As a perpetual “long on goals, short on cash” rider, I spent most of my teens and 20s either riding or working to pay for my riding, and didn’t get in a whole lot of practice on the dating thing. So when it came time for middle-aged me to find a new mount—er, gentleman friend—I was at a loss. (Read Part 1: The Wish List and Part 2: Buyer Beware of this series.).
To my relief, though, I found that a whole lot of things I had learned buying project horses translated not just to online dating, but to actually meeting up with guys for the test ride, or first date. For example:
Height and age are flexible concepts.
Given the number of times I’ve trekked out to see a 16-plus-hand sale horse only to discover that I could see clear over its withers, or met up with a familiar pony that had magically gotten younger over the years, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Curly-haired Guy (not his real username), who had listed himself as 5’10”, not only turned out to be a shade under my own 5’6”, he had also lost some of that curly hair and gained a few years in the transition from screen to flesh.
I told myself that, just as the right horse is sometimes still the right horse a few years older or a couple of inches shorter, maybe Curly-haired Guy should get some wiggle room. The small fibs made me wonder what else he had fudged, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and we had a fun evening. When it turned out that he was really looking for a short-term lease (or even an hourly rental) rather than an outright sale, though, I packed up my helmet and half-chaps and hit the road.
And when I got home, just like after a frustrating horse shopping trip, I got back online and browsed the new ads that had been posted while I was out, ever optimistic, yet keeping in mind that:
Some terms are relative.
I used to think that most sellers were blowing hot air with words like “athletic,” “hack winner,” “fancy,” and “sound.” And, well, some are. But over the years I’ve learned that not only is barn blindness a real (and sometimes debilitating) condition, these concepts are on the fuzzy side. First place out of two with the other horse exhibiting random verticality is still a hack winner, and most horses are fancy to someone.
Similarly, the ideas of “athletic,” “fit,” and sometimes even “single” turned out to be fluid when it came to online dating. Curly-haired Guy played racquetball a couple of times a month and had a paunch. Science Guy had a mountain bike, but was built like a drinking straw and couldn’t tell me anything about the trails near his hometown. I honestly felt like I could beat either of them in a fair fight, which wasn’t conducive to hubba-hubba, yet both had listed themselves as “athletic” and “fit” in their profiles. Hmmm.
So I kept shopping, and I kept hoping. More, I did my best to make each test ride as objective as possible, because it’s important to:
Buy the horse in front of you.
Over the years, I’ve been faced with a wide range of pre-sale prep work, from half-feral wooly monsters being lassoed out of a field, to the greenie whose breeders had him on the crossties all morning for a bath, body clip and mane pull and then wondered why he melted down five minutes into the demonstration ride, to a few incidents of syringes being tossed as I came around the corner.
Most of my equine first dates were somewhere in the middle of those extremes, of course. But regardless of how much obvious prep the horse had gotten, I always assumed I was looking at the horse on his very best day, and kept in mind that if I didn’t want to own the exact horse I was sitting on, then I shouldn’t buy him. Granted, greenies got something of a pass on this, but I wasn’t looking for a project guy.
Going into each new date, I reminded myself that he was probably on his very best behavior. And when Advertising Guy downgraded things from meeting halfway at a restaurant to “how about you pick up some takeout and come over to my place,” instead of thinking “Aw, he’s cute. He just needs a tune up,” I kept looking. So I pre-shopped, I test rode, and I even flirted with a couple of trial periods, until finally I discovered that in dating, as in horse shopping:
Sometimes you get lucky.
Just like I’ve been know to browse the Verden sale website and watch the elite auctions streaming online, looking at the gorgeous creatures I can’t afford, I had checked out this one guy’s ad a couple of times and let myself do a little drooling. He was hubba-hubba handsome and a few years younger than me, with a bonus side of smarts, and had even owned an Appy as a kid out west. I hadn’t emailed, though, because I knew darn well that I couldn’t afford a fancy warmblood with all the bells and whistles. Then one day his profile picture showed up in my in-box, along with a nice note. And I went: Wait. What?
It turned out he was looking for the exact right match, not necessarily the highest price, and he liked my wanted ad. He wasn’t looking to step down from the big ring, so much as step sideways out of the high-pressure show barns of city dating, and into a more kid-friendly, family-oriented place where he’d also get to trail ride and snooze in the sun. His videos looked great, his show record checked out, and when it came time for the test ride, he even turned out to be all of the 6’3” he had claimed in the ad. And … well, let’s just say I was ready to put down my deposit after that first half hour in the saddle. Because when the match is right, it’s right. And in this case, I won’t be looking to resell.
The moral of the story? Maybe it’s that while it can get expensive and time consuming to try lots of horses, it’s important to keep looking until you find the right one. Caveat emptor. Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. Watch out for that tree in the middle of the jumper ring. And most of all, remember that you’re not alone, even though these can be strangely lonely experiences. Sure, your friends, families and riding buddies like to chime in on your choices (do they ever!) but in the end, it’s your decision. So good luck, have fun with it, use the things you’ve learned from your horse. And when in doubt, kick on!
Author Jesse Hayworth's years of horse-shopping stood her in good stead when online dating and she found her soulmate. Now married, she writes "quirky country comfort reads for romance lovers."