What is it with Girls and Horses?

by Helen Watts Tuesday 1st September 2015

Templeton Thompson posed the question in her song:

She says, (now) when I was a young girl
They were my whole world
They were my one safe place
And now that I’m older
I still lean on their shoulders
Still feel like that girl some days
What is it, what is it with girls and horses?

Now that I’m older, and I know of so many other women embracing the mid-life horse phenomenon, is leaning on our horse’s shoulders a sign we feel we can no longer lean on a man’s? Statistics published by one of the UK’s leading horse insurance companies reveals that unlike human partnerships, most human/equine ones are in fact for life with the insurance statistics revealing that 76% of them are literally Till Death Do Us Part. So, the conclusion must be that if you want a stable relationship – get a horse.

Then there’s the fact that the number of women who are leisure riders appear to outnumber men 50 to 1 (note, I said leisure rider as opposed to professional – i.e. cowboys (mostly men) and jockeys (mostly men and usually the size of Lord Farquaad from Shrek). Therefore any man who rides and is even remotely presentable and over 5ft tall knows he has a shelf life of around three minutes in a world of sad, desperate women and believe you me, works that. This does not just apply to the mid-life horsewoman by any means but all age groups. My first riding instructor and pre-pubescent crush, Giles – he of the clipped upper-class vowels and floppy-bunny Hugh Grant hair, used to abandon me mid-lesson to duck outside the arena in order to have a combined fag/flirt break with one of the many sylph-thighed girls who frequented the riding school. They followed him around like ponies trained to obediently trail after the lead horse. I hated them without reservation with their impeccably fitted breeches (my jodhpurs purchased at a discount store were three sizes too big), and their hair’s genetic inability to succumb to the dreaded helmet hair unlike my wiry red mop which would spring free flattened at the top but otherwise resembling a GPS system designed by Yahoo Serious. Worse was Giles’s disdainful assessment of my riding ability, usually delivered within earshot of these equestrienne goddesses: ‘You’re just not making any progress, Helen’. This peppered with instructions such as ‘Kick him on!’, ‘Make him do what he’s told’, ‘Hit him!’

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Bad jodhs, bad hair, bad life. I hated the hour long tortuous riding lessons of my youth in direct proportion to how much I loved horses – just as I loved and hated disdainful, supercilious Giles in equal measure.  Please, please, this time let me stay on. Please, please, this time let me do it right. Please, please God, don’t let me land on my butt trying to impress the only man I’ve ever loved.  I am ten years old. I was in hell and heaven all at the same time. I took refuge in fantasies which usually involved me galloping across the prairie on a wild mustang, a handsome young Bruce Greenwood by my side – in the words of another Templeton Thompson song:

It takes her away gives her wings to fly,
Opens her heart and frees her mind,
There’s no denyin’, when she’s riding
Her every worry disappears
The wind whispers away her tears
From the moment she takes the reins

At least with the riding the reality didn’t fall so far short of the fantasy. So, what is it with girls and horses? Perhaps the ability to forge an honest emotional connection. Am I saying men come up short here? Of course not. But perhaps with horses there’s no pressure on women to be anything but themselves. After all, your horse is never going to turn around and tell you he’s leaving you for someone younger and thinner. Middle-aged horses don’t lose their hair and gain a beer belly but delude themselves into thinking they’re still attractive. And if your horse has been in a previous relationship with another rider, when they split up he wouldn’t have had to hand her the stable in the divorce settlement or keep paying maintenance on his foals and neither will he continue to either eulogise her or bang on about her manifold faults. If your best friend wants to ride your horse or tells him he’s adorable and wants to take him home with her – you’re flattered, not on the brink of a bitch-fit that means the end of a friendship or trip to the divorce court. Buy a stud and he earns his keep. If your stallion escapes and services someone else’s mare, she’ll tire of him quickly plus you can send her owners a bill. Try that one with your husband. Plus if he gets above himself you can always cut off his testicles. Men object to this. Perhaps looked at this way, we can see why horses have so much appeal.

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One thing about coming back to horses mid-life is you can ride your way. You’ve the confidence to do so. I never wanted to ride English style. I wanted that cowgirl fantasy – Bruce Greenwood notwithstanding. But western riding lessons in the Sussex of my childhood? Forget it. Now, I saddle up in a high end western rig with silver conchos and saddle horn – and those memories of me sprawled on my face in the sand school are left far behind me.

Sometimes I wanna give up
Throw up my hands and say enough’s enough
That’s when I go and saddle up
And runaway, ’til I’m ok
‘Til I’m not afraid of stayin’ in the game
Maybe that’s what it is
With girls and horses 

And that’s what it is with girls and horses – freedom.