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April 8, 2013

Horse Shopping vs. Online Dating Part 1: The Wish List

Cartoon by Stacey Reap

When it came time for me to jump back into the dating paddock after 15 years in a relationship, I decided that since I lived in the sticks (or at least the New England version thereof), and my main hobbies were heavy on the four-legged creatures, going online would be my best bet. In doing so, I discovered that many of the strategies I'd developed in two decades of horse shopping served me well.

Here are a few pointers I picked up along the way…

Be realistic about your budget.

Just as I couldn’t afford a Grand Prix schoolmaster, a winning first year horse or a seeing-eye dog that would run prelim with me clinging for dear life, I knew that at 37, with a farmer’s tan, two horses and a wardrobe that offered a choice of jeans with or without holes, I didn’t have the dating “currency” to attract the real-life equivalents of Hugh Jackman or Simon Baker. I did, however, have a good education and a semi-cool job, and I cleaned up OK.

I figured that would buy me a local-level winner that on a good day could get a piece of things at an A show. A cheerful Quarter Horse, maybe, or a Thoroughbred that liked to play in all three rings and go out for a hack after. I might be attracted to fancy warmbloods, but the ones in my price range would likely need maintenance or have quirks, and I was trying to avoid both.

So I wrote the equivalent of a “rider seeks new mount” ad, stressing my offbeat job, my geekyness and my love of all creatures great and small (except wolf spiders, which freak me right out). Then I added some current pictures and posted the profile, knowing that even though the ad said I was looking for the human version of a big, good-minded hunter with a few miles under his girth, I would undoubtedly get emails from maniacal green ponies, five-gaiters and overpriced campaigners nearing the ends of their careers.

After that, I went window shopping.

A shorter wish list gives you more options.

We’ve all known (or been) the buyer with a crazy-specific shopping list, like, “I want a black L-line Hanoverian gelding with four white socks and a star. He needs to have scores in the 70s at Prix St. Georges or above, win in the derby ring, run advanced, hunt first flight, trail-ride on the buckle, vet perfectly, give kisses and babysit my toddler.”

OK, that's an exaggeration, but it’s tough enough to find a horse you get along with, does the job and puts a smile on your face. It gets even harder when you add restrictions on breed, color and height.

Once upon a time, I decided that my next project horse should be a dark bay with all the chrome. Sure enough, I soon found exactly that in a dainty, feminine OTTB mare with a freakishly good trot—who turned out to be a firecracker to ride and a tough resale. After that, I focused on personality and athletic ability and let the other details work themselves out.

When it came to dating, like most amateurs I started with too many things on my wish list and had to whittle them down. Eventually, I distilled my main requirements to: He needed to have a job, a sense of humor, a good chance of beating me at arm wrestling (I had given up on “must be taller than me”), and a time-consuming, preferably expensive hobby so the horse thing wouldn’t be a problem.

Of course, the shorter your wish list, the longer the resulting list of potential partners. But, just like horse shopping, Internet dating isn’t for the faint of heart.

It takes work.

First, there were pictures to look through. I had purchased my favorite show hunter of all time thanks to a bad headshot hung on a tack store bulletin board, so I was willing to overlook a questionable conformation shot. More, I knew full well that the average sales photo shows the horse at his absolute best ever and may or may not be from this decade, and should thus be taken with several grains of salt … if not a whole Likit.

After the pictures came the profiles, which ranged from shorties like “Nice guy seeks soulmate” (roughly equivalent to the Craigslist classic: “brown horse, rides good”) to pages-long biographies that, like sale videos of the horse being groomed and tacked up, just weren’t my style. There were some, though, that made me take a second look. Whether a clever play on words, an inside joke or a shared interest, there was something that made me say, “OK, let’s open the lines of communication.”

So, like most amateur horse shoppers, I typed out a short message along the lines of, “I’m looking for a forward-thinking, honest, low-prep and low-maintenance partner who can take a joke. In return, I offer large tracts of land (cue Monty Python music), homemade horse cookies and regular exercise. Other details negotiable.” I translated it to non-horsey speak, of course, though at times I was tempted to send that one as-is and see what happened.

As to what did happen, well, check back next week for the second part of this saga, a.k.a., Buyer Beware.

Author Jesse Hayworth's years of horse-shopping stood her in good stead when online dating. Now married, she writes "quirky country comfort reads for romance lovers."

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