Living The Horse Girl Lifestyle With Shane Arthur Nathan
A quick note from Emmie: Although we say “girl” in our name, connecting with a horse and living the “horse girl” lifestyle is not limited by gender. Shane is a perfect example of this. His Instagram bio, and I quote, is, “Horse girl & Harvard student.”
Meet Shane Arthur Nathan / he/him / Actor & student
When were you first introduced to horses?
My Mother grew up riding in the Midwest, mainly Illinois, but at age 12 my grandmother moved her family to California to create a life in San Francisco. They were there for 20 years before deciding to venture east so my brother and I could have a calmer lifestyle. San Francisco is a wonderful place but there is no equestrian life in the city. My introduction to horses, luckily, was at a very young age. I must’ve been 7 or 8.
A year or so after moving to Sacramento from San Francisco, my mother approached the question, “should I start riding again?” In 2002, my mother bought us a jet black thoroughbred off the track named D’Artagnan and I was in love. I haven’t stopped riding since.
Tell us about your horse Yde!
The story of how Yde came to be a part of our family is my favorite story to tell. It’s long so bear with me. It’s truly a rollercoaster of emotions and it solidified my belief in the phrase if it’s meant to be it’ll be. In 2013, I sold my horse at the time. I was growing up and feeling trapped with responsibility and guilt for having my mother pay so much money every month for my passion. I always rode but I began to ride other peoples’ horses, which later turned into a job. This was my life until August 2017 when I decided to move to New York City to experience my youth alone. I wanted to move to a place where I knew no one, a place where all my normal comforts would be gone. I expected it to be brutal but exhilarating and that’s exactly what it was. I actually wanted a break from riding, too, which is hard to admit. However, all those grand hopes were just a facade. I was so depressed without horses. I would find all the tack stores in New York and just walk around and look at all the gear that was as expensive as my rent. I longed for the smell of a barn, desperate to touch a horse, even more, desperate to ride. I ended up riding one time in Jersey at a fabulous barn called Ithilien Stables with a trainer named Leah Epstein. It was, in retrospect, my top three favorite days in NYC.
So, at this point, I was in NYC for about five months when I was approached with a chance to audition for Cavalia, the Equine Theatre Show, and I jumped at the opportunity. I kid you not, in a matter of three days I quit my job, subleased my apartment, and was on a plane to Los Angeles for my final in-person audition with Cavalia. After a few hours of riding and many failed attempts at speaking French with everyone else, I landed the spot in the show. I remember the feeling of being told I made the team, it was euphoric, transcendent even. It seemed like the epitome of success if you’re a rider and performer like me. But I was wrong, and that decision to leave really shaped a lot of friendships I had at the time, and even more importantly, a newly-formed romantic relationship. Right before I moved I met the love of my life and here I was, leaving after 4 weeks of knowing him. Meeting Jude was the reason I was compelled to move to New York. I just didn’t know it at the time. Meeting Jude is also the reason I have Yde.
I was only with Cavalia for a month and it was the longest, most challenging month of my life. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted and needed it to be and it was none of those things. It was amazing, don’t get me wrong, but for me, it was crippling. All of the things and people that bring me joy and meaning to life were no longer around. I was lost and depressed before joining Cavalia so it seems fitting, and totally a cliche, that I would literally run away and join a circus. So, now we fast forward to late summer 2018 and Jude is living with my family in Sacramento on break from Uni. I decided to show him my barn I grew up riding at. We wanted to give the horses treats. As we were leaving Jude noticed a black horse across the way at the neighboring barn and he wanted to check it out. When we approached Yde he immediately came over to us for pets and as soon as I saw him, even though he was 100 pounds underweight and dirty I knew he was special. His bold Friesian look was striking even at his current state. His energy demanded a stage. I was obsessed. Literally stalking people on Facebook to try and track down his owner. Finally, I was able to get the number of the barn owner whom I called immediately. He informed that his owner was actually thinking of selling because he was too much horse for her. I thought this was too good to be true. I was finally able to get in contact with his previous owner and we talked on the phone for a long time, she told me everything about him- the good and the bad. I was hooked, I needed to ride him, I needed to know him. But for the remainder of the year, his previous owner couldn’t make up her mind about selling him so I ended up just riding him for her whenever I was in town. At that point, we were spending a lot of time with Jude’s family in San Francisco.
The year was ending soon and she still didn’t want to sell. Which was fine because Jude and I wanted to work abroad for a while. So we moved to France for a few months and Yde, for all accounts would be there when I got home in February 2019. He was, but the dynamic changed. She had someone else working with him and she didn’t want “too many cooks in the kitchen.” So I stepped back and focused on my acting career for a while. All the way up to May, my last ride being in December, I hadn’t seen him or ridden him. But I was still fixated on him. Constantly talking about him, fantasizing about what he could be. I would even send my mom to do a drive-by just to make sure he was still there. So, now it’s May and I’m in Sacramento to visit my family. I go to the barn to visit the other horses and of course, sneak a peek and a kiss from Yde. His owner was there and so I went over to say hello. She was in an arm brace from a bad fall she had with Yde. She informs me that the lady she had working with Yde was doing a poor job and so I offered to ride him again. If I couldn’t buy him I at least wanted to be in his life. This horse was magical and I felt special on him. That was enough for me. I drove back and forth from San Francisco to Sacramento to ride a horse that wasn’t even mine for 20 minutes. Eventually, his owner, realizing that the pair were harmful to one another, decided to officially sell him. Naturally, I was a poor actor with little success at the time. I could not afford to purchase Yde let alone manage the cost of upkeep. But the world came through for me big time. His owner realized we were meant to be together so she gave me the deal of a lifetime and my mother stepped in, realizing the same thing, and bought him for me. In the midst of all this, I booked and shot my first national commercial and that money gave me the first few months of the board. I didn’t even own a halter. That's how long it had been since I owned a horse. I was starting from scratch. I borrowed saddles until I was able to save enough money for my own. But all of that didn’t matter. I had the horse of my dreams. And it wouldn’t have happened if Jude didn’t spot him on that gorgeous summer day. It was as if he was waiting for me. Yde saved me in so many ways. And for that, I am forever grateful.
How is it going balancing horses, school, and acting?
For me, balance is about sacrifice for the greater end result. So my acting has really taken a step back. When I started at Harvard I wanted that to take precedence for obvious reasons. Acting has always been a dream of mine but I’m choosing to set that aside for a later time so I can focus on something more tangible. My concentration at Harvard is in the Humanities and I plan to go to law school after I get my Bachelors. I’m really passionate about Human Rights Law and Bioethics. My experience with Harvard has been amazing, the professors are on a level that’s hard to comprehend and my peers constantly push me to work even harder and study even more. Sadly it’s still all online but I was able to check out Boston and Cambridge in the fall of 2020. The campus and the surrounding environment were overwhelming and inspiring. Managing riding and homework is easy for me currently because I have help. On days when I can’t make it to the barn, my mother steps in and helps. She can do everything with Yde and I trust her judgment completely. When we move to Massachusetts this fall it’ll be a different story. I’m a morning person luckily. I can be up at 5 am to ride and not fret about it. So in theory that’s how I’ll plan my days when I’m studying on campus. Ride, Study, Repeat!
What does being a “horse girl” mean to you?
Being a Horse Girl is fabulous! It means you’re so dedicated and passionate about something that the world needed to define us with a label. Lately, however, I’ve seen an uprising of unwarranted Anti-Horse Girl propaganda, which could be perfectly countered with a quote from the incomparable Paris Hilton, “jealousy is a disease, get well soon. . .”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Do not paint over the Friesian your grandma painted on your bedroom wall when you were 9, just because you’re embarrassed by what other boys in school might say.
I would tell my younger self to be nicer to my own family and don’t try and be anything you’re not. I would tell my younger self to be proud of being smart and don’t try and hide it with humor. I would tell my younger self to never dye my hair blue no matter how desperate you are to look like Lea Seydoux in ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’. I would tell myself if I just wait long enough all of those deep desires and aspirations will come true eventually and don’t try and rush the process. But most importantly, I would tell my younger self to never confuse the difference between my own desires and the desires others have for me, as my own.
Ps. Since I know you all are wondering, his name is pronounced “eeda”.
Images by: Lauren Alvarez
Follow Shane: @shanenathanofficial