I have been thinking lately a lot about how hard it can be for middle-aged and older women to either get back to their long interrupted riding or to start riding. It is not easy.
We know we can get hurt. Many of us have osteoporosis and many more have arthritis. Our youthful figures have gone away, our once athletic bodies have dissolved, and we just do not feel as sprightly as we did when we were younger. Medical issues pile up, kids and families threaten all of our excess money, riding clothes are made to fit anorexic models, and many riding teachers frown at us because we are not of that “ideal” model that automatically catches the judges’ eyes.
I am very, very lucky, even though I have MS, a family, and my figure isn’t what it used to be, I managed to get a horse at 19 and I have either been riding or taking care of horses ever since (43 years!) By doing this I went against my upbringing, the get married, have kids, get your kids through college, and then, if your husband agrees (and makes enough money), you can finally get to ride and maybe even get your own horse. I cannot imagine overcoming the many obstacles that women encounter trying to get into riding starting in their fifties or sixties.
I admire each and every middle-aged and older woman who starts or re-starts riding later in life. I am in absolute awe of your courage, your persistence, your ability to hold a dream over decades, and your total refusal to admit that your dreams may not be “realistic”. My experience is mainly with hunt seat stables but the same things happen in most types of riding. When we older women go to riding stables we are surrounded by young girls and teenagers, those fortunate girls whose parents can afford riding lessons and decent horses. Adult women? Yes, the riding teacher is an adult, but most of the other adult women are mothers of girls who ride. These mothers are amazing in their own right, they do a lot of the work getting their daughters and their daughters’ horses ready to ride and show, and they make a lot of sacrifices to free up enough money so that their daughters can ride, but they do not UNDERSTAND riding. Most of the adult women who ride are those like me, fortunate to get into riding in our youths and who were prosperous enough to keep on riding in our adulthood. Very few stables can find enough adult riders that they can afford not to have younger riders running around (unless they are in an area where there are many adult horsewomen who have a LOT of money.)
So when a middle-aged or older woman finds a stable where she can get lessons, she is NOT surrounded by her peers, she is surrounded by young girls or teenagers in the latest anorexic riding fashions. If the older female is fortunate enough to own a horse it is likely that her horse is not up to the quality of the horses of the younger riders, often because the older women are beginners that have absolutely no hope of staying up on a competitively fit well trained horse. Fortunately most older women usually realize this and go for the quieter horses. While the younger girls gracefully vault into the saddle (or gracefully spring up if they use a stirrup) we older women need a mounting block and we painfully haul ourselves up into the saddle. Once in the saddle it is harder, much harder, for us to get our aging bodies into a proper riding position and it is even harder to stay in it! And once we get into a proper riding position we have to relearn how to move our hips, and we have to teach our bodies, used to traveling in stable car seats, to stay in balance on a constantly moving platform. Then we move into the trot and canter! If we are lucky our riding teacher has some idea about the difficulties we face, but most riding teachers are trained to teach children and teenagers, not older adults, so we suffer comparisons of our riding abilities to those of athletic teenage girls. Not only that, for many of us older people with aging bodies it may take three to ten times as long to learn what a younger person learns quickly, and many riding teachers cannot keep their interest going long enough for us to make progress. If a riding student can ride just at an elementary level for the first three years, that riding student usually is NOT going to get the help they need to become good riders because many riding teachers just give up on them making any progress ever.
In addition to all this most beginning middle-aged and older riders also have to deal with FEAR. Fear of horses (they are so big!), fear of being so far off the ground, fear of falling (remember a lot of us have osteoporosis), fear of the horse running away, fear that if we do something wrong the horse will get mad at us and either dump us or run away, fear of looking totally ridiculous along with the fear of derision, ridicule and mockery, fear that we cannot control the horse, and the biggest fear of all, that we will NEVER learn how to ride effectively because we are--too old. IF the older woman is fortunate enough to find an understanding teacher she will be able to work through these fears in a controlled environment, but there are not many teachers like that around, teachers that are willing to teach an elementary level rider for years who never shows much “real” progress, and it is a rare group lesson program that can accommodate this type of rider. This means that the MUCH more expensive private riding lessons are often the best option, then one can add the fear of running out of money before one learns how to ride!
Still, an amazing amount of middle-aged and older women do learn how to ride, and many of them become decent riders. Many migrate to Western riding because the saddle is more secure and the Western horses used for pleasure riding do not tend to move explosively, and these riders often end up happily riding for many years on the trails up on their trustworthy horses. Some migrate to dressage (if they have enough money for the lessons), others, like me, ride hunt seat on the flat--maybe jumping a few low jumps, and quite a few ride Saddle Seat. Many others get into the “natural horsemanship” schools of training and riding. So long as we accept that we are not going to become jockeys, Olympic level or champion show jumpers, we can eventually learn to ride well enough so we can relax on horseback and have fun riding. As we concentrate on riding the best we can with our limited abilities we find that many horses are willing to put up with our imperfections if we treat them humanely, and we can end up with true partnerships with our horses. And THAT is the highest level of horsemanship!
So if you are a middle-aged or older woman who is determined to ride horses finally, I really do not care what method you ride so long as you ride humanely, and the same goes for the training methods you use on your horse if you are humane and patient with your horse. I do not care if your seat is not totally secure, that your position is not perfect and that your horse is not perfectly trained. I ADMIRE YOU because you face your fears every time you mount, and you are--
THE BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE!
Have a great ride!