For the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend among women equestrians who inquire about LOPE horses or meet me at clinics for the first time.
About eight times out of ten, they will volunteer their age as part of their introductory email or greeting. Often that age is above 35 — but I have had multiple female trainers in their twenties share their age with me as well.
When I was under the age of 12, I also frequently announced my age to new acquaintances — usually with a proud tone that include fractions (“I’m nine and A HALF”).Being older doesn’t mean you have to stop setting bigger goals and harboring true ambitions as an equestrian.
But usually there is a tone of embarrassment or implicit limitation associated with the adult age disclosures. As in, “I’m interested in adopting a horse. But I am 57 years old.” Or, “It’s great to meet you, Lynn. This is my first horsemanship clinic at age 43! Hope I survive it.” And (one of my favorites), “I have to be careful what horses I train now. After all, I’m not getting any younger at 27.”
I personally didn’t learn how to ride at all until my mid-twenties — and I rode poorly, so I spent the next several years relearning the basics until I changed my riding style and technique. For me, each year that has passed since then has meant another 12 months of steady improvement in my equitation and horsemanship.
Being older (even older than 27) doesn’t mean that you are finished with making progress. Nor does it mean that you have to stop setting bigger goals and harboring true ambitions as an equestrian. Most of all, it doesn’t mean that you can cite your age as a reason why you can’t possibly improve your riding or horsemanship.
The best way to stop feeling old is to stop acting old. That doesn’t mean that you immediately have to take up extreme snowboarding or learn how to twerk. I know it is easier said than done — but you may be surprised how a few simple techniques can help you feel more empowered and less elderly when approaching horseback riding.
Here are some tips:
- Try to stop associating your age with your riding potential. Ideally, maybe even refrain from telling new equestrian acquaintances how old you are. Instead, look at the progress you have made from a year ago or three years ago — and give yourself credit for being an improving rider (rather than a “geezer” equestrian).
- Are you a newbie to riding at a more mature age? Let’s say you are 55 and just started to ride a year ago. Go to the mirror, look at your reflection, smile, and practice saying, “I ride MUCH better now than when I was 20.” And start sharing that tidbit with riding friends whenever you feel unconfident at the barn.
- If you feel like you can’t ride well because you aren’t as athletic as you were “back in the day,” please rethink that position. Just like any other sport, riding involves fitness and muscle coordination. If you signed up for a 5K race for the first time, never trained for it, ate donuts everyday, and then had a horrible race that ended with you gasping and crawling over the finish line — would that be due to your age or your lack of preparation? If you can approach riding as if you were training for a fun run (not an Olympic marathon), you will be amazed at how your fitness will steadily increase, along with your confidence and sense of youthful adventure. So try a consistent mix of things like cardio, core work, mild strength training and yoga stretching – and watch your opinion change about your riding and athletic potential (no matter what your age).
- This is a hard thing for me to say — because I found it to be tough advice to take personally. Dressing in a disheveled way when you ride can really reinforce the sense that you are limited, frumpy and/or not so young. Does this mean you need to purchase $350 breeches and wear pounds of mascara to the barn? No, not all. I have always been a casual, tomboy type myself, so I completely understand the aversion to overdoing things here. But it is important to wear riding attire that flatters you (by design and color) — so that your outer self reflects who you can be at the barn (even if you feel unkempt or disorganized on the inside). It also is a way of quietly honoring your horse — in that he (or she) deserves a well-turned out, sporty rider in attractive colors.
- Pay attention to your posture at the barn and in the saddle. This sounds so easy to do — but actually takes quite a bit of focus. Most people spend a fair amount of time on computers and at desks during the day. Our modern-era posture tends to include rounded shoulders, a drooping neck and a sunken chest. That same physical position tends to project an air of uncertainty to horses (and people). When you are at the barn or working with your horse, make an effort to inhale, roll your shoulders back and lift your chest (sternum to the sky). It will feel weird and unnatural at first — but over time, you will feel a real difference in your physical and emotional presence. Your body language in this pose quietly sends a message of confidence and competence to your horse, to other people and (most of all) to you.
- Keep building your skills. Whether you are a competitor, a pleasure rider or an aspiring trainer, it is important to always be improving and learning more about technique. Even Ray Hunt described himself as “a student of the horse” — so that says that you will probably be a lifelong student as well (no matter what type of riding you do). It is so helpful and important to take the time to really learn good riding and horsemanship technique. Over time, you will find that being in the student mindset will keep your focus on learning new things and setting new goals — just like a teenager on the brink of discovering everything awesome about the world.
In sum, do you feel unconfident, physically weak and less skilled because you are old? Or do you feel old because you are unconfident, physically weak and less skilled? The second question is the way to go — because it gives you unlimited opportunities to gradually improve and enjoy your horsemanship for the rest of your life. No matter how old you are right now.
If you don’t believe me, ask Hiroshi Hoketsu. He was a dressage competitor in the 2012 Olympics — and qualified for those Games at age 70.