Have you ever decided that you are finished with a sport or an exercise because it was no longer convenient? Or maybe you felt too old to do it anymore. You gave it up as an intelligent thing to do. Many people probably have done this. Have you said, “I will never do this again?”
I am here to tell you that maybe you need to rethink it. Almost 20 years ago, I gave up riding because my horse bowed a tendon, and I was getting a divorce. It just seemed a fitting time to leave that chapter of my life. It did not make me sad or even nostalgic. When I saw other people riding, I felt empathy for them, and it made me happy to see them. But I did not feel regret at having closed that chapter of my life. It seemed final. My memories were great, but that was all in the past. If asked I said that I would never ride horses again. I was on to other pursuits.
Wrong. My son and his wife asked me to join them at a ranch in Wyoming later this summer. Murdoch said, “Mom, I want you to go on the evening rides with us.” I said, “I don’t ride anymore.” (I felt that I am too old to start back again.) Even though I don’t really believe that sort of limitation counts. The challenge got to me. I was in. However, I knew I had to practice before going to Wyoming if I was going to ride there.
Last weekend I went riding. My daughter Lilla arranged it. She knew the perfect person to take me out on a horse that was safe and easy for me. After almost 20 years, I mounted a horse and went off at a walk to explore the countryside with a couple of other riders. It has had a miraculous effect on me. Being in my 80s is irrelevant. I feel newly hopeful about getting my figure back. I walk with a younger step. I bought a riding helmet of the type people wear these days, so I have my own and don’t have to borrow one. I also bought a pair of half chaps to keep my legs from getting raw after a long time in the saddle.
I was worried about mounting the horse because my flexibility is not great at 81. Could I get my leg up and over the back of a horse? Maybe not. It made me nervous to think about mounting the horse. So there was a feeling of doubt in the back of my mind when I stepped up onto the very solid and well-built stone mounting block. The horse, named O’Reilly, was quite tall, and he was broad. He was also calm and quiet. It felt as though I had forgotten how to get on a horse. When I stepped on top of the mounting block and put my left foot in the near stirrup, I paused. Then instead of looking at the front of the horse, his ears, and his neck where I might grab some mane to help get on, I looked straight in front of me, across the horse.
I looked over his back and at the barn in the background. Then I looked down at the ground, which seemed a very long way. Then I looked down at the saddle, which seemed an impossible target. It alarmed me with thoughts of failure. Finally, I threw my leg over and just sort of flopped onto the horse’s back with little sense of balance. I threw my arms around the horse’s neck. The woman, Stephanie Mangen, who was holding the horse, said, “You are fine. You are on the horse.” And I said, “No, I am completely unbalanced; please just wait until I get myself organized.”
After a moment, I was able to balance my body and get both feet steady in the stirrups. I felt secure on my mount. Once we moved off at a walk, I felt wonderful. My legs secured my body, feeling strong. My core was holding me erect with no problem. All those years of Pilates has really helped.
The air was clear, with only a residual scent of burning from forest fires in Canada. Everything was lush and green or some shade of a wide range of greens. The ground was hard because of a lack of rain. However, the undergrowth, the trees, the honeysuckle, the vines of blackberries and raspberries appeared dense and healthy. Birds flitted overhead, some deer could be heard rustling in the bushes as they ran to a different hiding spot when they heard our voices so close.
We rode at a walk behind the stable and over the land of the owner. Crossing a stream, I was glad the water level was low. Listening to the clopping sound of hooves on hard ground was heaven to me. It has been nearly 20 years since I heard that sound in person. It made me happy and content, and my fear of not being able to do this dissipated. We only stayed out for half an hour. That was all I wanted to ride for the first time in so long. It was so much fun, except for the awkward mount, that I could not wait to do it again.
Sunday morning, I was back for more. This time I was able to mount the horse with no problem, though I still feel I need to practice getting on and off until it is completely normal. Lilla rode her horse over from her house and went with me. We moved off and went a LOT farther this time, through country where I used to ride all the time. It was strangely familiar without looking exactly the same because 20 years of growth for trees makes a difference. There were also fields that had been left fallow and other spots that had been groomed perfectly. We rode through a property that I used to know well, but the manor house was torn down years ago. Now the place looks completely different and very lovely. It was such fun to ride across a place we all call the “beaver dam” because I have been splashing through it so many times in the past. The warm horse beneath me felt reassuring and natural. While watching his muscles ripple, my memories of riding in the past engulfed me. It was especially fine to ride with my daughter once more over the same ground where we rode together so many years ago. The horse sped up a bit as we turned towards home. The pleasure of this ride is embedded in my mind.
But the best part about the residual effects seems to be a change in my view of myself and my ability to do things that I think of as age appropriate. Before last week, I would have never thought of going riding. It was a part of my life that was over. But now, I don’t believe that. Now, it makes me smile to see that I am simply taking my own advice. (my constant mantra for others) “Do what you want to do, no matter how old you are.”
I don’t want to have to drive to The Plains in order to keep this up. Lilla, my daughter, and Stephanie Mangen of Gill Equestrian whose barn is in The Plains, deserve the credit for getting me back in the saddle. Thanks, Stephanie. I will see you again soon. But in the meantime, I am going to ride here, in Charlottesville. This morning I rode with Susie at their house where Murdoch watched and took photos. The horse the put me on, Annie, was a lot more “horse” than clunky O’Reilly, who was my mount last weekend. I felt it in my muscles because she has a lot more energy in her gait. Though she was calm, I knew she could react to something suddenly. So it was necessary to be even more alert than last time. I will be back to do it again soon.
What fun I had!!! Never, never, never say NEVER!
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson