Living Vicariously

In this issue of Quarter Horse News, we pay tribute to owners – those all-important people who provide trainers with horses and pay the bills, but sometimes languish in anonymity on the sidelines.

The owner hat is one most of us wear or have worn in our lives. The person who starts as an owner might eventually become a breeder or a competitor. The loper or groom working her way up from the bottom might be eagerly anticipating the day he or she can become an owner. The veterinarian who works on competitive horses all day long may have a trail horse waiting at home, ready to take him away from a stressful job.

A couple of years ago, I hung up my owner’s hat for the only time since age 11, when I received my first horse as a Christmas present. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about that decision, and how strange it felt to not own a horse. This was his response: “They are in my blood; can’t imagine not having at least one.”

Honestly, his comment didn’t sit well with me. I, too, feel that horses are “in my blood” and are a huge part of who I am. And while I owned horses, I couldn’t imagine not owning at least one. But life happens.

A close friend of mine grew up riding and showing horses. Like many people, once her youth career ended and she was out on her own – a military bride with a newborn son – she didn’t have the financial means to own a horse. (Let’s be honest; it takes a significant amount of disposable income to have show horses.) Finally, in her 30s, she was able to buy another horse, which she showed and enjoyed until her son entered high school. At that point in her life, she had another hard decision to make – finance her son’s sporting pursuits or her own horse activities? Actually, as a parent, the decision wasn’t a hard one for her; she sold the horse.

Stories like these abound in the horse industry. Many of the owners in this issue’s statistics are still active in the industry. Some aren’t, but probably wish they were. If horses are in their blood, they’ve probably found another way to get their “horse fix,” even if ownership is out of the question right now.

My friend loves the hunter/jumper industry, and when she found herself without a horse, she did the next best thing – dog agility. It gave her an animal to train, a trainer from which to take lessons, shows to attend and courses to remember and practice.

As for myself, I get my horse fix through my job. I love equestrian competition. I’ve never been much of a recreational rider, and could probably count the number of times in my life I’ve gone trail riding on one hand. Give me the show pen and some stiff competition and I’m in my element. So getting to go to so many different events for Quarter Horse News is my way of living vicariously through you, and getting my horse fix. To me, this isn’t a job so much as a way of life, because horses are in my blood.

So when I talk to an owner who has struggled and sacrificed for years in the hopes of getting that one big horse, and I then get to watch their horse win a major aged event, this becomes much more than just a job. More than once, I’ve nearly missed a photo opportunity after getting misty-eyed over a great run or big win. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. My fellow Quarter Horse News colleagues would probably admit to the same thing. We’re not the detached news reporter you see on the 6 o’clock news. Far from it. We’re here, and at the shows with you, out there, because horses are in our blood.

In recent years, much has been written and said about expanding the horse industry – getting new people in and keeping current people from leaving. I am proof that you don’t have to be born into a horsey family to have horses in your blood. This Daddy-buy-me-a-pony girl grew up in the suburbs, without a horse in sight. I was lucky enough to get in and, once exposed, knew I’d never want out. Right now, I’m just wearing a different hat.

I’ve even been kicking around the idea of pulling out my rider hat for a while and taking lessons on someone else’s horse. And I’m happy to wear my equine journalist hat – interviewing, writing about and living vicariously through the owners who are out there winning and making the statistics today. Because for now, my owner hat is on the shelf even though horses are, and always will be, in my blood.