- Take time to get to know your horse, on the ground. Spend time with her, invest in the bond. Talk to her. Find out just what sort of horse she is, and what you need to do to make her happy, so she will bend over backward to please you.
- Pace yourself – you can’t do it all! Having bought a horse myself at the tender age of 50, I can tell you it was a bit like having a baby. Although I’d spent time learning to ride and how to look after a horse, having one of your own is a whole different thing from borrowing other people’s for the odd hack. It’s more of a lifestyle than a hobby, and you can’t do it all at once. It takes time to get into routines – mucking out, haynets, feeds, poo picking the field – the list is endless. Set up and get comfortable with your routines before you even start to worry very much about riding. Once you’ve got your routines sorted, you’ll become quicker because you’re used to doing it, and your body’s becoming fitter. It took me ages when I first started to fill, soak, and hang up hay nets – now it’s a doddle. Once you can get through your chores quickly and without thinking about what to do next, then you can start to focus on riding.
- Accept help! Yes, this is your new baby, and you want it all done perfectly and your way, but life will become much easier if you let others help out and become a part of your adventure. Maybe a friend or partner might help with mucking out – don’t be a perfectionist – good enough will do.
- Get the odd bit of paid help. In fact, get as much paid help as you can afford! Looking after a horse alone, when you’re older and not used to it, can wear you out. Never underestimate how much physical hard work it is going to involve. On the plus side, it will make you super fit. So think about getting someone to muck out for you at least once or twice a week. Pay someone! There are usually teenagers around livery yards who will muck out for £4-5, a bargain if it saves a bit of energy and gives you a day off.
- Keep yourself safe. Of course, you’re going to get all the proper equipment like riding boots with a heel and a hard hat, and try if you can to get a quiet horse. While horse riding is never going to be risk-free whatever sort of horse you have, try if you can afford it to buy a quieter horse. These are more expensive but worth it. It’s no fun when you’re older having a broken hip or getting laid up in hospital – just stay realistic about what you can do and cope with.
- Keep your riding sessions short, at least to begin with. Leg muscles that haven’t been used for a long while are going to hurt if you do too much too soon. Half-hour sessions, to begin with, is enough, and your legs will get fitter and stronger. With luck, you’ll soon have a toned, slim leg! If you do get stiff, don’t have a soak in the bath, it doesn’t help. Generally, it’s not the next day but two days after it hurts. Solution? Get back on the horse the next day!
- Stick with it! When I first had my horse, on my 50th birthday, it was like suddenly having a baby. But like having a baby, the tiredness does get better. There will be lots of little setbacks, and a few disappointments, but if you take your time and get to know your horse well, it will be worth it in the end. Getting to know your horse and becoming calm and confident may take a year or more. But the rewards are that sense of being one with your horse and the countryside around you. If you want to get good at riding and be good with horses, you have to stick with it, and not give up at the first hurdle.
- Keep learning! Embrace the learning curves you are encountering and celebrate the new. There are lots of different riding styles and most people, like in other areas, develop tunnel vision, and go for one particular style, whether it be traditional, English, or western. With the wisdom of age, you can look around you for different sources of information, and ditch the tunnel vision. There is something to learn from all learning styles. Keep reading and watching dvds about riding. Don’t ignore something because someone else says it’s rubbish. Check it out for yourself, it might turn out to be the solution to your problems. I found this out with my horse – she’s not forward going, but bucks. Traditional wisdom said kick, push, hit – Parelli said something else, that worked. Be open-minded! Read, and go to demonstrations of different riding styles.
- Take time to smell the roses. As we all know, age brings wisdom. You don’t have to be bombing around the bridle paths, competing, chasing your tail like the teenagers. A lot of the joy of horses is just being there for the ride, taking your time, not just for the finish as fast as you can. Sometimes, when I get down to the yard early, my horse is still lying down, resting while the birds are beginning to sing about the day ahead. She just looks at me and stays there, calm and still. These moments are special, and for me, as important as any other times we share in the field or on the trail. Another of the most satisfying things about horses is being in the bridle path, away from the road, enjoying the quiet and timelessness of the track. This sort of riding is what oldies do best. It’s about giving your attention to really being there, enjoying the moment, and not just endlessly chasing the goal.
Riding a horse when you are older can be a great joy and a huge achievement. Don’t be put off by all the negatives – just concentrate on keeping yourself safe, and keep riding!