Use It or Lose It

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The adage that a rider needs to get right back into the saddle after a fall takes on greater dimension as we get older. After a certain age, our brains seem to work better than our bodies. We really start thinking about the consequences of a one-point landing.

It’s not just a fall that may disrupt our confidence but a change from our usual mount or anything that keeps us out of the saddle for a period of time. If we’re switching from a familiar older horse to a livelier younger horse, or if we just haven’t ridden for a couple months, it can take conscious mental effort to start riding again that we didn’t seem to need when we were 12 or 20 or even 40.

The fear of falling may not even be as much of a concern as the lack of confidence in our own physical abilities. We may no longer be able to mount from the ground or even that easily from a mounting block if the horse starts to move away. Shying seems to send the horse’s body one direction and ours another, where 10 years ago shying just didn’t seem like a big deal. Landing after a jump seems to be more of a jolt than it used to, as does a sitting trot.

When we don’t trust our own bodies, it’s harder to trust the horse’s. From middle age on, riding one horse a day just isn’t enough to keep us fit. If we want to ride with confidence, we need to have other physical activities such as swimming, tennis or just brisk daily walks with the dog.

In addition to keeping fit, finding the right horse to match our physical ability and confidence level becomes even more of a priority. We aren’t likely going to be bringing along a youngster.

We need a horse that makes us want to go to the barn every day, a horse that is as much a friend as it is a mount, who looks forward to lessons and trail rides as much as we do. Fancy gaits and a pretty face aren’t nearly as important as a trot we can sit and ears that prick forward when we enter the barn.

We need our human friends to keep us going as well, the kind who have a sweet horse in their backyard named Bubba or Daisy. You’ll have gained five pounds after a month of not riding, and they’ll run into you coming out of the deli with a chocolate ??clair in your hand. They won’t say: “Gee, we should go for a ride together sometime.” They’ll say, “What time are you coming to ride Bubba tomorrow'” And then, the next week they’ll help you find a Bubba of your own.

- Margaret Freeman