Growing up, it took me a long time to look at a boy think I wanted to spend any remote amount of time with him.

I was too busy with Roy. And Roy had captured my whole heart.

He was a fat, middle aged, grumpy, chestnut welsh pony. And he was the first horse who taught me how to love unconditionally. As the first ever horse I could call my own, he became my entire life.

Next came Max, a well mannered, been there done that thoroughbred gelding in middle school. And then Tuffy, my warmblood paint jumper gelding in high school.

The human boys I eventually allowed into my life never stuck around for long. In all fairness, it was hard to compete with the horses, which consumed so much of my time and life in general.

Belinda, my current horse, is an excellent judge of character. With her help, I’ve been able to weed out the men that don’t really deserve my time or attention. And with her help, I (we’ve) found the one that will become a permanent fixture in our family.

My partner, Alex, recently proposed. I couldn’t be more thrilled. But here’s how I decided he was the one:

He wants to come to the barn. For a long time, I never let any boyfriend come to the barn after an ex made me feel guilty for doing so. Alex comes willingly. He’s happy to help out with chores or just enjoy a few hours outside. Most of the time he just entertains our dog or keeps an eye out for the barn’s resident hawk.

He understands this is more than a hobby. Alex knew nothing about horses before I met him. But he quickly learned that this was a huge and important part of my life. So he never bats an eye when I’m too broke to go on vacation or even go out to dinner sometimes, because he knows I’m spending my money on something that matters to me. He doesn’t get angry when I fall into the time suck that is the barn, and when I rarely make it home when I say I will (he’s learned to tack on two extra hours if I say I’m going to the barn).

He sacrifices his own stuff to help me. I’m a relative newbie at trailering, and my horse isn’t the greatest about it. Knowing how anxious it makes me, Alex never misses a trailer excursion. He’s there every time I want to go off property, helping me hook up, risking his life latching butt bars and supporting me when I’m behind the wheel. Even when it means we’re waking up before 5 a.m.

He loves my horse. There are days when Alex is clearly downright afraid of her. She’s a big warmblood and sometimes when we’re getting through a trailering issue, she can be pretty worked up. But Alex is so kind to her. He treats her like any other member of our family, even if he doesn’t understand her and the things she does most of the time.

All of these things (and more) translates that Alex is a caring, kind and patient person, whether I am a equestrian or not. But what Belinda and the slew of horses from my past have taught me is to never settle. There’s someone out there who may not understand why you love something like a 1,100-pound expensive, unruly pooping machine so much, but they’ll support you anyway.