Today's Baby Boomer Horse Riders Redefining "Middle-Age"
Baby boomer women are currently the largest and most financially powerful demographic group in the U.S. Unlike our mothers, we don't plan to sit in a rocking chair and knit, quietly watching the world pass us by. Not now, or twenty years from now. We are redefining what it means to be "middle-aged". We look forward to decades ahead of a happy, healthy, active lifestyle. More and more older women are continuing an active, even competitive, horse riding career into their 60's and 70's. In greater numbers than ever, the so-called "mature women" are just beginning to live their life-long dream of horse ownership.
Sure, the kids have their youth and that sense of immortality, but we have the intelligence and self-discipline to research and do our "homework" to solve horse training problems, improve our riding skill, learn about horse psychology or whatever is needed to overcome obstacles as they arise. Also, most baby boomers have more spendable income now than any other time in our lives, which can help eliminate some of the obstacles we may have had in our youth.
With the right mindset, physical fitness (and a couple of handy gadgets) there's no reason we shouldn't continue riding well into our later years. In fact, research shows that horseback riding in people over 40 is actually very beneficial.
MAYBE I SHOULD JUST "GROW UP"?
This is a question you may be asking yourself. Hobbies are for children, right? These feelings are brought on because you may be feeling a little guilty about spending the time and money on yourself that riding requires. After all, you've spent the last 20+ years catering to the needs of your children, household, husband and career. So, focusing on your own desires my seem self-indulgent. If that's how you feel, get over it! Men have always had their outdoor sports - golf, fishing, etc. A challenging and rewarding hobby, such as horses, will make you a healthier person both mentally and physically. It will improve your self-esteem and make you a more pleasant and interesting person to be around.
NOT AS BRAVE AS YOU USED TO BE?
You're not alone. When we were in our teens and twenties there seemed to be no limits to what we would try on horseback. So many of us return to riding only to find that all that confidence we once had on our horses is now replaced by "what ifs". What if he bucks? What if he spooks? What if he rears? and on and on. Sometimes we're not even sure what it is we're afraid of. I got back into riding by taking lessons about 8 years ago. I remember being intimidated by the shear size of my lesson horse and he was just a little over 15 hands. The same size of my horse I had owned when I was 22. Somehow, 15.1 now seemed massive.
The first step in overcoming fear is to learn to sort the rational fears from the irrational. Rational fears are very good. They are actually intelligence in disguise telling you you need help with training, riding skills or both. You should listen to, and react accordingly, to these concerns. On the other hand, your fears may be irrational. An example of irrational fear is the one I stated earlier where I was afraid of the size of my horse. As we know, the size of the horse has no bearing on safety. There are lots of tools we can use to deal with these types of psychological issues, such as NLP or sports psychology, imagery and self-hypnosis.
It's also important to have a good support system. . . .others like you, that you can discuss your concerns with openly and honestly. You may have fellow riding students with similar feelings. You may need to bring up the topic first, since fear in the horse world is often a taboo topic. But once the topic is brought out in the open, you may be surprised at how many willing participants you will receive. The discussion board at Positively Riding! is a very supportive group who are, or have been, through a very similar experience. You will be welcomed with understanding and empathy.
RETURNING TO RIDING OR JUST STARTING OUT? If you're new to riding or if it's been several years since you've ridden, I highly recommend taking lessons on a beginner or novice level. Lessons from a good instructor on a calm and tolerant lesson horse is a great way to begin regaining your confidence. You may find yourself feeling awkward with the simplest tasks, at first. I remember feeling relieved that my instructor gave me a nice refresher on things like, hoof cleaning, bridling, etc. But, take heart in knowing that your past experience does resurface and so these elementary skills will quickly improve as those long term memories are regained.
Knee discomfort is a common problem among riders. My first experience with the joint supplementGlucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM was with a mare that belonged to a good friend of mine. She was a 17 yr old AQHA mare that had enjoyed a successful career in Western Pleasure. By the age of 15 she had developed arthritis in her right front that caused an occasional slight limp. Over the next two years the occasional limp had degenerated to all-out lameness. It was painful to watch her moving around the pasture, trying not to put any weight on this foot. I heard about the supplement on a discussion forum and suggested it to my friend. She immediately put her on the liquid form and the results were nothing short of miraculous. She was noticeably improved almost over night. Within about a week she was able to back to light riding.
After seeing this, I decided to try the people version for my own knee pain. I had the same wonderful results. I don't take it everyday because I don't have knee pain year round. But, as soon as I feel it coming on, I start back on my 3 pill a day regimen and the pain is usually completely gone within a day or two.
For knee pain or any difficulty while mounting, the EZ Up Stirrup Extender gives you that all-important additional few inches needed to greatly the reduce the knee stress of mounting. Once mounted, you just tap your toe to pop the stirrup back into riding position. Great for trail rides when it's impossible to lug along the mounting block. If you don't need help with the height of your horse, but simply have knee stress from stiff fenders, EZ UP Legsavers swivel to allow your stirrups to move to that perfect comfort position.
PHYSICAL FITNESS FOR THE RIDER
Horse ownership, in itself, will cause you to be more physically active, especially if you're doing your own horse care. Stall mucking, handling hay bales and 50 lb. feed bags are just a few tasks that can give us a good daily workout. Even if you board your horse and the maintenance is done for you, you are still carrying saddles, mounting and dismounting, walking out to the pasture to catch your horse, posting the trot, etc. -- all activities that improve us physically.
Staying fit is essential to getting the most from our riding. Although we may live active day-to-day lives, we probably aren't working on the specific muscle development and balance needed for riding. Exercises designed especially for riders work on ease of mounting, range of motion, balance in the saddle and injury prevention, just to name a few of the benefits.
The physioball or exercise ball. You may already own one of these, but didn't consider it to be useful in improving your riding. Actually, there are a variety of exercises to help us become better and more physically fit riders using a physioball. A physioball is a durable, therapeutic ball that can be used to strengthen the muscles that support the trunk. Riders find the ball especially useful because the motions of the ball simulate the dynamics in riding. In Mary Midkiff' book, "Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian" she describes in detail several exercises designed to improve riding using the balls. This is an excellent book for women looking to extend their riding careers and addresses several topics specifically related to the female equestrian.
WHY WOMEN LOVE HORSES
The following is an excerpt from Mary Midkiff's above referenced book.
Why we Love Horses and Why They Love Us Back
"Women value love, communication, beauty and relationships." says John Gray in Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus. "They spend a lot of time supporting, helping and nurturing one another. Their sense of self is defined through their feelings and the quality of their relationships." The public television program: Men, Women: The Sex Difference notes that humans have had four million years of gender training. Women are gatherers, nurturers and teachers, while men are proficient at spacial tasks and hunting for survival. Women have spent most of their time through history teaching and caring for the young. They have an innate ability to read emotions, learned basically by reading a babies cues without language. It all adds up to "women's intuition," not the abstract concept typically referred to in wonderment and awe, but rather a very real ability to understand and predict based on behavior. Most of us have it, even if we haven't consciously used it or have allowed it to slip into disuse.
These female traits give us special abilities in riding and training horses. Our ability to recognize, understand and value subtle body language from the horse gives us an opportunity to excel with our horses in ways that men cannot. In addition, horses are respect and value those that communicate clearly and consistently and in the most subtle way. In other words, don't yell when a whisper will do, don't use the crop when a shift in weight will do, etc. Communication within the herd is essential for survival in the wild, so those herd members that are the best communicators are most trusted. With this trust, you can build a wonderful bond. All we need to do is to use these abilities, beginning with awareness and study of horse behavior.
I believe baby boomer women possess all the traits, tools and passion for horses required to excel in every riding discipline for many years to come.
So . . . . . . enjoy. You deserve it!