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Horseback Riding After 50

Updated on December 27, 2012

Can Childhood Dreams Come True?

One day I woke up and my children were all gone from home. At least it seemed like it was overnight. And my life changed.

For so many years, all of my waking hours were consumed with homeschooling my three children, working as a nurse part-time, church activities and trying to be a wife- there was little time for hobbies or personal interests. Now with Empty Nest Syndrome looming over me, I began to search for something to fill this new void in my life. And I pondered these questions - Is there life after 50? Is there life after homeschooling? Oh, I wasn't bored, I'd always had lots of interests and I was still working and very busy. Volunteering at some of my favorite charities gave me some purpose but something was still missing.

Then my husband said the magic words, "Why don't you buy a horse for yourself? Let's find a calm, gentle horse for you and let's ride together." Was he crazy? No, he knew that my childhood dream was to own my very own horse and to learn to ride. But now 35 years had passed and who in their right mind would START riding at 50?

Well I did, and I still do. We have had some wonderful experiences and mostly lots of fun, riding our horses over trails in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Let me share with you some of my experiences along the way. And who knows, you may even be encouraged to follow your childhood dream and learn to ride, whatever your age!

My boots and helmet - notice the heels on these boots
My boots and helmet - notice the heels on these boots

The Fear Factor

Don't Let It Stop You

Let's face it, most of us that are over 50 are no longer in the physical shape we once were. We get older ...and wiser. We worry about things we never worried about before. And fear begins to set in when we think about doing something new, like riding a horse. What if I fall? What if I break something? I have to work for a living. Who'd pay the bills if I can't work because of an injury? In fact, I find my fears sometimes paralyze me. I'm so thankful for a husband who helps me push past those fears and try new things.

And thankfully, there are plenty of books written on the subject of fear and how to overcome it. I think mostly fear is a mindset and a habit. I had the habit of fear. Plus, we have had several fairly serious horse accidents in our family over the years. My daughter, Danielle, fell off of a friend's horse when she was 12, broke her arm, and had to have surgery. She still bears the scars today, 17 years later. And my husband, Dale, got tossed off his horse a few years later. That fall resulted in a hospital stay and about 6 weeks off work, not to mention the pain and misery of many broken bones. So, I really did have good reason to fear! But if you are truly passionate about horses, falls and injuries will not deter you. It didn't deter them. And I was determined it wouldn't deter me.

We learned the importance of wearing protective gear - a helmet and boots with heels. The helmet to protect the head and boots with heels to keep your feet from sliding through the stirrups. But sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way. One day, I was riding Danielle's horse in our pasture and she decided to get a little skittish. She jumped sideways, my foot slid through the stirrups because I was wearing tennis shoes, and I could easily have fallen off and been dragged by my foot that was hung in that stirrup. Thankfully, the horse calmed down and I was able to get my foot out before that happened. But it made a believer out of me. Now, no one in our family or on our property rides without boots and heels, unless you want to ride bareback, where there is no stirrup to get hung in. I do have to admit that I don't often wear the helmet, but the group of ladies that I ride with have started wearing theirs, so I guess it's time to join them! After all, there is nothing more important than protecting your brain.

Don't let fear steal your dreams. Finding the right horse and discovering a training program that placed safety above all else helped us get going in the right direction.

Overcoming Fear - Some Helpful Books on Facing and Conquering Fear

Fear keeps us from doing so many things in life. If you find yourself paralyzed by fear, try one of these books. It's amazing how having a plan to conquer that fear can really work and get you on the road to doing all the things you long to do.

Buying the Right Horse - Do You Match?

Buying the right horse is a crucial part of learning to ride later in life. Contrary to popular opinion, all horses are not created equal. Finding a horse that fits your personality helps insure a successful outcome. It doesn't guarantee it though! If you are just learning to ride, do not buy a horse because you think he is beautiful. And don't buy a very young horse, one that is highly spirited, or one that has not been thoroughly trained and been ridden many hours. Pat Parelli, a horse trainer from Pagosa Springs Colorado, says it well: "Green on green makes black and blue." In other words, when you pair up a green broke horse (one that has had very little training and experience) with a rider with very little experience, someone is going to get hurt.

We had to search for months to find Rio, the sorrel (red) horse that you see me riding in this picture. He was young, but had been ridden up and down Arkansas mountains on a daily basis by his owner. And I was looking for a trail riding horse. I didn't like his color or his tall size but so far I had not been able to find one golden palomino that I had dreamed of as a child. Not one that was fit to ride anyway. So I decided to compromise and buy a horse that had been ridden a lot before my husband lost interest in me ever finding a horse. My best advice: take along someone who is very experienced with horses when you are looking for a horse to buy. Some horse friends saved us a lot of money by coming with us and pointing out flaws that we didn't see.

He proved to be a great babysitter for me. His calm manner helped me to be calm. Here we are in this picture coming back from a long ride up a mountain at a horse camp in Missouri.

Becoming a Horse Whisperer - I Can Share the Horse Whisperer's Secret With You

The first best thing we did was find the right horse for me. One that was calm and gentle. The second best thing we did was find a program that helped me learn to understand horses. The program we found also put safety at the top of the list when teaching people to ride. Don't believe anyone who tells you that all you have to do is get on, kick 'em to go and pull the rains to stop. Riding is so much more than that.

We were introduced to a home study program called "Parelli Natural Horsemanship" several years earlier and had used some of the techniques on a few horses that we owned. But it wasn't until I bought Rio that we really got involved - going to clinics and buying the home-study DVD's. Through this program we learned to understand horse "language." By watching and learning how horses "talk" to each other in the fields, we learned how to talk to our horses.

Next time you get an opportunity, spend some time watching horses that are in a herd, even if it is only a herd of two. Watch what happens at feeding time. There will always be a Boss horse (known as the Alpha horse or Lead horse) - one that eats first and tells the other horses what to do. Then follows a pecking order on down the line, where there will be a second horse that follows the alpha horse, but is boss over another horse. Sad to say, there will always be the last horse, who is picked on and bossed by all the others. He will have to eat last and move when those other horses say "move." And how does a horse tell another horse to move? Sometimes it's just with a flick of the ear or a swish of the tail, maybe a little head toss. Then if the horse doesn't "get it," the alpha horse will lift a leg, sometimes giving a warning, other times, the hoof shoots out and leaves the other horse with no misunderstanding, "I said MOVE, and I meant MOVE NOW!" This is the nature of things, the way God intended animals to be. So if we want to communicate with our horses, the best way to do that is to watch what they do and learn to do the same. And most of all, learn to be the Alpha - because if you don't , they will!

Another very interesting thing we learned from this program is that horses are prey animals. They are not at all like dogs, which are predators. So you can't treat them like a dog. They may be big, many weighing over 1,000 pounds, but they are fearful animals, always on the look out for a predator to eat them. So if you act like a predator and make noises like a predator, you will cause fear and mistrust. That is why you never run up to a horse to pet them or to try to catch them. Their fear causes them to either run or to turn and kick you! They don't seem to notice the size of a person but are very able to read your body language.

Once you understand these two principle: 1. Horses are prey animals and 2. There is always an Alpha and if you're not it, they will be, you will be well on your way to becoming a horse whisperer yourself.

Be sure to keep your ear out for a Parelli Natural Horsemanship demonstration in your area. It is amazing to see the things people can do with their horses. If you can't find one listed, you can visit their website: There are Parelli instructors in every state and many foreign countries. I heard somewhere that 60 % of Parelli students are over 50 years old! Keep in mind, that's just hearsay on my part but I believe it. It's those of us over 50 who want to stay safe!

Two Important Things to Understand About Horses

1. Horses are prey animals

2. There is always an "Alpha" or boss horse

See What Parelli and His Students are Doing on YouTube

Ariat Women's Fatbaby Leather Western Boots, Russet Rebel, 8
Ariat Women's Fatbaby Leather Western Boots, Russet Rebel, 8
I love these boots. They are so comfortable and the heel is perfect for riding.
From Ground to First Ride DVD 1: Natural Horsemanship Training "Because There Is Magic in Communication"
From Ground to First Ride DVD 1: Natural Horsemanship Training "Because There Is Magic in Communication"
I love the Parelli natural horsemanship system. It is a step by step training process that emphasizes safety first. There have been many updates over the years so try to get the latest training videos - they're the best

Share Your Opinion

Is 50 too old to learn to ride a horse?

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There IS Life After 50 !

And It's a Lot of Fun

For the past 5 years, Dale and I have had such fun with our horses. We've ridden many trails and ridden in parades. We've even camped with our horses. There are so many different things that you can do with horses. Some people enjoy competing in horse shows, rodeos, shodeos (mini horse shows for all ages), team penning, barrel racing, competitive trail riding, extreme trail riding, just to name a few. Many of these events have special classes for us over-the-hill folks! Once we even went to a fundraiser where we did orienteering on horseback. That was really fun.

There are so many groups of horse lovers over the age of 50 popping up all around the country. It's easy to make new friends with people who love horses. So if you were one of those kids who were crazy about horses and always dreamed of riding - it is not too late! Last year a sweet lady joined our local over- 50's all girl horseclub and she's 60 years old and learning to ride for the first time! So buy you some boots and a helmet and get busy!

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