Everything else

Understanding Horse Girls

I thought they were boring, spoiled, and weird. Boy was I wrong.

Illustration by Ana

Becky* and I met through church. We sang together in the children’s choir on Sunday mornings and took CCD classes after school for an hour or so twice a week, for about seven years. We were always nice to each other, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. Our relationship consisted of coloring pictures of Jesus and sheep in religious classes; singing religious jams in the children’s choir about the greatness of God (sometimes with tambourines!), and memorizing the Ten Commandments. In all that time, we never really talked about ourselves; she was just an acquaintance that I knew because of our parents’ shared beliefs and proximity. But though it’s been roughly 15 years since Becky and I have been in a room together, I remember her vividly, because she was my first encounter with a Horse Girl.

Horse Girls, as I’ve always understood it, are girls who are absolutely obsessed with horses to the point where horses consume every aspect of their lives–what they read, what they wear, what they watch, and how they relate to the rest of the universe. It’s not essential to own a horse in order to be a Horse Girl (many Horse Girls cling to the dream of a horse, someday), but many actually do own them, and are involved in equestrian competitions; the rest at least go riding, and early on find a kinship with the animals, a relationship that is often misunderstood by others, who find the whole thing to be a bit much (I used to count myself among this ignorant mass).

Becky, I remember, always wore sweatshirts with giant horse faces emblazoned on them, and when she talked in class, she always found a way to bring it back to her horse, whom I never met. She even styled her hair so that it looked similar to the way a horse’s hair hangs: heavy bangs cut bluntly in front, and a long, straw-colored ponytail hanging down the back. I met several other Horse Girls as I grew older, in school and during after-school activities—girls who presented their book reports on Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or bragged about their Breyer collectibles—all similarly enthusiastic, willing to talk about their horses for hours on end. To be honest, I found them kind of annoying. Like, we get it! You like horses! All I could see was the obsession; I was blind to the reasons behind it.

Knowing absolutely nothing about life on a farm, or the responsibility involved in owning a horse, or the pleasure of riding horse, or the deep connection one can form with a lovely animal, I assumed that Becky and her cohort must be spoiled brats living charmed lives, like the rich girls on television who went to their stables to ride in between shopping sprees and black-tie galas, and that all of their horse talk was simply showing off. Having a horse also represented a kind of freedom I wished I had—to be able to ride around, to have some type of adventure, to be in a beautiful bucolic setting amongst the wildflowers, as opposed to getting into daily fights with the kid next door over who should be automatic pitcher when the neighborhood crew played kickball. Horses, and by extension the girls who loved them, were graceful and beautiful, and I was a klutz who could barely ride a bike without falling down.

Granted, I was seven or so when Becky and I met, and the closest I had ever gotten to riding a horse was a sad pony ride at a party, where I was plopped upon a tired-looking gray creature who plodded around in a dirt circle at approximately negeative-10 miles per hour. (The “pony” might actually have been a donkey, come to think of it.) When the ride was over, I felt sorry for both of us, and resentful of girls who got to ride real horses, who seemed like mythical creatures to me. I felt like this was my lot in life, to be forever cheated out of the magical experiences that were out of my reach on account of my family’s finances and my own inherent inferiority.

Now, I could have just asked my parents to get me a horseback-riding lesson—one lesson wouldn’t have broken the bank—but to be honest, I was scared that I might not connect with the animals the way the Horse Girls did, that it wouldn’t feel magical at all, which would make me feel even more different from those privileged girls, and not in a good way. So I found contentment in the imaginary, collecting My Little Pony dolls and carefully brushing their electric-green hair. These were attainable and lovable and I could collect as many as my parents would let me, until the next fad came along.

Ignorance can be uncomfortable; rather than do the hard work of remedying it by learning about something new, we humans often take the easy, ugly way out, deciding that this unknown thing is dumb and not worth our time. It can also lead to jealousy—why does this person get so much pleasure from something I know nothing about?—and jealousy, more often than not, turns otherwise decent people into jerks. While I obviously coveted Becky’s horse life, I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I buried my envy deep, and convinced myself that real horses were boring, a trick I used over and over again throughout my adolescence. If I couldn’t have it or it didn’t come easily, it was boring. If it required extra effort or understanding or practice, it was boring. Math was boring, playing an instrument was boring, dancing was boring, dating was boring. “Whatever. Who cares?” I’d say.

When I got to middle school, I realized that I wasn’t the only person who had put Horse Girls in a box—even the term “horse girls” was a common descriptor, alongside “drama kids” and “burnouts” or any number of teen-movie-approved demographics. You’d think I’d have been more sensitive to anyone being mocked or teased, as I was firmly in the nerd camp thanks to my grades, my giant glasses, and that two-month phase in sixth grade where I insisted on wearing a beret to school, but jumping on the Horse Girls just made me feel better; finally there was a subgroup even dorkier than mine. Looking back, I see that the Horse Girls at my school weren’t rich kids; they were farm kids, from more rural areas, who were considered a bit country in my straight-up suburban hallways. Farm life was foreign to most of us, and so it made an easy target. It’s hard to admit that you don’t, at the age of 12, know everything there is to know about everything and everyone. At least not publicly.

I don’t think I understood Becky until I moved to Vermont in my early 20s. As a suburban kid, I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the landscape, all snowcapped hills and verdant valleys. Cows and sheep became regular sights, as did horses, majestic and beautiful, standing in the fields with their coats shining in the sun. To see them on a near daily basis, to come close to them and recognize something deep and knowing in their eyes, was transformative. I finally began to see what brought Becky and the rest of the Horse Girls to such obsessive levels of regard: it was love.

This also happened to be around the time that my boyfriend and I adopted a retired racing greyhound, who, it dawned on me the first day I saw him standing in our house, looked like a tiny horse, graceful and tall and smooth, with deep and wizened eyes. He is the most spoiled dog in the world, with special winter coats, and special food, and special toys, and special medicines, and it became very evident right away that he wasn’t just our pet, he was our friend. In some ways, he was our kid. I never shut up about him, or greyhounds, or greyhound rescues, or things I’d read about greyhounds. I’m still this way, and Liffey is still my love (though his current love is Rufio, his hedgehog toy). I guess it made me realize that Becky wasn’t bragging—she was sharing. She wasn’t obsessed—she was smitten.

Now whenever I see a horse I get super excited—when Shadowfax came running from the meadow to greet Gandalf in The Two Towers, I cried. I cried! And I’m not even a Horse Girl! Here was this beautiful creature, easily believable as the Lord of All Horses, looking like he stepped out of a Lisa Frank dream, and in a movie populated with all sorts of mythical beings, the horse–an animal that actually exists and shares our space–was the one that struck me as the most magical.

What do any of us do when we fall deeply in love with something? We try to carry it with us wherever we go. We wear a band’s T-shirt or scratch their lyrics on our desks, we tattoo names on our skin, we take a million pictures and post them online for the world to see. Our lives begin to revolve around our loves. Maybe I was never jealous of Becky for having a horse—maybe I envied her having such a strong connection to something, for being in love long before I even understood the concept. I’d had pets before Liffey, but my parents took care of them, and I went through phases of being super into various things, like the aforementioned berets and My Little Pony, before becoming bored and moving on. I was more concerned with myself than with anyone—or anything—else. I don’t think I understood the concept of passion until I developed a better sense of compassion.

Prejudging people based on no facts, but lots of stereotypes, might make us feel more comfortable with our ignorance. But it also robs us of interesting experiences, ideas, conversations, and friends. Would Becky and I have been best friends if I’d taken even a tiny interest in her horse? Maybe not. But at least it wouldn’t have taken me 15 years to look a horse in the eye and recognize that her love was completely normal and honest. Horse Girls seem to understand obsessive fandom and devotion before the rest of us do, and that’s pretty amazing. How could I have derided someone for something so noble as caring for another creature with all of her heart? If Becky’s horse could ever wear a T-shirt, I’m sure it would have her face emblazoned on the front. ♦

* Not her actual name.

39 Comments

  • spudzine January 18th, 2013 7:24 PM

    This really speaks out to me, since I feel like I tend to avoid things I am unsure of. The reason I do this is because a lot of confused feelings come along with learning something new(for me), and I do not like feeling those feelings, but it feels great once I learn and understand something that was once new to me.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/

  • paige.xo January 18th, 2013 8:08 PM

    I was a horse girl. Its my shameful secret. My obsession came to an abrupt end when I moved from a small country town in to the city and suddenly realized owning a pony was not cool. (and also impossible in suburbia.)

    Awesome article.

  • riseagainstyourfate January 18th, 2013 8:21 PM

    I was never an overt horse girl as a kid, but I’ve always loved them to bits and took lessons when I had the money and stability. Now that I’m 20 years old and living on a farm town, I train and work with horses, plan on owning some as soon as I graduate and move onto my boyfriend’s farm, and I’m working on a business plan to open an equine therapy centre. Horses are amazing creatures – don’t let “horse girls” put you off of them. If you have a chance to be around a horse – go for it. I’ve been through years of therapy but nothing has healed me as much as a horse.

  • marineo January 18th, 2013 8:29 PM

    ” If Becky’s horse could ever wear a T-shirt, I’m sure it would have her face emblazoned on the front. ”

    <3 <3 <3

    horses are so pretty there are some down the street from me. I was never the Horse Girl but I always thought horses were super cool.

    but not as cool as the goats that will follow you along the fence if you walk by their field.

    lol this makes it sound like i live in the country but i live in the burbiest burb ever with some farmies on the sides…

  • Emmie January 18th, 2013 8:51 PM

    I am a long time horse rider, I compete and all that jazz, and I just have to say that some “horse girls/guys” are indeed the type of people you initially described. It’s actually quite a clique-y world and way too much emphasis is placed on unimportant things, like breed/brand of tack ect. But there are lots of cool people also :)

  • Chrissie January 18th, 2013 8:58 PM

    I love horses!

  • Abby January 18th, 2013 9:21 PM

    I WAS FRIENDS WITH A HORSE GIRL. In fact, we were best friends in elementary school. She was sooo obsessed ha.

  • yourenotfunny January 18th, 2013 9:26 PM

    Awww! I live in an area where horses n’ cows are pretty unremarkable. I used to like riding horses, and loved the animals, but was always uncomfortable being alongside w/ horse girls, like my lack of raw passion for horses made me non-worthy of riding. oh, and sigh, I miss having a cute little animal to spoil!

  • annika January 18th, 2013 11:29 PM

    I WAS A HORSE GIRL AND REGRET EVERYTHING IN THAT PHASE

  • Eryn January 19th, 2013 12:01 AM

    I was a horse girl, completely obsessed. I will always love them and they will always be a part of my life, but they are not my whole life anymore, not even the biggest part. I haven’t even ridden in a year (ahh omg D’:) I never competed or anything, never owned a horse, but I started riding when I was 7. Just felt like sharing that.

    • jeans kinda girl January 19th, 2013 6:52 PM

      Exactly! I need to get myself back on a horse!

  • llamalina January 19th, 2013 12:51 AM

    i was never specifically a horse girl, but i grew up obsessed with pretty much any animal in general. i get pretty obsessive about my dog; i treat her and spoil her like a kid, and could probably go on for hours about how adorable and smart she is. i like it when people have something so important to them that they want to share it with the girl. this was really well-written.

    http://llamalina.blogspot.com

  • marthaflatley January 19th, 2013 1:04 AM

    This is such a brilliantly written essay. You’re a great writer. So moving–especially about your grey hound. I also love animals, and can relate to this.

    • pohtaytoe January 22nd, 2013 3:08 AM

      i totally agree with this! this essay is so thoughtful and compassionate!

  • millin3927 January 19th, 2013 1:26 AM

    THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU

    As a dedicated Horse Girl who also enjoys many other cool aspects of life (music, art, social interaction, ect.) this finally portrays the equine-inclined in a positive light. Horseback riding for me is so much more than something to brag about, as it’s helped with my panic disorder and depression for almost a decade. Without my buddy Stan, I’d be a mess. He’s the greatest (he likes to lick people’s faces, ’nuff said).

  • allyishere January 19th, 2013 1:51 AM

    I always found Horse Girls weird and now I feel a little guilty about that haha.

  • Ingi January 19th, 2013 3:25 AM

    I have been a horse girl for a long long time, I even have borrowed horses full time and taken care of them as my own. I love horses! I love the whole atmosphere of being in the stables and taking care of the horses. The whole bond you develop with your horse, the understanding of what it “says” to you with its body language, can be really special! Sounds really sappy, but totally true:) When I’m done with studying and can afford a horse, the fiiiirst thing I’m gonna by. It’s been a dream for very long to have my own horse, they’re literally the best thing ever! Loved to read this on rookie, reminded me of my own obsession that has had to take the backseat of my priorities because of school. Thanks!

  • Mary the freak January 19th, 2013 4:12 AM

    Oh god, we had many horse girls. Everyone was obsessed with horses. I never had one, and I never took riding classes – they all talked only about how great it was yesterday with their pony, which made me feel slightly alienated. It was so weird. But they are kinda right, horses are so beautiful. And sharing this love (sounds cheesy, sorry) with others – I can totally unterstand that now. Amazing article.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • asylum January 19th, 2013 7:58 AM

    I am a horse girl… love them <3

    this-asylum.blogspot.in

  • Isabelle97 January 19th, 2013 8:19 AM

    I used to take riding lesson when I was little, and it was great except I developed a massive horse allergy somewhere along the line and stopped for fear of become like an girl there who wore goggles and strapped tissues to her wrist for easy nose-wiping access ( I kid you not). I was never massively into it but I’d like to try it again someday, having hopefully outgrown my allergies :)

  • Lillypod January 19th, 2013 9:10 AM

    i rode a horse once. it was boring.

  • Atalanta January 19th, 2013 10:50 AM

    I like to think of myself as open minded and non judgemental, but I had not considered the “horse girl”. They are the victims of a lot of ridicule, good one for bringing this to light

  • rayfashionfreak January 19th, 2013 10:53 AM

    I was kindof a horse girl, certainly an animal loving one, all I read from when I was about 6-11 were books about animals, especially horses! I remember my three favourite t-shirts all had horses on them. The only problem then, and still now, is that I am EXTREMELY allergic to horses. I can’t even go near them without blowing up into a big swollen balloon :( So that ruined my dreams of owning a farm or stables.

    Curse you allergies!!

    http://www.fancyfashionfreak.blogspot.co.uk

  • WitchesRave January 19th, 2013 12:20 PM

    Ive been riding since I was a 4, and horse riding is not just a sport, its a skill. You never stop knowing how to ride a horse once you’ve learnt. Its one of the few ageist sports, ive seen 6 year olds and 60 year olds riding together!

    The connection you feel with the horse is incredible, the best feeling in the world. Knowing every muscle in your body connects with the horse and can change how it reacts is soo powerful and confident and trust building. Ive always hated the stereotype of ‘pony club’ girl because its so much more than ‘brushing its mane’ or hanging pretty rosettes. I sometimes wonder if the ‘horse girl’ stereotype is what drives boys away from the sport and degrade the effort and confidence it take to ride a 500kg powerful animal (sometimes beast!).

    witches-rave.tumblr.com

  • mayaautumn January 19th, 2013 1:01 PM

    i was/am a unicorn girl but never a horse girl. though i have friends who i met through secondary school who still love and care for horses. it’s quite nice to have someone like that in your life. i think :)

    http://mayathapapaya.wordpress.com

  • AnaRuiz January 19th, 2013 2:10 PM

    I think that the problem with Horse Girls is the problem with most fangirls, and that is the way they take their love for these animals to eeeeeeevery part of their life, which can get annoying. Another example would be Beliebers or goths. But I totally agree, thanks to people like these the world is a diverse and fun place to live in!

    anaruizwriting.blogspot.com

  • Tangerine January 19th, 2013 2:59 PM

    Ana’s illustration for this is so, so great.

    I knew a horse girl or two! It was more obvious in elementary/middle school, when they’d hang out together and gallop around. I rode horses quite a few times, and even went to horse camp but my main animal squeeze was already wolves. Wolf everything. Imagine two windswept wolf faces on a large moon, airbrushed onto a t-shirt, and you’ve got my basic primary school wardrobe.

  • sophiethewitch January 19th, 2013 6:38 PM

    I was a Horse Girl hater. Thank you for educating me.

  • October in the chair January 19th, 2013 6:43 PM

    My younger sister is a Horse Girl. Whenever someone EVER mentions a rich friend in her presence, she immediately says; “Yay! Ask them if they’ll buy me a horse!”
    She’s been saving up for one for quite a few years now.
    She only has about $700 so far, but considering she’s 12 that’s pretty impressive.

  • Tiferet January 20th, 2013 2:16 PM

    You know, I completely get the thing where being a nerd, you looked down on the horse girls anyway. I think that it’s very natural–not right, mind you, but understandable–for anyone on the bottom of that kind of hierarchy to want to be able to place someone under them. And on a larger scale, I think that’s the way that our culture of privilege functions–intersectionality being important largely because it forces us to realise that one group’s struggle is every group’s struggle.

    But when you are an unpopular kid, sometimes all you want is to find a way not to be, even if that means bagging on someone else in the hope that the other people who bag on that person or group will find you to be more like them because of it.

  • Hedwig January 20th, 2013 5:35 PM

    Pixie you wise, wise sage

  • airplanes.books January 22nd, 2013 3:09 AM

    tina belcher has a poster of horses making out on her bedroom wall.

  • chelsear January 22nd, 2013 10:28 PM

    This article reminds me of the song Another Horsedreamer’s Blues by Counting Crows.

    I was never a horse girl myself, but I did know a ton of them: They read books about horses and watched horse movies and had toy horse stuffed animals. I’m not really an animal person at all, which in some ways is sad because I simply cannot identify with everyone else I seem to encounter when they gush about their pet dog, cat, etc. But there was something really magical about horses that resonated with me as a kid, and even still now. Indeed, I found myself getting caught up in imaginary horse games with my peers, or playing with my younger sister and her My Little Pony collection. An actual horse brings on the same lack of emotion that any other animal does for me, but the fantasy and mystic of my childhood pretend horses still resonates with me.

    Listening to Another Horsedreamer’s Blues has always brought on an intense nostalgia for me, though I never really understood where that feeling comes from, until having read this beautiful article.

  • Charlotte January 23rd, 2013 3:59 AM

    hey so i know it’s a label and all but this is just SO ON POINT about the strange adolescent culture of horse girls!! like, the blunt bangs & braids + horse sweatshirt combo is so accurate, I remember kids like this from my childhood! :’) A+

  • Imogen ryder January 24th, 2013 2:13 PM

    I am a “horse girl” and all i can say is, in the words of mean girls, “don’t let the haters stop you from doing your thang.” horses fantastic companions, keep you incredibly fit, teach you independence, trust, what hard work really means and how to truly understand something that cannot speak. It’s an incredibly deep connection and should be more widely respected in my opinion. Go horse girl go!

  • Sydney HorseCrazyGirl January 24th, 2013 8:15 PM

    I am a horsecrazy girl and I know some of my friends think I am obsessed but I didn’t know they think I’m weird! (At least they don’t tell me that.) Anyway, you’re a great writer and thanks for making me see another viewpoint. Though how anyone can live without horses in their lives is totally beyond me. Call me truly horsecrazy – I don’t mind. :)

  • ipomoea January 29th, 2013 8:20 PM

    I was a die-hard horse girl, but one who was horseless more often than not. My husband and I adopted a greyhound two years ago, and her lovely sweet, sleek, patient, and elegant self is very reminiscent of horses– we call her the dear horse-dog.

  • GlitterKitty February 1st, 2013 6:13 PM

    I knew lots of horse girls but I’ve never really understood it. I get that they love horses but I just don’t see the fascination. They’re pretty and strong which is cool but I think horses are kinda scary. They’re just so big when you’re standing next to them. I rode a horse at camp a couple times and always felt like it was going to randomly gallop away.

  • Julliettes Blog April 5th, 2013 4:22 PM

    I am a total horse girl, but what attracts me the most to my beautiful show pony, Cricket, is the way it seems like she understands me. I can’t ever go without thinking about the time when, in the middle of a show, she saved me from a seriously horrible fall onto an oxer. And honestly, I am personally proud of that fact.