I Want to Ride-I Want to Ride

“I want to ride!” it is the thought that keeps popping up in your head while you are busying yourself with all the things you have put into your life. Your career, your family, that whole network of things and people that depend on you.

You are over 40 or 50 and you might have spent time around horses while your kids rode. You might even still have that horse that the kids left behind for college, marriage and family. Or, you could be a person that always admired horses from a distance and now wrestle with the idea of whether pursuing your dream of riding at this age is wise or even possible! Whatever the reason, the thought of riding lingers in your mind.

I wanted to be a horse when I was nine years old – but, I modified my dream to the more realistic goal of “ride a horse, and ride it so well that we become ‘as one’”. I was born in Springfield, Missouri, but my opportunity to learn to ride came after we moved to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The Military Police had a civilian riding school there and I was determined to be in it! So, at age nine, I embarked on my 50+ years of competition riding and training.

I was lucky, I had access to great instruction, great horses and youth. But at 44 years old I suffered a major surgery – surgery to repair three broken vertebrae with 7 inch Titanium rods and bolts. This event would awaken me to the most important questions a person can ask themselves. The statement “I want to ride” kept rolling around in my head. Doctors and family would be happy if I could just walk again – riding, to them was out of the question.

So I found myself at 44 asking many of the same questions you are: “Should I ride?” Who will want to teach me like this?” “Can I be good at it?” “What if I get hurt?”

The three things that make riding a successful pursuit are: Great instruction, Great horses, and Experience.

Young people assimilate experiences without the filters that adults use. Kids are empty vessels that do not have to make room for knowledge or tactile sensations. Adults are different – we measure everything against what we have experienced before – decide if it is relevant – then accommodate it or reject it. A rider that begins as an adult will have many challenges to overcome, but they can be overcome!

Before you start riding, there are some steps that you can take to save you time and money.

1) Research your personality type and learning style. The Enneagram and Myers Briggs tests can be taken online for free and will give you valuable insight about your needs as a student.

2) Do some physical assessment of your coordination, balance, and stamina. These can be done on a mini tramp, in the pool at water aerobics, or by a professional. Balance and suppleness are more important than aerobic fitness.

3) Seek out the right instructor and horse for yourself. Once you know what discipline you are interested in, find an instructor that specializes in that style of riding. You will need a good lesson horse or part lease a trained horse for your lessons. DO NOT EXPECT YOURSELF TO TRAIN A HORSE!

If you are a beginner, you will need a beginner’s horse. The horse must be tolerant of your balance mistakes, be willing to respond to correct aids, and not the type of horse that will test you to the point that you will have to do incorrect things to handle it. ( word of caution – it is harder to find the right horse than it is to find the right instructor!) However, a good instructor can compensate for a less than “perfect” horse!

It is important that the instructor you choose is experienced with the breed of horse you are going to ride, so I suggest getting the instructor that suits your personality and temperament, and most likely she or he, will have the right horse to match!

It is equally important to clearly define your goals. The horse that you start on will probably not see you all the way through to your goals – but then again, he just might. If your goal is to compete at the local level, a school horse is just fine. But if your goal is to compete nationally, you will have to move up to a better horse and develop more skills as a rider.

Some of you will not want to compete at all, choosing instead to set different goals – riding the trails with your friends or just riding at the stable. Any goal is acceptable, but you need to define it to yourself and to your instructor.

DO NOT SKIMP ON SAFETY EQUIPMENT! Wear an ASTM approved riding helmet, boots with smooth soles, and no loose clothes! Do an equipment check each time you ride. Make sure the stirrups fit your feet correctly, look for cracks, weak spots, and missing stitching in the leather.

Part of learning to ride is to become a good horseman. Learn the proper way to handle the horse on the ground and to groom and tack it up, as well as identify lameness. The United States Pony Club Manual is a great book to start out with as it covers many aspects of horse care along with riding instruction. Learning all the safety rules will save you from a silly mistake that could injure you or someone else!

When I had my surgery, I had to learn to ride all over again. I sold all my high octane warmbloods and bought a well trained, soft riding, even tempered Morgan to start back on. The after a year, I bought a big crossbred gelding – still quiet, but more horse. I finally went back to riding high octane Trakehners and Holsteiners, and on my first outing won the Region 4 Fourth Level Dressage Finals!

I did not score well on the two rehab horses, but that was not their purpose – their job was to let me start back into riding safely and slowly. If someone like me, who at one point was riding in Olympic trials, can start over at 44 after major surgery and a less than perfect waistline – so can you!

My advice after “coming through the knothole” ? Live your dream – go slowly – stay safe – and put the right horse under you with an educated instructor that will suit your learning style!

Happy Riding!