said loudly in an assertive tone, while pushing against Jet’s side with his hand. Immediately Jet responded with a swing of his head in Todd’s direction, ears back and teeth bared. Todd is the one who moved, and quickly!


“What did I just tell you, honey?” I said. “Please do not try to boss him around. He doesn’t know you.” 


“What am I supposed to do if he is in my way?” he countered. 


“Ask me to move him for you,” I said. “I have earned the right to ask him to do something, but you have not.”


To prove my point, I touched him lightly and quietly said, “Move over, Jet.” Jet willingly moved over. He kept positioning himself between Todd and me, as if to protect me from the stranger.


Everything was peaceful until I left the shed to retrieve the broom. Suddenly I heard a loud, “Move over” again, then the thump of four hooves landing on the mats. This time Jet had lunged toward him, but it was only a feint. He had not made contact. He was telling Todd to leave him alone. When I stepped in, Todd was standing with his shovel held horizontally across his chest, eyes wide in surprise.


“What is the problem with that horse?” he said.


“First of all, Jet is a stallion, and thus the dominant member of his herd,” I explained. “He has the right to protect his herd mates and his territory, which you have invaded. Secondly, horses act in three phases: first the ‘ask’, then the ‘tell’ and finally the ‘insist.’ When you aggressively told him to ‘Move over!’ the first time, he asked you not to boss him around. You didn’t listen, so the second time you tried it he told you not to, by acting more assertively. Trust me, you do not want him to reach the third step, where he insists! He might kick or bite you to ensure you do not do it again. When horses interact with each other, it rarely escalates to the insist stage; because the other horse has the good sense to back off. Look at it from this perspective, what would you do if a stranger came into your house and started bossing you around?”


“I’d throw the guy out!” was my husband’s emphatic reply. 


“I’m sure you would!” I answered. “Now you understand Jet’s point of view.”


“Oh,” was his only response.


The rest of the cleanup was completed without further incident.  A truce was called. Todd ignored Jet, staying well out of his way, and Jet followed me around the pasture, ignoring Todd. 


Later on that evening during dinner, my husband unexpectedly said, “One thing is for sure, I don’t have to worry about any guy accosting you out in the woods when you are riding that horse!”


“Certainly not,” I said with a smile.


Once Jet became more familiar with my husband, and Todd stopped acting aggressively, the truce became a peace treaty.  The treaty eventually became a friendship.  I overheard Todd say to a friend one day, “Come on, I’ll show you a real horse” as he took him to meet Jet.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.