Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pet Peeve: "Horse Husbands"

I didn't get to see my horse yesterday (sniffles) so I don't have any fun rides to update you on (though
hopefully that will change this afternoon!). This, then, seems like a good time to introduce some of my musings on gender in the horse world.

I want to talk about a pet peeve of mine that seems to come up a lot on some horse-related podcasts that I listen to regularly and really love, and that just seems to be in the culture in general, and that is assumptions made about "horse husbands."

Now listen: I do not deny the existence of horse husbands (by which I think people mean "men who are married to women who ride but who do not, themselves, ride horses"). And, even more important, horse husbands themselves do not annoy me in the slightest, at least not on a group level. If you are a lady who rides horses and you are married to a guy who doesn't and he is super cool about it all, then THAT IS GREAT. Okay? Okay.

My issue is with the assumptions that come along with the concept of "horse husbands," all of which are wrapped up in ideas about sexuality and gender. In the many discussions/jokes/stories about horse husbands that I've been privy to or part of, no one's ever talking about the husbands of men who ride. There are gay men who ride horses - in rodeos, even - and presumably, some of them have partners. Some of them may even live in places where gay marriage is legal and/or have partners they call "husbands." I think that when people say "horse husbands" they might be tacitly inclusive of gay men, but I kind of doubt it, simply because it probably never occurred to them. Part of the reason I wanted to start this blog in the first place is to raise the visibility of queer people in equestrian sports, so here I am, doing that!

But including gay men in "horse husbands" clearly isn't going to be enough to assuage my mild crankiness about this. I am a lady (kind of, ha) who rides horses, and no matter my marital status, I will never have a horse husband. I know that it's a cute alliteration and everything, and people like to argue that these things are harmless. I am not arguing that it is causing great harm. But what I am arguing is that these darling little phrases and the accompanying assumptions ("horse husbands will love the way these breeches look on the ladies around the barn, amirite fellas?") are part of reinforcing the idea that we're all just a bunch of straighties here, nothing to worry about. But we ain't.

 So I'm not in a rage over here. I'm just asking that we shift our mindset a little bit to consider how we might be reinforcing heteronormativity - or the idea that it is "normal" to be straight and, therefore, "abnormal" not to be - when we talk about things like "horse husbands." If you want to continue using the phrase to talk about yourself or your husband, by all means, continue to do so, but maybe with a little bit of awareness now.

Also: I am DEFINITELY going to watch the gay rodeo. I. Cannot. Wait.


  1. (okay, I'm obviously catching up on your blog, ergo random comment spew.. :) )

    I find this an interesting topic. At a barn I rode at a few years ago we had not one, but two gay horse husbands happily supporting their horsey spouse in their riding/showing/spending all the money.

    We actually chatted about the term "horse Husband" at a show one day and while they seemed thrilled that the "cute alliteration" happily included them, we pondered over the fact that it did leave same sex female partnerships out in the rain.

    We attempted to come up with an inclusive catchy phrase, but totally failed. Or maybe we just failed because increased margaritas decreased our vocabulary. Can't be sure..

    1. Hahaha! That is interesting! I can't think of anything either - I'm going to blame the sun, because I haven't had anything to drink yet today - but perhaps something genius will occur to one of us at some point.

      We could use a better word for straight female partners of male riders, too. "Horse wives" sounds too much like "house wives."