We've all heard about those equestrian-oriented online dating services. They're part of the increasing specialization of the Internet matchmaking business, which now generates roughly a billion dollars in revenue in the U.S. each year.
But...do they actually work? Do they enable horse people to find real love-with a soulmate who shares their enthusiasm for country living and all things equine?
To find out, we decided to talk to the folks at EquestrianSingles.com, the most recognized dating service for horse people worldwide. Founded in 2001, the Texas-based Web site boasts over 10,000 marriages and success stories around the globe, according to founder Marcia Zwilling. She helped us locate five couples willing to tell us how they went about finding their horsey sig-o through cyber dating.
Here are their stories.
Connie and Han: Best First Date Ever
Connie Schuh of Fort Collins, Colorado, had just lost her childhood horse to old age when she decided to try online dating. She joined EquestrianSingles.com in January of 2004?but with some trepidation.
"I was nervous about putting myself out there for strangers to see," she explains. "I wasn't sure how I was going to get to know someone well enough via e-mails to feel comfortable meeting him in person."
A month later, she connected with A. J. "Han" Smith, owner and general manager of the Rusty Spurr guest ranch in Kremming, Colorado. The two corresponded by e-mail for three weeks before speaking on the phone.
"Han didn't brag or boast about his achievements," she recalls, noting that e-mail turned out to be a good way to get acquainted, after all. "Instead he'd write about how amazing it was to watch the moon rise over his cabin, or the wonderful smell of sage when he galloped his horse through it. All that evoked a feeling and image that can't be portrayed in a regular conversation."
When they did finally connect by phone, they talked for hours, "as if we'd been friends for a long time," says Connie. They also planned a day to meet in person a week later.
"I'm cautious, so for our first meeting I had my sister in tow, and we all went skiing. A short time later, we had our first real date?he took me horseback riding through the snow all around his ranch.
"It was a gorgeous, sunny Colorado day in February, and the horses were perfect," she continues. "Han packed us a saddlebag lunch and even remembered what I liked to drink. We never ran out of things to talk about. I believe it was the best first date ever because we'd had a chance to get to know each other so well through all those prior e-mails."
Connie says she knew things were serious several months later, on another ride.
"He took me out along a beautiful stretch of the Blue River. We stopped for a break and got off the horses, and he held me in his arms. The look in his eyes when he told me he was falling in love with me was when I knew he was ?the one.'"
They were married in 2008 on horseback, at the ranch. "We gave each guest the option of a trail ride through the ranch with one of our wranglers at some point over the weekend. People still talk about that!"
Today, the couple manages the guest ranch together, providing cattle drives and trail rides through the Rocky Mountains with a string of mostly Quarter Horses, which are treated "like family."
And speaking of family, the couple's son, Wyatt, is now 2 years old. (You can visit the Smiths' ranch online at rustyspurr.com.)
Christy and David: Skip the Horse, Take the Girl
A client prodded real estate broker Christy Hartman of Gresham, Oregon, to join EquestrianSingles.com in 2005. She'd earlier tried Match.com without much success, but over the next few years, she met many interesting people on the equestrian site, some whom she dated and some who were just friends.
Then, in 2010, the need to sell her Quarter Horse gelding Commando (because of the economy) prompted her to put out the word through the Web site. This eventually led to contact with David DeCourcey, a real estate title examiner from Bend, Oregon, who was also a member of the site. Christy sent him photos of her horse, and the two began corresponding by e-mail and phone.
"On the phone he was warm, witty, and smart," Christy recalls. "He was comfortable talking about anything from politics to raising kids." Eventually David said he wanted to come see Commando?and his owner?in person.
"I told him I prefer a cowboy, not some city-slicker type," Christy recalls with a laugh. "The day he came, he showed up at my door early, and my hair was still in curlers. I told him I wasn't ready, so he went out for breakfast. When he returned, he was adorable?all dressed up in Western clothes and a cowboy hat and with two-dozen red roses in his hand. The chemistry was there, and it really was love at first sight."
They went to see the horse, and wound up driving to the Oregon Coast, "singing crazy songs we both knew by heart, eating great food?the day seemed to last forever and it was wonderful," she says.
The pair wed a year later. They now live on a 40-acre farm outside of Bend, with five horses they use for trail riding, sorting, and cowboy mounted shooting. One of the horses, by the way, is Commando?Christy wound up keeping him.
"Friends tease David that he should've just bought the horse?and saved himself a lot of money," says Christy. "He always laughs and says he's very happy with how it all turned out."
Janine and Dan: Married on a Mountaintop
Dan Stewart joined EquestrianSingles.com in about 2001, while he was still in the Air Force. He met a lot of friends though the site, but didn't get serious about looking for a partner until he retired and moved to Alabama in November of 2004.
Janine Smith, meanwhile, joined the site in 2004 and, within a few months, the Atlanta, Georgia, tax manager began corresponding with Dan. Both were cautious at first.
"You have to ask a lot of questions before you actually meet someone in person," observes Janine. "Then, you may not always get a
truthful answer. It's not much different, actually, from any other method of finding someone to date."
Dan warned her at the outset that the relationship might take some work. "I told her that my new civilian job as a senior network engineer required a lot of travel, so spending time together was going to be tough," he recalls. "But she understood and gave everything she had to make it work."
In the beginning their correspondence was entirely through the site. "Then we exchanged phone numbers and called each other every day?several times a day?before meeting over dinner," Janine recalls. "We worked on our friendship before anything else. I thought we had a lot in common, and I loved being with him no matter what we were doing."
The couple shared an interest in horses and motorcycles. "We're opposites in that I'm loud and opinionated and she's quiet," observes Dan. "But she would always interject her feelings when she felt they needed to be heard."
In 2006, Janine made the commitment to move to Alabama to be near Dan. The pair then looked for a ranch to buy and were married in September of that year.
"We wanted a simple wedding, so we chose up in the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee?just she and I, and her mother," recalls Dan.
"Church is a big part of my life," adds Janine, "but I always had a dream of an outside wedding. So we were married on top of a mountain in the fall. It was perfect."
The couple has built a life together around horses at their Wildhorse Hideaway Ranch in Clanton, Alabama. They breed and raise mainly Quarter Horses and a few Paints, with which they compete in Western pleasure (Janine) and team roping (Dan), plus trail ride.
"It's a wonderful life," says the horsewoman simply.
Victoria and Terry: Keeping the Faith
A girlfriend encouraged Victoria Wassell to try EquestrianSingles.com in 2009 after the breakup of Victoria's marriage. The Kingman, Arizona, artist, owner of a black-and-white Spotted Saddle Horse named Harley, wanted to meet a horseman.
"I'd been married for 27 years, so dating was new to me," she recounts, "and finding someone who shared my passion was a priority."
Terry Brown, meanwhile, was the owner of an aerospace manufacturing company and three Quarter Horse geldings in Graham, Washington. He'd joined the site for about six months in 2009, then got discouraged and left for about a year. He returned in 2011, "and within two days I was e-mailing Victoria," he relates.
They had many questions for each other and talked a lot before meeting in person. Both are religious, and this was as important to Victoria as their shared love of horses.
After about a month, Terry flew to Las Vegas and then drove two hours to Victoria's place with flowers in hand. The pair talked for four hours straight. Then they drove together back to Las Vegas to spend the next two days enjoying the National Finals Rodeo and its Cowboy Christmas gift show.
After dating for three or four months, the pair realized they might have the foundation of a lifetime partnership. "I'm a chicken," confesses Victoria, "but his patience won out and, through a lot of prayer, I felt he was the one."
Terry, meanwhile, was impressed with Victoria's honesty. "She also seemed so stable and had lots of common sense. Our communication just clicked."
Then, while at the wedding of friends in Idaho, where they'd taken the horses and also planned to ride, they decided to drop by a justice of the peace.
"We were already engaged at that point," Victoria recalls, "and we thought it would take a few days to arrange to be married, so we were in our jeans and boots?and they married us on the spot!" The couple also had a more traditional wedding in Arizona later in the summer?complete with a southwestern sunset and live band?so family members could participate.
Now they split their time between their respective ranches. "We have three Quarter Horses between us that we use mostly for trail riding and elk hunting," says Victoria, "though we hope to try team penning and sorting, and maybe even some cowboy mounted shooting someday."
"I found a true life partner," adds Terry. "A beautiful woman with a beautiful heart?I am so blessed."
Andrea and Richard: An International Love Affair
In 2010, Richard Creel was living on a friend's ranch near Prescott, Arizona, and coming off a failed relationship of several years. His three daughters stepped in at that point with a suggestion: Join EquestrianSingles.com to find "a good cowgirl."
The former Wickenburg city council member and inventor was retired from law enforcement with Arizona's Maricopa County. He also owned five horses, with a herd mix of Quarter Horse, Fox Trotter, and mustang.
He took his daughters' advice, making several good friends on the site, plus dating two of them briefly. Then, in April of the following year, he was contacted by site member Andrea Burgin, a Swiss horsewoman and ranch manager living in Princeton, British Columbia, Canada.
They e-mailed a few times, exchanged photos, and called each other?a lot. "I had a $300 phone bill," Richard laughs, adding that though he found her appealing, he wasn't sure about dating someone from another country. "After all, dating someone from the other side of the city can be problematic, so how would it be with an international border between us?"
He needn't have worried. In June of that year, Andrea came down and spent seven days with him at a ranch he was then renting in Scottsdale, playing with his horses. Upon leaving, she invited him to come visit her up north. In August he made the trip?then wound up spending eight out of the next 18 months at Andrea's.
"She was so genuine," he says, "plus I loved her Swiss accent."
At press time, the plan was for the pair to spend Christmas in the snow up in Canada, then to return to Arizona to marry sometime after the first of the year. They now own four horses between them, three Quarter Horses and one Andalusian, which they use for ranch work and trail riding.
"I am crazy in love with Andrea," says Richard. "My only regret is that I didn't meet her 30 years ago."
Equestrian dating sites vary in quality and offerings, so be sure to check them out carefully before joining. Here are some details about EquestrianSingles.com.
Options abound. Membership options range from basic to deluxe in cost and amenities, and some services?including chat rooms, event calendar, and an initial posting?are free.
More than dating. You can meet friends as well as potential partners. The auxiliary EquestrianFriends.com is designed to link like-minded folks interested in riding together or attending equestrian events.
Philanthropy, too. EquestrianSingles.com sponsors nonprofit equine-rescue groups; sales of a member cookbook raise funds to assist members with medical bills.
A high profile. The group has been featured on "Oprah" and "The Today Show"; the documentary "Wild Horse, Wild Ride" features two EquestrianSingles.com members.
For more information: Check it out at equestriansingles.com.
Be Honest?and Other Advice
We asked all the couples interviewed for this story for their advice, and all stressed the importance of being scrupulously honest in profile postings and in all correspondence with potential dates. If you're not honest, they stressed, it can delay the process of getting acquainted or even destroy the trust of the person you're trying to meet.
Other important tips:
Be organized. Make a list of the qualities you're looking for in a partner and ask lots of questions. Stay true to your plan for important characteristics such as honesty and reliability.
Be patient. It may take time to find the right person. Don't give up! Also, don't rush the getting-acquainted process. Become as familiar with someone as you can before deciding to meet in person, keeping in mind that not everyone on the Internet is genuine.
Be kind and courteous. The Golden Rule applies at all times. Even those who aren't partner material can become friends, and/ or lead you to other prospects.