Back to School

You’re never too old to learn

If you ever go to horse shows, whether they be for hunters, jumpers, dressage or eventing, you may notice a new trend.  The competitors are getting older.  Oh, there are still masses of children on round, gleaming ponies and juniors chasing points all summer long, but there is a decidedly larger number of adults showing their stuff as well.

Due to a variety of reasons, many people yearn to ride as children but never have the opportunity.  By the time finances or time allows, some deem it “too late” to start.  There are worries about finding a good coach, whether they can still learn something new “at my age” and, of course, falls and injuries.   That aside, it is never too late to go after your equestrian dreams.

Laura Hunter got on a horse for the first time in 1994 at the age of forty.  She was pursuing her dream of learning to ride and got off to a rather bumpy start. 

“I took lessons from the wrong person (a polo player who rode well but knew nothing about teaching).  My early experiences were terrifying.  So much so that it got to the point where I would be physically ill before my lesson.  I couldn’t even sit on a horse without thinking I was going to die.”

Remarkably, Hunter didn’t give up but rather went in search of a lesson program more suited to her.  Slowly, with the help of a dependable coach, she got her confidence back.  From then on things progressed quickly.  She purchased her first horse in 1996 and currently has an astounding 22 horses and is managing two therapeutic programs, as well as a riding school for people without disabilities.

“As a coach, I specialize in teaching beginner adults and nervous riders.  I am a firm believer in natural horsemanship.  It was natural horsemanship that brought my confidence back more than anything.”

Hunter is also working towards her Centred Riding Level 2 Instructor’s certification.  She enjoys working with riders of all ages but feels that very different methods need to be applied when teaching adults versus children.

“Obviously we all have more control issues as adults which can contribute to  nervousness when learning to ride.  I find that adult riders (myself included) often have trouble asking for a response instead of demanding one. Many of us seem to feel that we have to make things happen and that it is our responsibility to step in and take over.  Could all of these control issues be a result of raising children?”
 
Another positive significant difference is how many adults seem more interested in making a mental connection with the horse.   “

Younger students tend to focus on their equitation and the mechanics of making their horses go and are not as interested in understanding the psychology of why the horse acts as it does.  I find it very interesting when I attend natural horsemanship or centered riding clinics to see that almost all of the other participants are in their 40s and, very often, much older!”

Unlike Hunter, Sandy L’Amour, rode as a child and worked as a groom all through her teen years.  Like many, she had to quit riding when the time came to pursue a college education.  She rode briefly after college, then started a family and the riding came to a complete halt.

Two years ago, at the age of 38, L’Amour picked up the reins again.
 
“My daughter was older and I wanted (needed!) to do something for myself.  I started taking lessons and that turned into becoming a part-boarder.  Now, at the age of 40, I have bought my first horse and I love it!  My daughter rides, too, and is completely hooked.”
 
L’Amour started out in what she called a “ladies lesson”, which was very enjoyable for starting out.  Her coaches, who were younger then herself, were knowledgeable, positive, and able to get their message across to more mature riders.
 
“Now I ride with whoever is riding and it doesn’t matter.  I must admit there were times in the past that the teenagers intimidated me.  I was worried that I wasn’t riding good enough but that’s in the past.”

Like other adult riders, falling off and injuries are a worry.
 
“I used to event in Pony Club and though I was never overly gutsy I’ve definitely got a lot of chicken in me now.  I find that some days I’m actually a little nervous getting on but once I’m up there and the horse does something I feel in control.  I just think too much of all the bad things.   In jumping I need to build up my confidence.  Hopefully my new coach will be understanding and help me come along slowly.”

Sandy’s goals are more competition-oriented then some of her peers.  In 2004 she competed in the schooling show series at her barn and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Her sights are now set firmly on the hack classes on Ontario’s Trillium Circuit.  But competing is the smallest faction of why she returned to riding as an adult.
 
“The barn is my haven.  I can have a bad day at work or home and I go there and the rest of the world is forgotten.   That I can share my love of horses with my daughter is an enormous bonus.”

Louise Kennedy, 52, is another adult rider who loves her horse hobby.  For her whole life she always wanted to learn how to ride a horse.  At the age of 42, she decided to do something about her dream.

“I started taking group lessons once a week for about a year.  Very slowly, I moved into part-boarding a lovely gelding for 2 years.  At that point, I decided it was time to take the plunge and buy my own horse.”

Sadly, a battle with breast cancer meant putting that dream on hold for a year.

“But it just made me want to buy my own horse even more!!!” 

Unfortunately, the 5-year old roan quarter horse she bought was a mismatch. 

“I found out the hard way that he was too much for my riding abilities. I had a terrible accident where I fell off over a jump.  He bolted, running over my left arm in the process.”

Her arm crushed with a compound fracture, she was grounded for 8 months.  The roan was sold and another horse was found, a Clydesdale-Quarter horse mare, who has turned out to be “the best horse in the world.”

As for her coach, she prefers someone closer to her own age who might better understand her capabilities and concerns.  She also prefers a barn where the majority of riders are adults.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, I like kids.  But I find with the stress of working full-time, keeping my house, etc. that I want to be with other adults whom I can relate to.  I see my riding as a little therapeutic and this can’t come together if I’m riding with a group of highly competitive kids.”

As with all the adults I spoke with, there is a fear of falling off and being injured.

“I definitely do not bounce back like I used to.  Plus, I have a job to go to the next day.
Now, I am an extremely cautious rider, always on the lookout for things that might spook my horse.  But all in all, would I give it up???  NEVER!  I love my horse, I love the outdoors and what better way to sit it then from the back of a horse.”
Sidebar

Look Ahead Stables www.lookaheadstables.com

The focus of Louise Masek’s Look Ahead Stables in Milton, Ontario is to provide a comfortable, safe learning environment for adult riders.

“I thought there was a need for that in our area because the only options for adults were boarding barns with riding schools (read: lots of kids) or A barns.  Our riders range from still very competitive A circuit hunters & jumpers, to a couple of dressage riders, and several ladies who go to the odd show just for fun.  Our riders are perfectly content to work on their skills at home without the pressure of having to attend competitions. We also have several beginner riders and “re-riders”.

Tips for Adult Riders
• Think positively; don’t focus on “what if I fall off”, instead visualize your riding lesson in a good light and enjoy it!
• Select your coach carefully; take your time, ask a lot of questions, watch them teach other adults in a lesson
• Set your own goals and stick with them, whether it’s just to learn how to canter or how to ride a hunter course; do not be intimidated into doing more then you are comfortable with
• Have fun!

Captain Canada at 58

Ian Millar, at the age of 58, is going as strong as ever.  Millar began riding in Edmonton at the age of 10.  By his mid-20s he was riding on the Canadian Equestrian Team and has been the anchor of the C.E.T. ever since.  Millar has competed in a record 8 Olympic Games, the latest being Athens at the age of 57. 

In 2005 he won the $50,000 Classic at Palgrave Grand Prix (with In Style) and the $100,000 World Cup Qualifier at the Caledon Summer Festival (with Promise Me), as well as countless other top 5 placings in Canada and the U.S.  His fellow competitors regularly include his children, Jonathon (31) and Amy (28).

Although he began riding as a child, Millar is inspirational to adult riders.  He’s fit, at the top of his game and still loving it!

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