Being smitten with horses is akin to being plagued with a disease – a disease of obsession. They possess you. No amount of effort or pain or cost will keep you away. Horses are expensive, time consuming, and dangerous. Yet, they inspire great passion for they give us something that few others can – a sense of freedom, of unfettered movement, of wings beneath our feet. They empower us. They accept us and know us for who we are; they never try to change us. Their reactions to us are immediate and honest.
This disease called horses has further complicated an already complicated marriage. Horses have a way of magnifying difficult domestic terrain. Time, money, passion, daily attention, strong bonds, acceptance, honesty, empowerment! – these are all the coins of the marriage and family realm.
My husband, Sterling, and I have been married for over 46 years – well, that is if you count from our first wedding; for you see, we married, divorced, and remarried. We tell our children (who were born well after our remarriage) that we suffered a failed divorce. Now when we argue we can honestly say, “Well, you knew exactly what you were getting into the second time around, so don’t complain to me now.”
In reality, the divorce was a necessary part of our successful marriage. I was horrified to see that half of my troubles followed me as I left my husband and escaped to Alaska. He was equally horrified to find himself alone and depressed, back in Chile – this time without me to stir things up and share in his experiences. We learned that we could only be together if we were able to give each other the space and freedom to be ourselves.
Horses are part of my personal journey – part of my living out the pieces of me that demand open spaces and connections with animals. Horses are not a part of my husband’s journey. His muse is flowing down a wild river in a canoe or rafting through white water as his father taught him to do. These are very appealing adventures that I have shared with him many times in many places – yet which have never really captivated my heart in the same way that horses do.
So, we each have our individual muse – only mine costs an arm and a leg, encompasses an entire lifestyle, presents many more dangers, requires way more time and energy, and captures my heart as no inanimate, metal canoe or rubber raft can.
To say that these differences have not been noted in our marriage would be to lie. At times I feel an overpowering guilt. At times I am defiant and hold conversations in my head that easily rationalize all the family sacrifices my passion has entailed. At times I am simply grateful; and at other times, I resent the need to feel grateful at all.
Yet through some strange process, Sterling has found a way to not only accommodate and accept my commitment to owning and loving horses, but to embrace the joy it brings to me. He is a strong person, and he is not intimidated by the depth of my feelings for horses. He does not need to understand it. He does not feel the need to approve of the high costs or the time sink that caring for them entails. He is able to control his worry about my safety. He feels no jealously when I would describe Power as my “mane man.” My unbridled joy is clear and that is enough for him.
It did not start out this way. He initially thought horses were yet another one of my many schemes and flights of fancy, and there were certainly times when he was truly mystified and angered at all the bits and pieces of our lives that horses had come to consume. But he watched, he listened, and he absorbed the fullness of the joy they brought to me – he rejoiced in my horsemanship accomplishments.
My husband’s sincere support of my horse passion has proven to be one of my greatest joys. My horse disease has revealed to me the depth and unselfishness of the love my husband holds for me. Yes, we still differ about some of the specifics, and he holds my feet to the fire on occasion to make reasonable decisions that balance horses with other family priorities. Yet, his honest desire for me to experience the joys and meet the challenges of including horses in my life in spite of the required family sacrifices has made all the difference. He has given me the freedom to indulge my passion within the warm embrace of my family. He is truly a sterling horse husband!