Tears come with horses! They are familiar whether or not you compete and own 1 horse or 10. Those tears are DUE to our love, but sometimes they just keep coming and become chronic. What do we sacrifice to own horses and how much is too much? Should we be prioritizing our own health and stability more often?
February is the time of year that we think a lot about love, so let's talk about the love we have for our horses. For the most part, it's positive, right? We get a lot out of horse ownership, otherwise, why would we sacrifice so much! But, sometimes, the relationship between horse and human is not healthy. Sometimes it hurts- physically and emotionally. Sometimes our relationship to horses takes on toxic properties, because we sacrifice too much.
Here's what I want to say...
I believe that there are boundaries to our love of horses. The cultural idea that I'm resisting here is that "we should give EVERYTHING to our horses. That they ALWAYS come first." Sometimes they don't come first, and that's OK! It's like the airline's insistence to put your own oxygen mask on first. You can't save the other person if you're suffocating, and it's a very appropriate analogy to horse ownership. I'm having intense feelings of intimidation as I write these things, so I know that there is a strong cultural pressure to do the opposite. But, I've never been one to go with the flow.
Drawing that line could look like this...
- That colic surgery would put me in debt, so I'm not going to consider it.
- Sell the horse that bucks you off. Get another one that brings you joy.
- Sell the horse. Hay prices are too high, and you need to eat better.
- It's ok to consider humane euthanasia as an option, so that you can pay rent.
- Don't buy that new fad tack or supplement if it puts you in financial stress. Your horse will survive.
- Get yourself a massage and chiropractic work, not your horse.
Here's an example for you...one of the BEST pieces of advice I ever received from a vet went like this..."know your financial limit BEFORE the accident occurs, so that you aren't making that decision in the middle of the crisis!" What this vet was referring to was whether or not my horse was a colic surgery candidate. Right then and there, I knew that the horse I had in front of me was NOT a colic surgery candidate. I knew that I would not be willing to go in debt for this horse or any one since, period. Many people might recoil at me saying so, but I'll stand by it every time.
Tears are not uncommon in my discussions with horse friends and clients. I'm certain that every single one of us has cried a river over our horse(s) at multiple points along the journey of horse ownership. There's so much as stake, yet so much we don't have control over. Just in the last month there has been injury that kept a horse from being imported, minor injuries stacked together that kept a friend from riding, anxiety about hay prices, excruciating boarding choices, diagnosis of disease, and extreme anxiety over a lack of diagnosis. Of course, tears are normal in our lifelong journey with horses, but what concerns me is when these tears become chronic. Once in a while, I just want to shout "is it worth the lost opportunity?"
The term "opportunity costs" is a central idea in the study of economics. It's basically Chapter 1 of the textbook in Econ 101. The definition (according to Google) is "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen". Basically, it's the value of what we give up. I think about this term constantly as a component of horse ownership, and I don't think that "value" needs a $ sign in from of it. It can have a relative value instead, or can look like a priority list of needs and wants. Two columns with PRO's and CON's is a good start.
I have to admit that I'm often the first one who says it's ok to give up. It's ok to cut your losses and move on. My sense is that this is NOT the normal messaging that we receive. It seems that we are largely conditioned by our equestrian culture to GIVE EVERYTHING. The pressure to spend more and sacrifice more for our horses is INTENSE! Though it may be unpopular to say so, I do NOT think it's always appropriate or necessary to overwhelm ourselves with stress, fear, or anxiety. I think it's totally appropriate and necessary to draw the line whatever that means to you!