Friday, April 04, 2008

Make it work - Part 1 - My Husband

I've been contacted by more than one person asking how I manage husband, kids, work, and still find time to train and ride dressage, so I thought I'd dedicate a series to the subject. It's got to be a series because it's far too complicated to fit into one post.

I thought I'd start the series by talking about my human partner - my husband. He's not my first husband - in fact he's my third. My other two marriages didn't end because of issues with my horse, but my riding addiction contributed to many arguments. It also lost me a few boyfriends along the way who were unwilling to share me with my four-legged friends. I can only speak for myself as to how Craig and I have a successful relationship that involves a family and a dressage career.

When Craig came onto the scene I had been riding for almost twenty years. As related in earlier stories, my riding was always discouraged by my father. It had also been looked upon as competition to various boyfriends along the way. There had been many fights about how much time I'd spend at the barn, or time away at shows. It would have been nice to find a boyfriend who rode also, but I never found a man who was even marginally interested in horses. Maybe that's a good thing, because horse men might be crazier than horse women. Anyhow, by the time Craig and I started dating I let him know the deal with Kaswyn.

I had already had Kaswyn for six years, so I told Craig about the riding routine I had established. I let him know that I spent most evenings after work at the barn for a few hours. I let him know that during the spring and summer I would go to shows on the weekends, sometimes in town, sometimes hours away. I gave full disclosure about how much time, effort, and money I spent on Kaswyn, because I wanted him to know what he was getting into by loving a horsewoman. I also let him know that I acknowledged that this dressage thing is an addiction. It's a need, an aching craving for horse time that transforms me into a grumpy crab if a few days go by and I can't get my fix. The quest for the perfect seat, the feeling of accomplishment after a productive lesson, and finally breaking 60% on a difficult test at a show, are things that can only be satisfied at the barn with my horse. I let him know that spending this time with my horse, and getting this satisfaction didn't mean that I didn't love him. But it did mean that he'd have to share me with my hobby. My addiction. My horse partner.

He said he knew what he was getting into. He thought it would be no big deal. He knew my past issues with my father and other men about horses, and he was determined not to be those guys. He was going to be supportive!

It was much harder than he thought. When he moved up to Cleveland from Columbus he left all of his friends behind. I was his only friend, and sometimes I didn't come home until 8 pm, tired and dirty from riding. Those first few years were difficult. Not wanting to complain about my horse like other men had, he just kept it inside and the resentment built up. Then we'd have fights about silly unrelated things, but the underlying cause of his unhappiness was the time I spent with my horse. He felt trapped because he thought he should not complain about my horse time, even though that's what was making him unhappy.

Although we were happy together overall, the horse issue caused some major problems in our relationship. A few months after he moved in we had a fight where I told him "Maybe you should just go, then, if you're so unhappy." Months later he decided we should go see a couples counselor, who helped us to be able to get to the root of our problems and work through them instead of skirting the issue and fighting about petty things. Most importantly he taught us how to have a fair fight without laying blame or bringing up the past. And, after we were married, I went to my trainers apartment one evening, crying so hard I could hardly speak, to ask her if she would just take my horse. I couldn't bear to sell him because I didn't view him as a commodity like a car, but I was so tired of fighting with men about horses that I just wanted the drama to end. I loved Craig and I didn't want any more strain between us, and I thought that getting rid of Kaswyn would fix everything. Thankfully, she refused to take my horse, talked me down from the ledge, and sent me home to work things out with Craig.

It's taken years, and it hasn't been easy, but we've now established a sort of system that works for us. Because I go to work early and leave work early, I'm able to ride and still usually get home for dinner. I don't go to the barn every day, but when I do I always call him when I'm on my way home so he knows what time to expect me. If I'm finished early enough I pick up the girls from school. If not, he can get it done. Unless he has late meetings, in which case he brings his cell phone to meetings and he'll send me a text message if he's going to run late. This gives me enough time to jump off my horse (sometimes in the middle of a lesson), put him away, and still pick up the girls in time. I don't always get to clean my tack or Kaswyn's stall, which eats at me a little bit, but it's something that I can deal with. I'm riding, and we're not fighting.

I've said before that we try and have dinners either made or mostly planned for each evening. This means that Craig is sometimes cooking after the girls go to bed, but we've found that this system works because every night we can get dinner on the table quickly. For example, Craig will stick a chicken in the oven after dinner and get some potatoes cooking to be mashed. Then he'll steam some veggies and everything goes in the fridge. The next evening when we get home all we have to do is reheat everything from the night before and dinner is ready in minutes. This take a lot of the stress out of the evening, and we usually end up spending time together after dinner as we clean up and start prepping for the next night's meal. It takes teamwork and planning, but in the end it makes life easier.

I think another important factor is communication. There are some evenings when I know that I'm going to be late. If I have to clean Kaswyn's sheath or talk with my trainer or something and I know that I'll be longer at the barn than usual, I make sure to call Craig and let him know what's going on. I don't want him thinking I'll be home at 6:30 and then not show up until 8. That's just rude.

It's taken us years to establish this routine that works for us. We're both satisfied with it, even though I know that Craig isn't always happy with the time I spend at the barn. I do try and spend one weekend day away from the barn and at home with him and the girls. Fortunately Craig knows that riding makes me happy, so he puts up with it. He also has his own hobbies and friends, and he'll let me know if he has something he wants to do or somewhere to go on the weekend. I do my best to accommodate his wishes because I know what sacrifices he makes for me every week for me to be able to pursue my riding career. If his plans mean that I can't go to the barn for a few days, I work it out with my trainer or someone else to have something done with Kaswyn so at least my horse is busy. I know he'll be fine and glad to see me when I get back to the barn, and even though I'll miss time away from my horse I know it's important to give Craig his time to do things that he wants to do instead of always making sacrifices for me.

So, to sum up - we practice full disclosure communication, work as a team to make our household work, and we both allow the other to do things that we each want to do. Communication, teamwork, sacrifice, and hard work. And lots of love and understanding.

Next up, Part 2 - Our Girls.

To be continued...


Beth said...

wow! That is impressive!!! Good for you guys.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! My non-horse husband is pretty understanding about the horses, but I don't have my own right now so I'm not doing it more than once or twice a week. Eventually, I'll have my own and we'll have to keep in mind some of your methods for making it work.

Rising Rainbow said...

Living with a non horse person is surely complicated. It's hard for them to understand the need we have for horses.

It sounds like you and Craig have managed to find a system that works for you. That's a good thing and what a great example for your girls.

Unknown said...

That is impressive but I think when you really love someone and care for the time together you go far to organise your life accordingly :)
My non-horsey partner is very understanding too but I make sure I am back early enough for our QT (Quality Time) and that we can have our evening time together.

I am looking forward to reading how you fit your girls in !!

Beckz said...

Thats awesome that you have found a way to compromise so that everyone has the oppurtunity to do wha they want

Anonymous said...

I can understand and also sympathize. I've had many an ex (and friend even) give me the issues over the ponies.

I don't blame them. It's an insane, expensive, time-consuming sport that demands a lot from all participants (willing or not). There are stretches of time where they won't see me until 9/10pm. Where all I can talk about is being stuck on X level, et. all.

This is the way I've always been.

At one point I received a lot of pressure from then-SO to stop. I thought about giving up, and then I asked the crazy question of: why am I so unhappy, why do I have to bend to what he (or they) want/s after I've given so much to them/him?

Eventually, those 'friends' were lost for whatever reason, and not just over the horses.

I've come to define friendships as people who support you, love you and realise you are what you are (good, bad and ugly) and accept it. They'll be there for you after the day is done, after the wine has been drunk and ready to shove your trunk and your horse into the trailer.

To, me my SO is an extension of a friend. He's there for me, he understands that obsession and rarely interferes (maybe questions sanity on occasion).

He's my cheerleader, he's my support and even when he get the chutzpah do to so, my eyes on the ground.

However there is give, I purposely try to get home to do dinner (weekends it's breakfast). We go out one day a week and try to get a weekend getaway in on occasion. I attend his most to all of his functions as well (as spectator).

We are, as a mutual friend described it: mutually autonomous. We are a couple, but we exist as ourselves.

And I think that's where most people go wrong. They want to be together: all the time. That is has to be a one way street as a couple, and it's not.

It's about being happy with each other and part of it is retaining your autonomy as a person.

Sorry for the long ramble.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr