Horses have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mom tells me when I was a toddler living in Warren, Minnesota, I would stand in my crib and stare at the horses in the neighbors fields for hours. Literally, hours, just standing there already dreaming of running through fields on the back of one of them. From then on, it was horses. Simply, horses. Horse books. Horse posters. Breyer horses. Horse catalogs. Horses at the fair. Horses horses horses.
I finally got one of my own when I was twelve. A spunky, smart, Thoroughbred/Morgan mare that challenged me her entire life. She was athletic and would try anything once. I fell off her. A lot. In extreme Northern Minnesota, there were no trainers, no barns with lessons. If I wanted to try jumping, I would just… jump. If I wanted to try jumping in a real jumping saddle, I would just…. fall off. At least the first few times. When you’re seventeen, or even twenty-seven, you fall off, you bounce, you get up, brush yourself off, get back on and try again. And I tried it all. Barrel racing. Jumping. Eventing. It was all fun! And I learned what I need to learn from every discipline.
Fast forward about thirty years. Marriage, family, career. While horses were still my passion, I was a horseless rider for many years. Taking lessons when I could, I strove to find that perfect horse for me and my ‘advanced age.’ And I did, but not quite what everyone thought I needed and when I brought a twelve year old, jumpy, underweight, hypersensitive, 16.3, OTTB to the barn at age forty-nine, there were more than a few raised eyebrows. But there was something in his eye. Something that told me we’d be okay. After lots of ground work, I finally got on my tall handsome boy. We did well. We rode with clinicians. We worked on transitioning from an eventing horse to a dressage horse. We worked. And during all this work, he was putting on weight and muscle. He was giving me small hints that maybe his saddle wasn’t fitting as good as it did a few months ago. But I wasn’t listening. I was so happy and giddy about finally riding my own horse again, I just remained clueless until he had to use his big voice. And I hit the ground. At the age of fifty I learned something immediately. I don’t bounce anymore. I thud. And jumping up? Forget it. I slowly SLOWLY rose to my feet, brushed myself off and: as hard as it was; got back on. Only for a moment, but I got back on.
That was my turning point as a rider over fifty. I needed to get back on. I was hurting, I was scared, but I got back on. And then we found a saddle that fit. I’m still getting back on, even though I have occasional flashbacks, I get back on. I have to. I need to and he needs me to. And once I’m on and we connect in a way only horse and rider partners can connect, life is perfect.
We have horses in our life for a reason. To keep us moving. To ground us. To teach us. And to keep us humble. It was much more humbling falling off at fifty than it was at seventeen. I listen to my horse better now. And we have a deeper connection than we did before. I may be a trainer, but my horse is still training me and I love every moment of it.
So keep getting back on. When you’re twenty… forty… sixty… until you cannot physically get on anymore. And listen. Always listen.