Considerations for the Older Rider

“If you have it, it is for life. It is a disease for which there is no cure. You will go on riding even after they have to haul you onto a comfortable, wise old cob, with feet like inverted buckets and a back like a fireside chair.” — Monica Dickens

There have been many discussions in the forum over the years, about older riders. So just who are these people that continue riding, or even start riding, well into their golden years?

In many cases, they are people who rode as children and teenagers, but took a break when college, career and family commandeered their time. As forum member Jemina2 explains, “I used to ride years ago but hadn’t for about 20 years. The first time I got on my horse at age 63 I thought that if he coughs, I’m off. Well it didn’t happen and I have been having a wonderful time.”

In other cases, they began to get interested when their own children started lessons, or got their first horse. Says forum member, DancersHuman, “A couple years ago my youngest daughter started taking riding lessons. Just being around the horses made me realize how much I missed them.”

It’s not unheard of for people to continue riding well into their 70’s. Consider the oldest ever female Olympic competitor, Mrs. Lorna Johnstone, who at age 70 placed 12th in the dressage event in the Munich Olympics in 1972. An exception perhaps, but certainly something to inspire us as we grow older.

What sorts of things should older riders keep in mind when deciding to take up riding, or to continue in a sport they began as a teenager?

  • The most important consideration is health issues. Conditions such as arthritis, back and knee injuries etc. can all have a negative effect on a rider’s position and effectiveness in the saddle. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns that riding may aggravate an old injury, or compromise your safety in any way.
  • Simply getting on may challenge the less agile rider. However, with the right choice of horse, and judicious use of a mounting block this obstacle is easily overcome.
  • Gaited horses are very popular among older riders. Tennessee Walking Horses, Missouri Foxtrotters, Paso Finos and more rate high in the popularity stakes, for their smooth gaits that don’t jiggle older bones, and for their placid natures.
  • Whatever breed of horse is chosen, temperament and training should be high on the list of criteria. Says Jake, in the EquiSearch forum, “As far as finding a “bombproof” horse, my instructor found a 16 year old ranch “working” quarterhorse who had spent his whole life earning his living. He just exudes that “been there – done that” attitude that makes him a dream to ride.”
  • The older rider who used to jump as a teenager, may decide to take up a more sedate activity. Dressage is a popular activity for older riders, as is trail riding. Trail associations are a good place to get information about challenging trails, and the companionship of having other riders to trail ride with makes it a good social activity too.

So don’t let advancing age put you off from riding. Consider my own parents who, at age 70, went on a trail ride up a mountain in Colorado. The achievement gave them a high that lasted weeks! To hear my dad talk, you would think he was John Wayne reincarnated!

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