Photos courtesy of Timothy Harfield
Dr. Timothy Harfield, eventer Elisa Wallace’s horse husband of three years, documents a behind-the-scenes look at the life of United States Olympic Eventing Team reserve rider and Mustang advocate from Jasper, Georgia, via weekly Wallace Eventing vlogs. In addition, Timothy has fully-embraced his horse hubby role by cleaning stalls, feeding horses and holding “stuff” when asked. He co-hosts a monthly Horse Husbands Horse Radio Network podcast and founded the hilarious blog HorseHubby.com. Sidelines caught up with Timothy and learned more about his thoughts on love, horses and amoeba eventing.
How did you and Elisa meet?
Elisa found me like she would find a horse: online. At the time, I was completing my doctorate in philosophy, and I wasn’t the easiest man in the world to get. When we first connected, it was days before I left for Quebec to participate in an intensive language program, as my doctoral program demanded fluency in two languages other than English. During this time, I refused to read or write anything that wasn’t French, and so I kind of fell off the grid for a month or two. I was a foreigner (Canadian), a student living off of scholarship money, which wasn’t much, and I didn’t have a car. A real catch! But Elisa is good at spotting “diamonds in the rough.” I’m glad she saw something special, and tenaciously pursued me.
At what point in your relationship did you gather Elisa was not a casual horse lover?
I knew how serious Elisa was from the very beginning. She described her Olympic dream in her online dating profile, which of course had pictures of her riding. Before I knew her name — at first I only had her profile name — I was able to figure out who she was and find some video and news coverage. There wasn’t a ton — unlike now — but it was enough to know that Elisa was a career horsewoman and it was more than a hobby…
How did you create HorseHubby.com?
HorseHubby.com started as an experiment. I’d written some things here and there, and a handful of people had mentioned that they wanted to read more from my perspective. It takes all of 10 minutes and less than $10 to put up a website, and so I went online and published the first post. Within a day, the post had been read thousands of times. It was clear that there was a need, an audience, for content written from a horse husband’s perspective.
For those who are unfamiliar, enlighten us with your definition of a horse hubby.
A horse husband is basically a non-horse person married to a horsewoman. A horse hubby, on the other hand, is a particular kind of horse husband. To become a horse husband, all you need to do is marry a horse girl. To be a horse hubby means to embrace horses as a central part of your life without actually becoming a horse person yourself. The horse hubby holds stuff and cleans stalls when requested. He takes a keen interest to learn about his wife’s passion, knowing that it’s important to develop a shared vocabulary. The horse hubby rarely rides, but is nevertheless active in his support. He volunteers at events, takes pictures, brings snacks and is an enthusiastic cheerleader.
Elisa is well known for training Mustangs. Does she ever let you ride the Mustangs — or any of the horses, for that matter?
Funny. The only horses Elisa will let me ride are the Mustangs — Rune in particular. People laugh when they hear that the Mustangs are the best “husband horses” on the farm.
Do you also jump or ride bareback bridleless like Elisa does?
My skills are hilarious. I don’t ride very often at all. My long-term goal is to compete as an eventer at the “amoeba” (beginner) level mostly because I think it would be really funny. Elisa agrees.
Elisa had a great year at Rolex, finishing eighth overall. What is the Rolex experience like as a horse hubby?
In general, I spend most of my time at Rolex and at other events taking pictures, producing video, connecting with media and working with sponsors. Elisa is understandably very focused. I don’t have grooming skills, and I don’t like hovering. Working with media keeps me busy and productive.
This year I destroyed my car while on a mission to deliver the helmet cam. The mission was a success, fortunately. [Timothy’s car became stuck in mud as a result of the heavy rains and had to be towed, but Elisa’s cross-country ride via helmet cam on YouTube lives on thanks to that valiant camera delivery.]
Describe your relationship with Elia’s horse Simply Priceless (Johnny). Do you get along, or is there a little competition for Elisa’s attention?
I love Johnny. It’s been amazing to see his personality develop after years of training. I’ve never felt any kind of competition for Elisa’s attention, either with Johnny or any of Elisa’s other horses. There are many reasons for this. There are many types of love. The Greeks famously identified at least four. Elisa loves her horses, and she loves me. It’s possible to love people and animals to the same degree, but in a way that differs in kind. There’s lots of love to go around.
A healthy relationship is one in which partners aren’t the center of each other’s universe. The desire to be the most important thing in another’s life is a recipe for codependency. If, on the other hand, you come together with a partner in pursuit of a common vision, and support your partner in their passions at the same time as your partner supports you in yours, then the pursuit of things outside of your relationship will bring you closer together.
Who are horse hubby icons that you admire and what makes them stand out?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Glenn Hebert (aka ‘Glenn the Geek’ of Horse Radio Network). He’s exemplary in the way that he has embraced the horse life through entrepreneurship, and the great service and encouragement that he provides to the horse world in general. I love it when a horse husband and his wife find a way to combine their passions to form a successful business. It’s that “movement toward a common vision” thing again.
What would you say is the most common misconception about being a horse hubby?
What I don’t like is the perception (by some) that the horse husband is a wimpy hanger-on who simply dotes on his wife. I don’t like the perception that helping your wife (holding stuff, running errands, cleaning stalls, etc.), and the fact that your wife is strong means that a husband has to be the “weak” one in the relationship, who sacrifices his own identity and passions in support of his wife. A horse hubby is strong. They have to be in order to have a good relationship with a strong woman. I have a strong personality, and tend to be a leader in other areas of my life. When it comes to the barn, however, I respect Elisa’s wisdom and expertise and defer to her judgment in the vast majority of cases. My father defines ‘meekness’ as ‘power under control.’ I think that’s a defining characteristic of a horse hubby.
Tell us a little about your day job.
Until recently, I worked at Georgia State University as a project director in the Office of Enrollment Management and Student Success. Georgia State University is internationally recognized for the amazing work it’s doing in in support of low-income and first-generation students, and I feel blessed to have been able to meaningfully contribute to the efforts of the student success team. But the commute into Atlanta each day from the farm in Jasper was a killer: two hours each way, four hours per day. My current position as a marketing manager for a Blackboard Inc., a major educational technology company, allows me to continue to do work in support of the learning analytics and student success community, while also giving me more time for family and barn life.
About the writer: Susan Friedland-Smith, a middle school history teacher who has been horse-crazy since girlhood, lives in North Tustin, California. Her OTTB Tiz A Knight is the main character of the blog Saddle Seeks Horse (SaddleSeeksHorse.com) which chronicles her amateur adventures and “the real horse life of Orange County.” Find her on Twitter @SaddlSeeksHorse and Instagram and Facebook @SaddleSeeksHorse.